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Acute drought conditions and dwindling natural water resources are focusing more attention on
what continues to be a worldwide problem: a lack of access to fresh, potable water.

Water scarcity can be defined as a lack of sufficient water, or not having access to safe water

Water is a pressing need in many areas of the world. That scarcity is spreading as water is
needed to grow and process food, create energy, and serve industry for a continually growing
population. Climate change is a key contributing factor.

Clean water is an essential ingredient of a healthy human life, but 1.2 billion people lack access
to water, according to recent estimates from the International Water Management Institute cited
in The World’s Water: Volume 8, edited by Peter H. Gleick. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s
population may be facing water shortages, according to the World Wildlife Federation. Available
freshwater supplies worldwide continue to dwindle. By 2030, water demand is forecast to
increase by 40%, according to Even Kuross, a management consultant based in Oslo, writing in
Fair Observer. The world population is expected to reach 9 billion, placing pressure on water


Physical water scarcity occurs when there isn’t enough water to meet demand. Roughly 20% of
the world’s population now lives in physical water scarcity, which The World’s Water: Volume
8 defines as areas in which water withdrawals exceed 75% of river flows. Another 500 million
live in areas “approaching physical scarcity.” This could be the result of dry or arid local
conditions, but distribution also plays a role. The Water Project points out the Colorado River
basin as a prime example “of a seemingly abundant source of water being overused and over
managed, leading to very serious physical water scarcity downstream.”

Over 1.2 billion are basically living in areas of physical water scarcity. And almost 1.6 billion
face economic water shortage. And these are really extreme numbers. And as our population
continues to grow there’s just going to be more problems. And we’re going to really have to face
drastic measures in order to make sure the people have access to water.

In the biennial compendium of freshwater information and data, Gleick writes that one key
challenge inherent in quantifying the problem is that data is not gathered reliably or consistently.
Some of the latest water use data available is actually 20 or more years old. Without reliable,
baseline data, many key issues cannot be adequately addressed by policymakers.


There are several available solutions able to effectively address water scarcity, including water
reuse, storage, management, conservation, and numerous water treatment technologies such as
desalination. Typically, one or more approaches must be adopted in tandem to be effective,
whether a water-reliant corporation or a government entity is doing the adopting. The crux of the
issue is balancing available supply with demand or consumption. Adding water supply through
reuse or desalination, for example, isn’t a panacea. Without water management and strategies for
adequately addressing ever-increasing demand, the solution is incomplete.


Groundwater is water that collects below the earth’s surface in fissures and crevasses, then
moves into aquifers. An aquifer is a body of permeable soil or rock that contains or transmits
groundwater. Typically, aquifers fill or recharge from rain or snowmelt when the water flows
downward until it reaches less permeable rock.

In times of drought or water scarcity, little water is available naturally to recharge existing
groundwater supplies, which can become depleted by overuse. Groundwater withdrawals have
tripled in the past 50 years, according to 2012 United Nations estimates cited in The World’s
Water: Volume 8. Areas with the highest groundwater withdrawals include parts of China, India,
and the United States. Roughly 67% of all water withdrawn is destined for agricultural use, 22%
is allocated for domestic use, and 11% goes for industrial use.

In some areas, including Australia and California, groundwater or aquifer recharging is being
explored to help bolster water supplies. The process involves the injection or infiltration of
excess surface water into underground aquifers. Water may be treated before it is injected. The
water can be stored underground until it is needed. Some watersheds are being restored with
native plant species in wetland areas to support aquifers’ natural recharge capabilities.

Surface water is often stored in dams, lakes, reservoirs, and tanks, but there are many challenges
associated with it, including flooding, pollution by natural and manmade sources, and losses
from evaporation or seepage.


There is no single water crisis, nor a simple solution. Different countries and different water
basins face unique problems, sometimes even within the same region. With finite limits to local
water, the critical challenge becomes how we can manage those resources to safely deliver the
water needed to fuel growth, as well as for meeting the needs of people and the environment.