Farming equipment in a field
blog

How Is Population Growth Responsible for the Growing Problem of Water Scarcity

Cody Peluso Oct 13, 2022

Everyone, everywhere should have access to the resources they need. Everyone, everywhere deserves nourishing food and clean drinking water. Everyone, everywhere, deserves a safe and affordable place to call home.

All living beings, including all animals, all living and breathing ecosystems, deserve nothing less.

A lack of available freshwater has been plaguing the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region for years. While you may think water problems are only relegated to dry, arid sections of the globe like MENA, you would be wrong. Water scarcity is a worldwide problem that is getting worse each year. It is being driven by population growth and the various consequences of that increase in population. Water scarcity is coming to your neighborhood, if it hasn’t already. Overpopulation is one cause of this ever-increasing problem.

Water supply in California is expected to run out next month. A town in Mississippi already facing extreme water shortages is now expecting trash to pile up outside homes and businesses. Protests popped up in July this summer in Iran due to an unprecedented water crisis. In Las Vegas, New Mexico officials had to cancel a major arts and crafts event, due to a water shortage, and residents are left wondering when they will run out of water.

Fast Facts on Water Shortages

Compare all of the above to the reports that to “Kim Kardashian’s two adjoining lots in Hidden Hills, [which] guzzled their June allotment and then some, going over by about 232,000 gallons.”

Why Overpopulation Is Driving Water Scarcity

Put simply, the reason overpopulation is causing water scarcity problems is that while the world’s population has increased at record rates over the last century, the amount of water available has remained steady, or in some cases, has been completely depleted. The increasing demand for a finite resource is causing serious stress in many areas around the world. This much is obvious and basic, but there are more factors at work here than simply people needing more potable water.

An increase in population also fuels an increase in food needs. Agriculture uses a tremendous amount of water, and increased food demands require more farming to meet them. Also, food production uses and wastes a lot of water. In addition to using massive amounts of water, wastewater generated from food production and agricultural activities is a major source of environmental pollution. In the five minutes it takes you to read this article, 60,000 gallons of fossil water have been taken out of the Ogallala Aquifer. Doomsayer investor Michael Burry, has been quietly investing in water for a decade, waiting for the reckoning day. Well, it is here, and we are not ready.

When it comes to any water crisis, no matter whose fault it is, it’s all our problem. Fortunately, the solutions are in our hands as well.

The consequences of doing nothing or waiting for someone else to come up with solutions to fill those reservoirs will be felt all over the United States, from a lack of produce in your grocery stores, to significantly higher electricity bills, to delayed or canceled economic development. This river simply cannot supply the amount of water it used to.

James Eklund, Colorado Water Conservation Board
Aerial pictures of river bend

Nations throughout the global North contribute their share to the world water problem by using far more water than is necessary. An average household of four in the United States uses around 400 gallons of water per day. If Americans cut water consumption by just 10 percent, it would save 44 million gallons of water per day.

Do you know how much water it takes to simply flush your toilet?

Outdated infrastructure in urban areas of the global South can be one of the causes of severe water problems. Old and decaying infrastructure causes serious inefficiency in water transportation. Many people are left without access to water in the middle of large urban areas. In South Africa, “The water situation is a complex issue. The country’s freshwater resources are stressed on all fronts by unsustainable water consumption patterns, increasing water demands, failing water infrastructure, unreliable or non-existent water and sanitation services and continued pollution. The added effects of increased climate variability with changing rainfall patterns will add significant additional stress, questioning the country’s current and future water security.”

Meanwhile, pollution of freshwater is a leading cause of disease throughout the world. Currently, around 80 percent of wastewater worldwide is returned to the environment without being cleaned and treated. Crumbling water treatment plants and damaged and decaying pipes waste and pollute countless gallons of water each day all over the world.

Effects of Water Scarcity and Overpopulation

Beyond the issue of not having sufficient water for drinking purposes, water scarcity causes serious sanitation problems. Urban areas worldwide are increasingly facing problems from a lack of proper sanitary conditions. Almost 2.5 billion people worldwide live with inadequate sanitation. Diseases that result from polluted water, like cholera and typhoid, claim millions of lives needlessly each year. The recent COVID-19 pandemic illustrated how fast communicable diseases can spread across the globe. The potential for more major disease events grows steadily with the lack of access to proper sanitation.

Overuse of water resources in response to increasing demand is causing major damage to the environment. The world has lost around half of its wetland areas over the last few decades. This destruction of animal and plant habitats has been devastating to certain species, causing some to migrate to other areas, where they have to compete for food and space with those already there. Some die out altogether. Polluted water seeps into the surrounding environment and takes a deadly toll on plants and wildlife.

Lack of water also affects the production of many goods, including necessities like clothing. Not only does this lead to shortages of goods, but it also causes unemployment as more workers are laid off due to a lack of production ability. Local economies suffer the effects of lost jobs, which can lead to greater poverty.

All the above problems have the potential to create social and political problems. In the MENA region, there have been protests and riots over the lack of water and food available. In the United States, local governments have been facing critical shortages and are forced to cutback basic services for residents, causing citizens to mobilize and protest threats to their drinking water. Unrest like this can lead to instability in governments and the rise of extremist movements. In areas where international boundaries or even state boundaries are crossed by waterways and rivers, rerouting and damming of rivers and streams has inflamed disputes between neighboring countries or territories, and that threatens to spill over into violent or political conflicts between governing authorities. Just last month, the Supreme Court set a trial in a case between New Mexico and Texas to litigate overuse of the shared Rio Grande River, a case which will determine which people in which state have access to water from the river going forward.

River flowing through canyon

Across the world, local governments & courts, mayors & presidents, homeowners and farmers are grappling with the issue of water scarcity. Until we chart a viable path forward, this issue will never be behind us.