Countries home to quarter of world’s population facing ‘extremely high’ water stress

17th August 2023

A total of 25 countries – home to a quarter of the global population – face extremely high water stress each year, regularly using up almost their entire available renewable supply.

That is according to a new report by the World Resources Institute (WRI), which defines a country facing ‘extreme water stress’ as one that uses 80% of its available renewable water supply annually.

The six most water-stressed countries are Bahrain, Cyprus, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman and Qatar, leaving them vulnerable to shortages.

The research also found that half of the world’s population — around four billion people — live in countries under ‘highly water-stressed conditions’ for at least one month of the year, using 40% of their supply.

Furthermore, the report suggests that $70trn (£55trn) in GDP – 31% of the global total – will be exposed to high water stress by 2050, up from $15trn in 2010, and that India, Mexico, Egypt and Turkey will account for over half of the exposed GDP.

The findings come just months before the COP28 climate summit in the UAE, which is also one of the world’s 25 most water-stressed countries.

“Water is essential to the progress of human societies. Food production, electricity generation, and manufacturing, among other things, all depend on it. However, many decision-makers lack the technical expertise to fully understand hydrological information,” the report’s authors say.

Overall, they found that water demand has more than doubled globally since 1960, and this is projected to increase by up to 25% by 2050, while the number of watersheds facing high year-to-year variability, or less predictable water supplies, is expected to increase by 19%.

For the Middle East and north Africa, this means 100% of the population will live with extremely high water stress by 2050.

Without intervention — such as investment in water infrastructure and better water governance — the report authors warn that the issue will continue to get worse, particularly in places with rapidly growing populations and economies.

“But water stress doesn’t necessarily lead to water crisis,” they continue. “For example, places like Singapore and the US city of Las Vegas prove that societies can thrive even under the most water-scarce conditions by employing techniques like removing water-thirsty grass, desalination, and wastewater treatment and reuse.

“Every level of government, as well as communities and businesses, must step up to build a water-secure future for all.”

Image credit: Shutterstock


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