Quarter of global population faces extremely high water stress each year

West Asia and North Africa most water-stressed  

By Susan Chacko
Published: Thursday 17 August 2023
Photo: iStock

As many  as 25 countries or a quarter of the world’s population are currently exposed to extremely high water stress annually, new data from World Resources Institute (WRI) Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas showed. 

This means they use over 80 per cent of their renewable water supply for irrigation, livestock, industry and domestic needs. Even a short-term drought puts these places in danger of running out of water and sometimes prompting governments to shut off the taps. 

Globally, at least 50 per cent of the world’s population — around four billion people — live under highly water stressed conditions for at least one month of the year, the WRI report noted. And by 2050, that number could be closer to 60 per cent.

A region is said to be under ‘water stress’ when the demand for water exceeds the available volume or when poor quality restricts use.

The 25 most water-stressed countries are: Bahrain, Cyprus, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Botswana, Iran, Jordan, Chile, San Marino, Belgium, Greece, Tunisia, Namibia, South Africa, Iraq, India and Syria.

The most water-stressed regions are West Asia and North Africa, where 83 per cent of the population is exposed to extremely high water stress and South Asia, where 74 per cent is exposed.

Global water demand is projected to increase by 20-25 per cent by 2050, while the number of watersheds facing high year-on-year variability, or less predictable water supplies, is expected to increase by 19 per cent. For West Asia and North Africa, this means 100 per cent of the population will live with extremely high water stress by 2050. 

This is an issue of concern not just for consumers and water-reliant industries, but for political stability, according to the authors of the WRI report. 

The biggest change in water demand between now and 2050 will occur in sub-Saharan Africa, they added. “While most countries in sub-Saharan Africa are not extremely water-stressed right now, demand is growing faster there than any other region in the world.” 

By 2050, water demand in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to skyrocket by 163 per cent — four times the rate of change compared to Latin America — the second-highest region which is expected to see a 43 per cent increase in water demand, the analysts observed.

This increase in water use, mainly expected for irrigation and domestic water supply, could foster major economic growth in Africa — projected to be the fastest-growing economic region in the world, they noted. 

However, inefficient water use and unsustainable water management also threatens to lower the region’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 6 per cent, according to WRI’s Water Risk Atlas.

Solving global water challenges is cheaper

According to data from Aqueduct, 31 per cent of global GDP ($70 trillion) will be exposed to high water stress by 2050, up from $15 trillion (24 per cent of global GDP) in 2010. Just four countries — India, Mexico, Egypt and Turkey — will account for over half of the exposed GDP in 2050, the report highlighted.

WRI research showed that solving global water challenges is cheaper, costing the world 1 per cent of the GDP or 29 cents per person, per day from 2015 to 2030. 

Every level of government as well as communities and businesses must step up to build a water-secure future for all, the authors of the report noted. 

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