If more than a quarter of renewable water resources are used, there is “water stress” according to the United Nations. According to the World Resource Institute’s (WRI) Water Risk Atlas, 17 countries are even affected by “extremely high water stress”.
Today, about twice as much groundwater is extracted as approximately 60 years ago. Worldwide, most water is needed for agriculture. However, supplies are finite, water is becoming increasingly scarce in many regions of the world, and parts of Europe are also affected. A quarter of humanity lives in countries that are already threatened by acute water shortages. In consequence, there is intensified competition for the resource, especially between agriculture and households.
The researchers who studied the water resources in 189 states warn of increasing shortages, especially in metropolitan areas. Particularly hard hit are states in the Middle East and North Africa, where it is very dry anyway. Water shortages there could also exacerbate existing political tensions. The situation is worst in Qatar, Israel and Lebanon. Experts are very concerned about the scarce water reserves in India. With 1.3 billion inhabitants, the state has more than three times as many inhabitants as the remaining 16 states with extremely high water stress combined.
Thirsty times for German forests
Water is also becoming scarcer in Europe. Germany ranks 62nd in this ranking; according to the WRI, 20 to 40 percent of water reserves in this country are used. According to the Federal Environment Agency, however, less than 20 percent of renewable water resources have been used for 15 years now. The hot summers have shown, however, that water can also become a scarce commodity in Germany – less for people, but all the more for forests, fields and shipping.
No relaxation in sight
Since the 1960s, the amount of groundwater extracted worldwide has more than doubled the WRI researchers report. And the situation could get even worse in the coming decades. According to Aquastat, the global water information system, water consumption has been increasing by about one percent per year since the 1980s.
The UN World Water Report 2019 concludes, among other findings, that about 90 percent of all natural disasters are water-related: Between 1995 and 2015, floods accounted for 43 percent and droughts for five percent of documented natural disasters. According to a World Bank study, climate change could even exacerbate many negative developments. The WRI experts see three ways to counteract this:
- In agriculture, targeted – instead of blanket – irrigation of plants and planting of varieties that grow well in drought
- Investments in infrastructure, i.e. water pipes that supply dry areas
- Increased treatment of wastewater