Water crises in many parts of the world are becoming more common, according to recent research by the World Resources Institute (WRI). The impact of water crises has been ranked fourth out of all risks in terms of severity by the World Economic Forum’s Global risk report 2019.
Data analysis derived from WRI’s Aqueduct tools reveal that 17 countries – home to one-quarter of the world’s population—face “extremely high” levels of baseline water stress. That means that irrigated agriculture, industries and municipalities withdraw more than 80% of their available supply on average every year.
Forty-four countries, home to one-third of the world’s population, face “high” levels of stress, where on average more than 40% of available supply is withdrawn every year. “Such a narrow gap between supply and demand leaves countries vulnerable to fluctuations like droughts or increased water withdrawals,” WRI said, “which is why we’re seeing more and more communities facing their own ‘Day Zeros’ and other crises.” Day zero is where a region reaches such low water supply limits that authorities severely restrict access to water.
Twelve out of the 17 worst-affected regions are in the Middle East and North Africa, according to the research. Given usually-dry weather conditions, water supply has been traditionally low. But growing demand through population shifts and climate change is set to worsen conditions. The World Bank estimated the region would lose between 6% – 14% of GDP through water scarcity.
Water crises can be made more intense through poor management. In Chennai, India this June for example, the four reservoirs that supply most of the city’s drinking water dried up, leading authorities to cut water supplies by about 40%. Madras’s high court criticised the Tamil Nadu state government for inaction. “The court accused the government of waiting passively for the arrival of the monsoon instead of proactively handling the water crisis which, it said, did not happen in a day,” The Guardian reported.
But it is not just hot, dry countries that are affected. WRI said that “water is an inherently local issue.” Even in countries with low overall water stress, communities may still be experiencing extremely stressed conditions. South Africa and the United States rank at 48 and 71 on WRI’s list of countries that suffer the risk of water shortage, respectively. But the Western Cape (the state home to Cape Town) and New Mexico experience extremely high stress levels. “The populations in these two states rival those of entire nations on the list of most water-stressed countries,” WRI said.