The global water crisis
There is nothing more imperative to life on earth than water – yet multiple countries on all
its continents are experiencing extreme water shortages signalling a global water crisis. Of
the world’s 20 megacities, fourteen are experiencing water scarcity or drought conditions –
with as many as four billion individuals living in regions that experience severe droughts for
at least one month a year.
As natural disasters and climate change strike, along with the world’s growing population,
humanity faces a growing challenge of too much water in some places and not enough in
others. So what is the current state of the world’s water resources and what threats do the
human race face due to depleted water resources?
Earths water resources
The Earth’s hydrosphere contains approximately 1.4 million cubic kilometres (km3 ) of
water, however, only a percentage of this water is fit for crop production or human and
animal consumption. Roughly 90,000km3 of water a year can be accessed easily, which is
less than 0.5% of the total freshwater accessible. 2.5% of the worlds water is fresh, of this
roughly 69% is inaccessible in glaciers, ice caps or permanent snow cover and 30% is stored
underground with the rest being found in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. In essence, only
0.007% of Earth’s water is usable to feed its eight billion people – presenting the root of the
water scarcity on this planet.
The demand for water
An individual needs between 50 – 100 litres of water a day for basic health and sanitation,
with a further 400,00 litres needed through food consumption. Water consumption across
the globe is grossly unevenly spread – with countries such as the United States consuming
more than eight times the average domestic water use and four times the average for food
Increasing competition has arisen between countries and sectors within these countries for
water, with demand originating from four main sources; agriculture, production of energy,
industrial uses, and human consumption. Production of crops and livestock is
water‐intensive, and agriculture alone accounts for 70% of all water withdrawn by the
combined agriculture, municipal and industrial (including energy) sectors. The booming
demand for livestock products, in particular, is increasing the demand for water, as global
demand for food is expected to increase by 70% by 2050. Global energy consumption is
expected to increase by about 50% by 2035 due to population growth and increasing
economic activity. As regards human consumption, the main source of demand comes from
urban communities requiring water for drinking, sanitation, and drainage – as the
population grows, so does the demand for already sparse water.
The threat of water scarcity is very real and consequences for the lack of supply can already
be seen around the world. Due to limited freshwater supply, 1.1 billion people worldwide
lack access to water and 2.4 billion individuals do not have access to basic sanitation –
exposing them to diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever, and other water-borne illnesses.
The water systems that help entire ecosystems to thrive and feed the growing human
population have become depleted and stressed. Rivers, lakes, and reservoirs around the
globe are drying up or becoming too polluted for safe consumption, with over 50% of the
world’s wetlands disappearing. Agriculture consumes more water than any other source
and wastes much of that through inefficiencies. Climate change is altering patterns of
weather and water around the world, causing shortages and droughts in some areas and
floods in others. At the current consumption and population growth rate, this situation will
By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages and ecosystems
around the world will suffer even more – depleting water and food sources further.
Countries with high water consumption due to high water theft, malpractice and leakage
must be held accountable. Proper water resource management needs to be implemented to
guarantee a safe and consumable future water supply – ensuring the cycle of destruction is
stopped, to lead to a water plentiful future.