Home / Dystopia / Water Scarcity: Causes, Its Terrible Consequences and Possible Solutions

Water Scarcity: Causes, Its Terrible Consequences and Possible Solutions

by | Feb 21, 2023 | Dystopia, Sustainability




Imagine you have to wake up at 6:00 a.m. before the sun got too hot and started walking for four or more hours to finally get to a river just to fill two buckets. Then rest for several minutes and began your journey back home.

On your way home it’s already noon and the soil is too hot that it starts burning your ankle. Now you have two heavy buckets to carry. And when you finally got home it’s already afternoon, now you have to start cleaning and cooking. Then went to bed, ready to get up and do it all over again the next day.

Already today, 1 in 7 people across the world face this harsh reality. That represents nearly a billion people who spend their day looking for freshwater and then go to bed wondering where the next cup would come from. 

But that’s not the only problem, every time these people take a sip of the water they run the risk of contracting everything from cholera, to typhoid and other diseases. We can’t live without freshwater and it’s running out fast.

What is water scarcity?

Water scarcity is a growing global issue that affects millions of people around the world. It is defined as the lack of sufficient water resources to meet the needs of an area’s population. This can be caused by natural or man-made factors and further exacerbated by climate change.

As a result, many communities are facing severe water shortages. This crisis is expected to grow increasingly serious in the coming years. There are many causes of this calamity. And there are no easy answers to this problem.

Importance of water

When you hear about water scarcity or water projects you may think it is just water but water is just the beginning. This liquid delivers a healthier future. Proper infrastructure replaces the 4 to 5 hours of walking. And this time saved is spent in school or doing more productive tasks.

It is through this precious liquid that we empower the countless women and children who ago were tasked with collecting the precious liquid. This liquid is the most essential element of life. We need it for drinking, sanitation, food production, cooking food, producing power and cooling our power plants, and many more.

Humans already know the importance of water, we are very smart. Indeed, we got it from the very beginning as we developed our civilizations around big rivers and the sea. The world has an abundance of this liquid, in fact, 70% of the earth is covered with this liquid.

Earth is the blue planet. Throughout history, civilizations have harnessed water to thrive. This is why humans have always settled close to surfaces like seas, rivers, and lakes. Around 90% of the world’s population lives less than 10 kilometers from a freshwater source.

Today, due to a system of complex infrastructure people can count on having running freshwater in their homes. The precious liquid flows from the processing plant through service connections to reach homes on a 24/7 basis.

But since our planet is awash with this liquid, there are perceptions that it is there in bountiful amounts and everyone has access to it and there are no shortages. But the problem is that 97% of Earth’s water is saltwater and only around 3% is freshwater.

Of the 3% of earth’s freshwater, more than 68% is frozen in ice or glacier, and around 30% is underground. Less than 1% of the Earth’s water is drinkable and available for useful purposes. That 1% we all rely on is really difficult and expensive to get.

With that 1% of freshwater, we seem to forget its importance. Nowadays we take freshwater for granted and we are heading toward a water-crisis. It is estimated that by 2040 most of the world’s population won’t have enough freshwater to meet demand year-round.

The crisis will get worse. We’re at a real inflection point and if we are not careful, we may lose our ability to manage it. There’s no substitute for this precious resource and we will die without it. Water scarcity can be defined on different scales.

The degree of scarcity depends on the amount of liquid required for human activities and the amount available for nature. It can also vary according to the scales used to measure scarcity. Water scarcity may also be due to pollution or overuse. So what exactly are the causes of this scarcity?

Causes of the water scarcity

We already have problems with water. Not everyone has enough access to it, 2.2 billion of the world’s population lacks access to cleanwater for drinking. More than 40% of this number lives in Sub-Saharan Africa.

And the main reason is that agriculture and industry are wasting way too much to satisfy the ever-growing population. We are also living in a consumeristic society and the weather is getting hotter and drier due to global warming.

Moreover, the modern and developed world prefers meat over vegetables which means that more water is needed to produce food. To produce one kg of meat 5,000 to 20,000 liters is needed compared to 500 to 4,000 liters for one kg of wheat. The water footprint of fruit and vegetable is 962 liters and 322 liters respectively.

The world population is increasing and is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050. According to the World Water Development Report, with the growing population, freshwater demand will increase by 20 to 30%. Globally, 70% of freshwater is used for agriculture, and with the growing population, a 15% increase is expected by 2050.

The planet is getting drier and water is becoming more scarce. It is estimated that 2.5 billion people live in the world’s arid zone. Adding to this is the pressure of climate change that is already pressing on the planet, thus reducing rainfall and increasing evaporation.

We are already exhausting our surface resources where lakes and rivers are going dry. We are also tapping the groundwater which is not going to get replenished. And things like recycling and re-drinking our urine would not help much.

