25% of World’s Population Under Extreme Water Stress: WRI
One fourth of the planet’s population in 25 countries experiences extremely high water stress annually, using nearly all of their available water supply on a regular basis, according to new data from the World Resources Institute (WRI)’s Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas.
Additionally, about four billion people live in conditions where they have high water stress for a minimum of one month out of the year, a report from WRI said.
High water stress puts the lives, food, jobs and energy security of people in peril, as water is necessary for the essentials of human survival like agriculture, electricity production and the maintenance of human health. It is also important for promoting fair societies and meeting climate goals.
“The smaller the gap between supply and demand, the more vulnerable a place is to water shortages. A country facing ‘extreme water stress’ means it is using at least 80% of its available supply, ‘high water stress’ means it is withdrawing 40% of its supply,” the report said. “Without intervention — such as investment in water infrastructure and better water governance — water stress will continue to get worse, particularly in places with rapidly growing populations and economies.”
Water demand worldwide is more than twice what it was in 1960, and throughout the globe, demand is exceeding supply.
Water use policies that are not sustainable, lack of water infrastructure investment and variations in supply caused by climate change all contribute to availability of water.
“Water is how climate change most directly impacts people around the world,” said Charles Iceland, global director of water with WRI’s Food, Forests, Water, and the Ocean Program, as CNN reported.
Even a drought that doesn’t last long is dangerous for places that are under extremely high water stress each year, as they may run out of water, the WRI report said.
The five countries in the world with the most water stress are Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Lebanon and Oman. These countries experience so much water stress due to low supply along with agricultural, industrial and domestic demand.
The planet’s regions that are the most water-stressed are North Africa and the Middle East; 83 percent of these regions’ populations experience extremely high water stress. In South Asia, 74 percent of the population is exposed to extreme water stress.
According to the report, another one billion people are projected to be exposed to extremely high water stress by 2050, even if the world manages to keep the global average temperature increase to between 1.3 and 2.4 degrees Celsius by the year 2100.
“Water is arguably our most important resource on the planet and yet we’re not managing it in a way that reflects that,” said Samantha Kuzma, Aqueduct data lead from WRI’s water program and one of the authors of the report, as reported by CNN.
“I’ve been working in water for close to 10 years, and unfortunately, the story has been the same almost the entire 10 years,” Kuzma told CNN.
Water demand around the world is predicted to climb by 20 to 25 percent by mid-century, and the amount of watersheds that vary highly from year to year is projected to increase by 19 percent, the report said.
This means that by 2050 the entire population of North Africa and the Middle East will have to endure extremely high water stress, which will not only affect consumers and industry, but the political stability of these regions.
Water demand in sub-Saharan Africa is growing faster than any other region on Earth, and by 2050 it is predicted to rise by 163 percent. That’s four times faster than Latin America, which is the second-highest at a predicted water demand increase of 43 percent.
In the richer countries of Europe and North America, demand for water has plateaued.
Water fixed firmly in international trade, to high income countries from lower to middle income countries, will contribute more and more to increasing water stress in the lower to middle income countries, even as water-use efficiency helps to reduce water use inside the borders of countries with a high average income.
As water stress increases, it poses a threat to global food security and the economic growth of nations throughout the world.
The data from Aqueduct said that by 2050, $70 trillion — 31 percent of the global gross domestic product (GDP) — will have exposure to high water stress. That’s a big increase from the 24 percent of global GDP in 2010. By 2050, four countries — Turkey, Mexico, Egypt and India — will account for more than 50 percent of susceptible GDP.
WRI emphasized that water stress doesn’t always mean water crisis. Places that live with water scarcity can use water-saving techniques like wastewater treatment and reuse, desalination and grass removal.
It would take just one percent of the GDP to tackle water challenges worldwide with the proper financial support and political action, according to WRI research.
Some important strategies for reducing water stress and improving water management are using incentives to improve the efficiency of water use in agriculture and restoring and protecting wetlands, forests and mangroves to build flood and drought resilience, which saves on water treatment costs and improves water quality.
“Every level of government, as well as communities and businesses, must step up to build a water-secure future for all. The world will ultimately require an all-of-the-above approach, as well as solutions specific to individual catchments and regions,” the WRI report said. “These findings may be daunting, but with the right management, every country can prevent water stress from turning into water crisis.”