Water shortages

2.2 billion people have no access to safe water.

Around 9,300 people die every day due to a lack of clean water, 1,000 of them children.

That’s 3.4 million people every year.
This amount will triple by 2050 (UN).
To date, we can use less than 30% of the freshwater resources, because 70% of drinking water is bound in ice.

Water availability

Drinking water. No known planet has as much of it as the Earth. Even today, we do not fully understand how it was formed 4 billion years ago. On the other hand, there is one thing we do understand: it forms the basis for our life. We humans have been living on this planet for over 200,000 years. In recent decades, however, we have seriously disturbed our basis of existence.

 

Many sources of water have been used up, and the remaining resources are so polluted that in many places there would be no water available without the use of technology and energy. Despite all efforts, 2.2 billion people already have no access to safe drinking water. A result that raises questions.

How could this have happened? We have enough water.

With a total water volume comprising around 1,386 million cubic kilometres, there is actually enough drinking water on Earth. However, only a small proportion of it is usable. Only 2.5% is freshwater. The other 97.5% is salt water in our oceans and seas. The 2.5% of freshwater is sufficient, in theory. However, about 70% of it is inaccessible, as it is in the form of permanent ice. A dwindling proportion remains usable for us, shared by all life on Earth: the animal world, plant world and we humans.

  • Total water volume

    1.386 million km3

  • Distribution

    97.5% are salt water of the oceans and secondary seas
    . 2,5% are fresh water

  • Unusable

    70% of fresh water is bound in glaciers and snow

  • Usable

    30% of freshwater is the available portion (e.g. groundwater)

  • Easily accessible

    0.3% of the available share of freshwater is in lakes and rivers

Water consumption

According to the United Nations, global water consumption has increased more than tenfold over the past 100 years.

At the same time, the population has multiplied. As a result, water consumption has been increasing faster than the number of consumers. Even if the general amount of fresh water remains the same, it is unevenly distributed from a geographical point of view.

In addition, water pollution has a significantly negative influence on the usable proportion of drinking water. Protection of drinking water sources is just another example that contributes to the scarcity in different regions of the world.

Looking to the future, the world population will grow by 2 to 3 billion people by the middle of this century, according to the UN. This will also increase the water requirement disproportionately. The United Nations anticipates an increase in the amount of water required by around 20–30%.

(UN-World Water Development Report 2019; SDG6 Progress Report, 2021).

Water consumer distribution

72% Water consumption of irrigated agriculture

16% Household water consumption

12% Water consumption by industry

Example consumption in production

1,000 litres for one avocado

 

1,600 litres for 1 kg of bread

 

2,500 litres for 1 kg of rice

 

8,000 litres for 1 pair of jeans

 

Up to 15,000 litres for 1 kg of beef

Water shortages and causes

A number of influential factors result in water shortages. Simply put, in the future, more and more people will also require more and more water, both directly and indirectly through the increasing demand for food and everyday products (virtual water) – see water consumption.

In many places around the world, water availability and water consumption are no longer in a balanced relationship. On one hand, the shortage of water arises simply from a non-existent resource. Some water-rich regions also suffer from a lack of the infrastructure required to make the use of springs possible.

A water shortage is also described as scarcity, triggered by economic protections which lead to a ban on its use. On the other hand, water shortage is also caused by the pollution of water sources.

In that case, the drinking water can no longer be used safely, even though it is available in abundance. Environmental disasters can also lead to sudden water shortages in water-rich areas if the infrastructure is destroyed or has been seriously damaged, and the drinking water has been contaminated.

Impacts

Today, over 2.2 billion people have no access to clean drinking water. This much-quoted statistic is also accompanied by a dramatic reality:

around 3.4 million people die every year from lack of water or due to the consequences of contaminated drinking water. That’s 9,300 people every day (1,000 of whom are children).

The UN, among others, has already explained to us where this could lead. By 2050, around 9.3 billion people will be affected by acute water scarcity. Thinking that this will be limited solely to southern, dry regions is one of the next huge mistakes.

Because many regions around the globe are already affected by water shortages – due to natural changes or through our own actions.

When we speak of water shortages, this often refers to the water that we need directly in order to live.
However, such shortages also affect our environment, nature and wildlife just as much. If they are affected by water shortages, this will inevitably have an impact on our lives.

According to estimates by the UN, 24 billion tonnes of fertile land are already being lost every year due to desertification, droughts and the wear and tear of arable land (degradation). Around 1.5 billion people are affected. A steadily growing world with increasing population growth, increasing demand for food and consumer goods, industrial development and the desire for permanent material availability is faced with a constant resource which does not increase.

In particular, absolute water shortage has a negative impact on economic and social development.

It holds considerable potential for conflict between individual people or groups of users themselves, and therefore by entire societies which require water for households and agriculture or industry.