the north face jester backpack International Decade for Action ‘Water for Life’ 2005
>> UN Water factsheet on water security
Water scarcity already affects every continent. Around 1.2 billion people, or almost one fifth of the world’s population, live in areas of physical scarcity, and 500 million people are approaching this situation. Another 1.6 billion people, or almost one quarter of the world’s population, face economic water shortage (where countries lack the necessary infrastructure to take water from rivers and aquifers).
Water scarcity is among the main problems to be faced by many societies and the World in the XXIst century. Water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century, and, although there is no global water scarcity as such, an increasing number of regions are chronically short of water.
Water scarcity is both a natural and a human made phenomenon. There is enough freshwater on the planet for seven billion people but it is distributed unevenly and too much of it is wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed.
MDG 1: Access to water for domestic and productive uses (agriculture, industry, and other economic activities) has a direct impact on poverty and food security.
MDG 2: Incidence of catastrophic but often recurrent events, such as droughts, interrupts educational attainment.
MDG 3: Access to water, in particular in conditions of scarce resources, has important gender related implications, which affects the social and economic capital of women in terms of leadership, earnings and networking opportunities.
MDGs 4 and 5: Equitable, reliable water resources management programmes reduce poor people’s vulnerability to shocks, which in turn gives them more secure and fruitful livelihoods to draw upon in caring for their children.
MDG 6: Access to water, and improved water and wastewater management in human settlements, reduce transmission risks of mosquito borne illnesses, such as malaria and dengue fever.
MDG 7: Adequate treatment of wastewater contributes to less pressure on freshwater resources, helping to protect human and environmental health.
MDG 8: Water scarcity increasingly calls for strengthened international cooperation in the fields of technologies for enhanced water productivity, financing opportunities, and an improved environment to share the benefits of scarce water management.
Water stress versus water scarcity
Hydrologists typically assess scarcity by looking at the population water equation. An area is experiencing water stress when annual water supplies drop below 1,700 m3 per person. When annual water supplies drop below 1,000 m3 per person, the population faces water scarcity, and below 500 cubic metres “absolute scarcity”.
Water scarcity is defined as the point at which the aggregate impact of all users impinges on the supply or quality of water under prevailing institutional arrangements to the extent that the demand by all sectors, including the environment, cannot be satisfied fully. Water scarcity is a relative concept and can occur at any level of supply or demand. Scarcity may be a social construct (a product of affluence, expectations and customary behaviour) or the consequence of altered supply patterns stemming from climate change for example.
Around 700 million people in 43 countries suffer today from water scarcity.
By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions.
With the existing climate change scenario,
almost half the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress by 2030, including between 75 million and 250 million people in Africa. In addition, water scarcity in some arid and semi arid places will displace between 24 million and 700 million people.
Sub Saharan Africa has the largest number of water stressed countries of any region.
UN initiatives that are helping to raise the issue.
World Water Day 2007: Coping with water scarcity
World Water Day 2007 was dedicated to the theme “Coping with water scarcity”. It highlighted the increasing significance of water scarcity worldwide and the need for increased integration and cooperation to ensure sustainable, efficient and equitable management of scarce water resources, both at international and local levels.
World Day to Combat Desertification 2013
The theme of the 2013 World Day to Combat Desertification is drought and water scarcity. This year’s slogan, “Don’t let our future dry up”, calls for everyone to take action to promote preparedness and resilience to water scarcity, desertification and drought. The slogan embodies the message that we are all responsible for water and land conservation and sustainable use, and that there are solutions to these serious natural resource challenges.
United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). January 2014
This publication examines desertification as a cause of global conflict and instability and calls for urgent action to support communities in crisis. It explores the impacts desertification has on the lives of many under the titles: Food (in)security farming ourselves into extinction; Water (in)security water scarcity triggers conflicts; Climate changing the face of the earth changes the humanity; Migration fight or flee; National Security breaking down; Inaction, recipe for International Political and Economic chaos; Securitizing productive land securing peace and stability; Investing in large scale restoration initiatives; Drought management measures; Institutional reforms; and culminates with Taking action now, a summary on what we can do now, to secure a future capable of dealing with drought risk.
Coping with water scarcity. An action framework for agriculture and food security
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). August 2012
This report focuses on the importance of the drylands issue on the global agenda and its relation to other issues, including climate change, food security and human settlements. The report illustrates the many ways in which the UN system is identifying opportunities to mainstream the drylands agenda into the policy making process. It sets out a common vision and agenda for UN wide action on dryland management and its role in addressing climate change and food security through a positive development and investment approach. The report is aimed at a number of audiences, with certain objectives: (1) UN agencies themselves, to clarify the commitment made to drylands and act as a reference guide; (2) Governments of developed and developing countries, as a normative guide on the UN’s position on, and commitment to, the development of drylands; (3) The private sector and donors, to encourage and inspire them to think about the viability and unique opportunities presented by drylands, and (4) Civil society, to encourage advocacy on the development of drylands, and empowerment of their populations.