Water shortages

Posted: 26 March 2008

Despite a slowdown in population growth rates and family levels in many countries, the world's population is still growing by some 78 million per year. Finite water resources are coming under increasing pressure from population growth and over-use. This number implies an increased demand for freshwater of about 64 billion cubic metres a year - an amount equivalent to the entire annual flow rate of the Rhine River.

Click here for a map showing the availability of freshwater in 2000

As their populations grow and economies develop, water use rises rapidly. A country experiences water stress when annual supplies drop below 1,700 cubic metres per person. When annual water supplies drop below 1,000 cubic metres per person, the country faces water scarcity for all or part of the year.

One of the key UN Millennium Development Goals is to "reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water," by 2015.

  • Currently, 25 countries containing 600 million people faced either water stress or scarcity.
  • Around 200 million sub-Saharan Africans already face serious water shortages. By 2025, nearly 230 million Africans will face water scarcity, and 460 million will be living in water-stressed countries (UNEP)
  • By 2025, according to Global International Waters Assessment (UNEP 2006), some 1.8 billion people will be suffering from absolute water scarcity, while a full two-thirds of the world's projected population (over 5 billion) will experience water stress for part or all of the year.
  • By 2050, the number of water short countries soars to 54, affecting 4 billion people, or 40 per cent of the projected global population.The worst hit areas are in the Middle East, North Africa and in sub-Saharan Africa.

water scarcity mapsClick here for maps showing freshwater scarcity worldwide and projected water scarcity for African nations in 2025.

Source: Water - A Shared Responsibility: The United Nations World Water Development Report 2, 2006 (UNESCO, Paris, 2006)