Twenty five countries, collectively home to a quarter of the global population, are grappling with extremely high water stress as the world is under an alarming water stress crisis, with profound implications for humanity’s well-being, economies, and the environment.
This level of water stress, defined by the ratio of water demand to renewable supply, poses a severe threat to livelihoods, food and energy security, and sustainable development, according to research published by the World Resources Institute.
Around 4 billion people, or 50% of the world’s population, experience highly water-stressed conditions for at least one month each year.
CHALLENGES OF WATER STRESS
Living under conditions of extreme water stress places immense pressure on essential aspects of life. Water serves as a critical resource for agricultural activities, electricity generation, public health, societal equity, and the realization of climate goals. As global demand for water has more than doubled since 1960, the reasons behind escalating water stress are multifaceted.
DRIVING FORCES BEHIND WATER STRESS
The escalating demand for water is driven by factors such as population growth and expanding industries like agriculture, energy production, and manufacturing. This demand surge is exacerbated by insufficient investment in water infrastructure, unsustainable water management practices, and the unpredictable impact of climate change on water availability.
PROFOUND GLOBAL IMPLICATIONS
Water stress has far-reaching ramifications. At present, 25 countries are under extreme water stress conditions, using over 80% of their renewable water supply for various purposes. Among these, Bahrain, Cyprus, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, and Qatar stand out as the most water-stressed nations. This stress is particularly acute in regions like the Middle East and North Africa, where 83% of the population is exposed to extremely high water stress.
The situation is poised to worsen in the coming decades. By 2050, even under an optimistic scenario of limited global temperature rise, an additional billion people are projected to endure extremely high water stress. Global water demand is anticipated to surge by 20-25% by 2050, accompanied by a rise in variability in water supplies. Regions like the Middle East and North Africa face the alarming prospect of the entire population grappling with extreme water stress by 2050, triggering potential political instability in already vulnerable areas.
VARYING WATER TRENDS
The most significant change in water demand is expected in Sub-Saharan Africa, where demand is projected to increase by 163% by 2050. This presents both opportunities for economic growth and challenges linked to sustainable water management. In contrast, water demand has plateaued in wealthier regions like North America and Europe, where investments in water-use efficiency have yielded results.
SOLUTIONS FOR A SECURE WATER FUTURE
While the water stress scenario is daunting, solutions do exist. Countries like Singapore and Las Vegas have demonstrated the potential to thrive under water-scarce conditions by adopting innovative practices like desalination and wastewater treatment. However, political commitment and financial support remain critical for implementing cost-effective solutions.
WATER CRISIS’; KEY RECOMMENDATIONS
- Strengthening water governance and efficiency in agriculture.
- Embracing integrated water resource management and nature-based solutions.
- Exploring strategic debt relief programs tied to environmental commitments.
- Prioritizing water-prudent energy sources to avoid power shortages.
- Developing urban water resilience plans and promoting wastewater reuse.
- Encouraging farmers to adopt efficient irrigation methods and water-efficient crops.
- Encouraging businesses to set science-based water targets to ensure sustainable water use.