Water scarcity refers to a region’s inability to meet water usage demands due to a shortage of available water resources. It already affects every continent and approximately 2.8 billion people across the world at least once a year. More than 1.2 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water.

Water scarcity features water shortages or deficits, water stress, and water crises.

While water stress is a relatively new phenomenon, getting freshwater sources for use over a period might be problematic. It could lead to additional depletion and degradation of current water resources. Climate change, such as changing weather patterns, including floods and droughts, increased pollution, and increased human demand and usage of water, may all contribute to water scarcity.

What causes it?

Water scarcity is caused by two interconnected phenomena: increasing freshwater usage and loss of viable freshwater supplies.

Water scarcity can be caused by physical (absolute) water scarcity and economic water scarcity. Physical water scarcity is caused by insufficient natural water resources to meet a region’s demand, while economic water scarcity is caused by poor management of the available water resources.

Freshwater stress

By 2050, the globe will need to feed and supply energy for an additional 2–2.5 billion people and meet a billion people’s existing unsatisfied power demands. To satisfy the nutritional needs of this new population, we must consider the amount of water used in the production of various products, particularly energy and food.

Energy and food security are two major objectives for water managers. Interactions and feedbacks both connect energy production, water, food security, and climate change. The Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture [International Water Management Institute (IWMI), 2007] provides a comprehensive analysis. This study shows that in a business as usual scenario, agricultural water usage would nearly quadruple.

Globalization

Increasing globalization drives the adoption of new norms and processes for international commerce in products and services, reflecting the growing influence of multinational corporations involved indirectly in water usage and transfer. This trade globalization has far-reaching consequences for governments, consumers, and the environment. While bulk water is rarely sold, save in small quantities in bottles, the water used to make commodities exchanged across borders, known as virtual water, can significantly impact water balances in basins and regions.

The influence of globalization on water can be viewed from two perspectives: the detrimental impacts on water of the international economy’s increasing integration, particularly in terms of water contamination and accompanying environmental degradation, and water as an object of global trade policies.

Climate change – More troubled seas ahead

Climate change, which is becoming a major international issue, accounts for roughly 20% of the global increase in water scarcity. Countries that already face water scarcity will be hit the hardest. Significantly, even if the water impacts of climate change are neutral or even beneficial to the world’s hydrological budget, there will be significant increases in water scarcity. With neither fairly likely to occur, the impact of climate change will affect bulk water supplies and exacerbate the extremes of drought and flooding.

UN-Water

UN-Water is the mechanism that coordinates the operations of the United Nations (UN) system aimed at implementing the Millennium Declaration and World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) agendas in all aspects relating to freshwater.

UNWater is the result of many years of extensive collaboration and engagement among the United Nations Agencies. These efforts have contributed to tremendous progress and bringing water and water-related problems to the top of the political agenda.

The high number of UN Agencies concerned with water reflects the various roles that water plays in our civilizations and the intricate interconnections that it entails.

Promoting sustainable water management for the benefit of all is a common duty and challenge. It asks for coordinated action inside the UN system and other members and stakeholders – including public and private sector organizations, civil society, and labor – as part of a worldwide, comprehensive effort.

The primary goal of UN-Water is to supplement and add value to current programs and initiatives by promoting synergies and cooperative efforts to optimize the coherence and effectiveness of support offered to countries pursuing the international community’s agreed-upon goals. This is consistent with the integrated water resources management (IWRM) approach, which calls for cooperation among all water management stakeholders.

Conservation

Given the likelihood of population expansion, the study area’s per capita water consumption must be tackled through conservation measures in all three primary sectors of water use: urban, agricultural, and industrial.

Conservation strategies to minimize water consumption are generally well recognized, but their implementation frequently necessitates societal or economic incentives. Although some conservation methods are costly, the majority of them outweigh the costs of increasing water supplies.

Furthermore, water conservation measures invariably positively impact water quality and the environment, even if just by reducing the impact of human activities on freshwater supplies and the amounts of wastewater created.

What is the environmental impact of the water crisis?

Water scarcity has several severe environmental consequences, including harmful effects on lakes, rivers, ponds, wetlands, and other freshwater resources. The consequent water misuse due to scarcity, typically found in irrigation agriculture areas, impacts the ecosystem in various ways, including nutrient pollution, increased salinity, and the loss of wetlands and floodplains. Furthermore, water scarcity complicates flow management in urban stream rehabilitation.

Way forward – We can do much better

Combating water scarcity necessitates activities at the national, local, and river basin levels. It also asks for global and international initiatives that will lead to more collaboration between states on shared management of water resources (lakes, rivers, and aquifers) and their benefits.

Because water shortage is intersectoral, it necessitates teamwork, sharing shared visions and policy ideas, and collective action to address the issue. The institutional fragmentation of responsibilities in the water development sector is a fundamental obstacle in successfully resolving water scarcity in countries.