What is the distribution of water and water stress around the world?

Water is essential for all life on earth. For humans, it has a wide range of uses from drinking, disposing of waste, washing as well as growing and processing food. As the world’s population continues to grow there is increasing competition for water. Today one-third of the world’s population does not have access to clean drinking water. In contrast, in the UK the average person can use up to 150 litres of water at home alone! Rapid urbanisation is also a leading cause of increasing water demand and infrastructure in developing countries is not able to keep up with the changes.

Did you know that except a few countries in Europe and parts of the United States that there is an abundance of water resource relative to use, with less than 25% of water from rivers withdrawn for human purposes. Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt and Northern parts of China suffer from physical water scarcity as more than 60% of river flows are withdrawn for consumption. It is common to hear about drought in Africa however it is a little-known fact that the majority of sub-Saharan countries have an abundance of water however due to financial capital limits they are unable to extract the water needed to meet the needs of their populations. We find that high-income countries today need water primarily for industrial use as domestic (10%) and agricultural (30%) demands have reduced over time. In lower-income countries, we can see that up to 80% of water usage is in the agricultural sector on average and domestic consumption being at about 8%. Between 1995 and 2025 we will see some significant shifts in the distribution of water stress across the world. China, for example, is moving from less than 10% of water withdrawn as a percentage of total available to over 21%. The main reason for this increasing consumption has been the rise of its economic pushed forward by significant growth of its manufacturing industries. Countries such as Sudan and South Sudan are also seeing a similar shift with their populations continuing to rise but also because there are restrictions on international agreements regarding water extraction from the Nile which continues to be a source of tension for countries in this region. India’s over extraction groundwater reserves in northern parts of its country and as well as reducing water flows from the Himalayan glaciers are seeing provinces suffer from increasing drought periods.

What do you think will happen as the population continues to increase? What do you think the distribution of water around the world will look like in 2050?

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