Widely reported new findings from the World Resources Institute (WRI) paints a disturbing picture of global water stress and concomitant risks.
WRI’s water risk calculator (Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas) has been updated with data on water demand by households, industry and agriculture, and water supply from surface sources and aquifers from 1961 to 2014. Current information shows that 17 countries are extremely highly stressed and use more than 80 percent of their available supplies annually, with about 25 percent of the world’s population living in those countries.
Data indicates that water use has risen by 250 percent in the period studied.
While water stress is global, it is geographically somewhat concentrated with 12 of the 17 worst off countries in the Middle East and North Africa. India, with a population of 1.3 billion people ranked 13th.
“The recent water crisis in Chennai (where water taps ran dry) gained global attention, but various areas in India are experiencing chronic water stress as well,” said Shashi Shekhar, former secretary of India’s ministry of water resources, and senior WRI fellow.
Other nations identified as "hotspots" are San Marino in Europe, Botswana in Africa and Turkmenistan in Central Asia.
In and of itself, the lack of water or clean water or even too much water is stressful. But water stress threatens food supply, poses risks for water-dependent activities and industries and ultimately can cause and/or aggravate conflict and migration, with stress that could lead to more situations similar to Cape Town's "day zero" in 2018 around the globe.
“Water matters,” said Betsy Otto, global director for water at WRI. “We’re currently facing a global water crisis. Our populations and economies are growing and demanding more water. But our supply is threatened by climate change, water waste and pollution.
“The picture is alarming in many places around the globe, but it’s very important to note that water stress is not destiny. What we can’t afford to do any longer is pretend that the situation will resolve itself,” said Otto.
Otto also writes in Devex, “every year, the World Economic Forum asks leaders from government, business, and civil society to rank their most pressing risks. For eight consecutive years, including 2019, water crises have been in the top 5. Water is up with climate change, extreme weather, infectious disease, and cyber attacks at the tip of the world risk pyramid.”
She points out that there are things that can be done to avert water crises, observing that improved water management would go a long way to achieving water security.