A new study from risk analysis experts Maplecroft identifies China, India, Pakistan, South Africa and the United States as containing large tracts where unsustainable water use is outpacing supply.
The situation is so serious in these countries that it could potentially limit economic growth by hindering business activities and agricultural outputs, according to the report, released earlier this month.
Resultant reductions in crop harvests would affect both local food supplies and global food prices, and the report warns that the socio-economic impacts of water shortages in India and China in particular could create unrest and affect stability.
In its analysis, Maplecroft calculated water stress levels in 168 countries, and evaluated renewable supplies from precipitation, rivers and streams against domestic, industrial and agricultural use.
The MENA (Middle East-North Africa) region is once more identified as the area most at risk in general, with Bahrain heading the list of water-stressed countries followed by Qatar, Kuwait, Libya, Djibouti, the UAE, Yemen, Saudi Arabia (which dropped from fourth place last year), Oman and Egypt (which enters the top 10 this year).
India is ranked 34th in the index overall, China 50th and the United States 61st, but the widespread use of irrigation for agriculture, combined with increasing domestic and industrial water demand, means that available water resources are coming under increasing pressure in these critical economies.
In China, the intensively-populated provinces of Beijing, Jiangsu, Shandong and Tianjin are all identified as being at “extreme risk” because of their rapid economic growth and urban expansion.
The massive South-North Water Diversion Project is intended to counter water shortages here, but spiraling costs and uncertainty over the effects of climate change in the south of the country have raised doubts about the project’s long-term sustainability.
Agriculture is seen as a key driver for unsustainable water use in India, with “extreme risk” levels focused on the states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan. India’s groundwater extraction levels are the highest in the world, and as one of the top global producers of rice, wheat, potatoes and sugar cane, its unsustainable groundwater use is labeled as having “dire implications” for global food prices.
In the United States, Arizona, California, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico and Texas are all identified as being at “high” or “extreme risk,” with a warning about the swift rate of depletion of the critical Ogallala Aquifer.
Maplecroft Principal Analyst Dr. Charlie Beldon warned: “The impacts of weather patterns on existing levels of water stress provide a vivid indication of future areas where conflict or unrest may emerge over access to water.”