The world is facing a water scarcity crisis, with 17 countries including India, Israel and Eritrea using more than 80 percent of their available water supplies each year, a new analysis finds. Those countries are home to a quarter of the world’s 7.7 billion people. Further population rise or dwindling water supplies could cause critical water shortages, the researchers warn.
“As soon as a drought hits or something unexpected happens, major cities can find themselves in very dire situations,” says Rutger Hofste, a data scientist at the Washington, D.C.–based World Resources Institute, which released the data on August 6. “That’s something that we expect to see more and more.”
To gauge countries’ risk — or “water stress,” WRI updated its online calculator with data from 1961 to 2014 on water use by households, industry and agriculture, as well as water supply data from surface sources and aquifers. Previously, the tool — called the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas — assessed water demand based a snapshot of 2010 data.
People “immediately link [water woes] to climate change,” says Hofste, who is based in Amsterdam. But economic and population growth “are the biggest drivers.” Water use has increased by 150 percent, from 1,888.7 cubic kilometers in 1961 to 4,720.8 cubic kilometers in 2014, the analysis found.
Population and economic growth is straining global water supplies. Data released by the World Resources Institute show that 17 countries — mostly in the Middle East, Northern Africa and South Asia — are under “extremely high” water stress. That means they are using at least 80 percent of their yearly supplies. Another 27 countries in the “high” stress category are using 40 to 80 percent of supplies. Less stressed countries, those using less than 40 percent of their water supplies, are ranked “medium high” to “low.”
Twelve of the 17 countries facing extremely high risk are in the Middle East and North Africa. Also in this category are Pakistan and India, where aquifer levels are among the fastest falling in the world (SN: 7/25/15, p. 13).
The United States is considered to have relatively low risk; overall, it uses less than 20 percent of its available water. However, some western states including California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Nebraska typically use 40 percent or more of current water supplies each year.