Hundreds of years ago, humans started to make canals. Then we started draining lakes to make place for cities and over the next few centuries that space was filled with people. Like in most places, surface water was treated as a public resource and key to development.

And then the population exploded. Some city gets more rain than others but the lakes that would collect that rainwater are long gone, so the city floods. To gain access to freshwater we’ve started accessing groundwater.

But there’s a catch, those liquid deposits underground have accumulated over millennia and they’ll take millennia to fill back up. Sucking up that groundwater also has side effects like soil compression which can literally sink a city.

In 2015 a series of droughts started to dry up almost half of the available freshwater in Cape Town, South Africa. It was the first major city in the world to run out of freshwater and planned to indefinitely shut off its supply.

In 2018 the city was approaching “day zero” which stands for the day when taps run dry and people would have to get water rations. Cape Town was the first major city to risk running out of freshwater but it’s not going to be the last.

Cities like São Paulo, Melbourne, Jakarta, London, Beijing, Istanbul, Tokyo, Bangalore, Barcelona, and Mexico City will all face their Day Zero in the next few decades unless their consumption radically changes.

Cities are sprawling urban jungles, home to more than half of the world’s people. Already, two third of the world’s population is experiencing at least a month of water scarcity throughout the year. The gap between the demand and supply of freshwater is narrowing down.

Drought is making the supply of freshwater critically low and shortages are happening all over the world. There are simply more people on Earth consuming more freshwater than reliable rain and snow to refill lakes and rivers.

As a consequence of global warming, the availability of this precious liquid is becoming more erratic. But the problem isn’t just that there are more people on Earth using water, it’s how we’re using it.

Humans need to drink which represents almost a gallon of freshwater, brushing teeth and washing hands typically takes about a gallon, then for the toilet another three gallons. But drinking, washing, and toilet flushing only account for a small percentage of freshwater use.

In America, agriculture consumes 33% of freshwater, and industry consumes 59%, only 8% is available for domestic purposes. Agriculture and industry which produce our food and products use most of our cleanwater.

It takes 168 liters and 140 liters to produce a pint of beer and a cup of coffee respectively. These numbers are the amount of freshwater needed to grow all the ingredients in just one serving of these drinks.

Now if you want a cotton shirt, that will cost you 2700 liters. But that is nothing compared to meats. Alfalfa is a common ingredient in cattle feed and growing a kilogram of that takes 510 liters. An average cow consumes about 12 kilograms of feed a day and also has to drink. If you do the maths, one hamburger takes around 2400 liters to produce.

The world is consuming higher calorie diets with more meat which means more freshwater is needed to raise livestock. What’s worst is that water doesn’t abide by the rules of capitalism, so farmers and manufacturers hardly pay anything for it.

The true cost of this precious liquid doesn’t add up to the cost of the burger or the product we use. This is why fast food and shops can offer you bargain burgers and products. Around the world, this precious liquid is treated and priced like there will always be enough of it.

So we end up using it in absurdly wasteful ways. It is estimated that 95% of farmland irrigation systems around the world are inefficient. They just flood the fields and most of the liquid is sunk into the earth.

But as Clearwater gets scarcer, this must change. Some research predicted that freshwater would be the petroleum of the 21st century. Some hedge funds have started buying, trading, and investing in water so that they can take advantage of scarcity to turn it into a profit in the future.

Putting a higher price on this liquid might have benefits, as people will start valuing it as they should. And if this liquid had a higher price, governments might also decide it’s worth the money to repair our infrastructure.

Because there are not enough financial resources allocated to maintain water infrastructures. It is estimated that 2.4 billion of water are leaked from the distribution network.

Water scarcity is a result of institutional failures to supply regular supplies and adequate infrastructure. This problem affects every continent, and it’s growing faster than population growth.

In the Middle East and North Africa, proper management of water resources is difficult, due to multiple institutions and a lack of a unified policy. But we also value this liquid so little that we dump millions of tons of sewage and agricultural and industrial waste into it every day.

Pollution affects the quality and availability of freshwater. Poor waste disposal conditions, over-use, and poor management of water resources all contribute to this aridity.

Effects of water scarcity

In the coming decades, freshwater supply will be limited in regions that already have an abundance of it. In areas where water is not available, it will become scarcer, threatening the economies of entire regions.

By 2050, it is estimated that the Middle East and the Sahel in Africa will experience a decline in economic growth rate by up to 6% due to water scarcity and 5 billion people will face shortages.

Economic water scarcity occurs due to inadequate infrastructure and poor management of resources. It affects more than one-quarter of the world’s population.

Lack of access to cleanwater means people must walk long distances to get it which is often contaminated. It is estimated that in developing countries, girls and women spent more than 200 million hours per day collecting this scarce resource.

