Challenges & Solutions
A precarious future for water worldwide
Global demand for water has increased dramatically: between 1900 and 1995, demand for water increased six-fold – twice the rate of growth of the world’s population. The world population is predicted to grow from 6.9 billion in 2010 to 8.3 billion in 2030 and 9.1 billion in 2050. This is coupled with a massive increase in prosperity, consumption and therefore, the water footprint of individuals – especially in emerging markets.
The world’s population is requiring more food, water and energy to meet its needs. However, economic growth could be undermined by resource scarcity – not least in regard to water. The Water Resources Group estimates there could be a 40% shortfall between demand and availability of freshwater resources by 2030. According to the UN’s World Development Report, almost half of the world’s population will live in areas of high water stress by 2030.
These challenges are exacerbated by the fact that global freshwater resources are not uniformly distributed (across the planet, nine countries account for 60 per cent of current supplies) and the impacts of climate change. Increased levels of evaporation — because of rising temperatures — are one manifestation of this; others include changes in the seasonality of water flows from snow melt basins and glaciers, groundwater depletion, and reductions in soil moisture.
Taken together, the impacts of climate change and increasing consumption raise fundamental questions about our ability to satisfy demand over the next 20-30 years. At the heart of the problem is the lack of capacity of many governments, particularly in developing countries, to manage a rapidly changing water resource situation effectively. This is exacerbated by the weakness of society to hold governments to account for failing to provide these critical services.