A Fourth of the World’s Population Faces Severe Water Shortages
According to a newly released report from the World Resources Institute’s Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, a quarter of the world’s population across 17 countries are living in regions of extremely high water stress. The reasons behind the water crises go deeper than previously thought as new WRI hydrological models found that water withdrawals globally have more than doubled since the 1960s due to growing demand – and they show no signs of slowing down.
Increasing Water Crises: As WRI explained, reservoirs in Chennai, India’s sixth-largest city, are nearly dry right now. Last year, residents of Cape Town, South Africa narrowly avoided their own “Day Zero” water shut-off. And the year before that, Rome rationed water to conserve scarce resources. Narrow gaps between water supply and demand are leaving countries vulnerable to fluctuations like droughts and increased water withdrawals, which are increasing the likelihood of major water crises.
Hardest Hit: As the Guardian reported, “Qatar, Israel, and Lebanon were ranked as the most water-stressed countries in the world, with Badghis in Afghanistan and Gaborone and Jwaneng in Botswana the world’s most water-stressed regions.” The United States ranked 71st of 189 countries, which amounts to low-medium on WRI the stress scale, meaning we are pulling out just under 20 percent of our available water. However, in the United States, water stress is far from geographically evenly distributed.
WRI’s Prediction: “Water stress poses serious threats to human lives, livelihoods and business stability. It’s poised to worsen unless countries act: Population growth, socioeconomic development and urbanization are increasing water demands, while climate change can make precipitation and demand more variable.”
Why This Matters: Water is the essence of life and shortages can create instability incredibly quickly. As Betsy Otto, global director for water at WRI explained, “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.” So not only do we need to take water conservation and management practices more seriously (should we really have golf courses in Las Vegas??) but this once again underscores the need for us to take drastic action to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to act on climate change.