This lack of basic sanitation costs the world USD 260 billion each year in economic opportunities. Further, a lack of cleanwater in these areas leads to increased poverty and illness.

A recent report revealed that over 418 million people lack access to safe water in Africa. Most of these people live in rural areas. The region is second only to Australia in dryness. Africa has only 9% of the world’s renewable water supplies.

Millions of women must take on long walks with 40 pounds of water can. The physical effort involved in this task robs women of their time for other activities. It also robs them of time with their families and the pursuit of other interests.

Moreover, water insecurity can lead to food price spikes and may even drive migration. Already, waves of migrants have occurred after prolonged droughts. More than half of the world will face severe water-stressed by 2030.

With population growth, more countries will face scarcity. The adverse impacts of water scarcity on the environment and human health will be felt far beyond the immediate needs of people living in such areas.

Furthermore, climate change is predicted to make this aridity worse in certain ecological zones. It is set to reduce rain-falls and increase variability. The scarcity of water has a direct impact on human behavior.

Humans consume more of this liquid than the basin can accommodate. As a result, scarcity reduces the production of goods and services. Hence, society must adjust to changing consumption patterns in response to scarcity, which means changing agricultural practices.

However, these changes come at a high price. The impact of scarcity on the global economy is multifaceted. For example, it can lead to increased food prices, escalating regional conflicts, and civil unrest.

It also affects irrigated and rain-fed agriculture, as well as livestock. Additionally, it affects the food supply indirectly resulting in food waste.  In the Horn of Africa, for example, 13 million people are currently facing food shortages as a result of droughts.

Many livestock and crops are dead due to dryness and thus increasing food prices.  Water scarcity affects businesses all over the world. It increases the costs of production and keeps companies from staying competitive.

The costs of adaptation for businesses are directly proportional to the difficulty of adaptation. In addition to economic, social, and political disruptions, water scarcity is a major driver of conflict.

A water conflict is something nobody wants to see. While scarcity may lead to increased conflict, it is also a contributing factor to desertification and the loss of plants and wildlife. Its impact is greater in areas where subsistence agriculture is the only source of livelihood.

Malnutrition rates rise across the region and families are unable to survive. In addition, this crisis cause forced migration. In addition to causing a humanitarian crisis, it affects the environment.

While drought and unreliable rainfall are the primary causes of dryness and aridity, climate change and continental warming will exacerbate this problem. Africa already is one of the aridest continents and its varying climate patterns have created hotspots of drought and flash flooding.

Scarcity is likely to become a major source of food and economic insecurity in the future, requiring greater coordination and foresight from decision-makers. Moreover, insufficient freshwater consumption has major health implication, including kidney problems, constipation, and mental problems.

Freshwater is essential for maintaining blood pressure and blood flow, hence we must conserve it on our planet. In the absence of a stable water supply, people in remote regions suffer from diseases and pollution.

Many suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. Nearly 1.2 million people die due to a lack of cleanwater, sanitation, and hygiene-related diseases, and over 300,000 children under five die due to diarrhoeal diseases.

Every day, more than 800 children die due to water-related diarrhea. It is estimated that by 2040, 600 million children faces death, malnutrition, and diseases as a result of freshwater supplies being evaporated.

For instance, the distribution network is at risk in areas where groundwater is depleted. The United Nations Water program recently released a report on the issue, stating that there are 2.3 billion people worldwide who currently face water scarcity.

This number will rise to between 4.8 and 5.7 billion by 2050 due to drought. More than 75% of the world could face drought by 2050. The availability of clean, safe drinking liquid is critical for human health and the lack of it is a serious threat to our future.

The effects of water scarcity are far-reaching. The most obvious impact is on public health. Almost two billion people do not have access to freshwater and an additional two billion do not have access to a reliable supply.

As a result, people are forced to drink liquids that are often contaminated, resulting in waterborne illnesses. In addition, stagnant sewage can breed bacteria and harmful insects, leading to sanitation problems.

Another major concern is the global distribution of resources. There are limited resources in many parts of the world, which makes access to cleanwater a major issue for many people. The scarcity of water is an increasing threat to global development and access to it is a basic human right.

As the population increases, demands increase rapidly. Also, climate change affects freshwater sources and exacerbates the problem. While these are obvious challenges, the consequences are far-reaching.

This aridity also affects half of the world’s cities. It is revealed that the global population is suffering from water scarcity in half of all major cities. It was also noted that usage has increased twice as fast as population growth in the past century so regions are becoming chronically short of this precious liquid.

Because people do not have access to cleanwater sources, they are often stuck in poverty and are unable to thrive. And while scarcity is not the only problem that affects people around the world, it is a critical issue. Taking steps to minimize your water use can help protect our planet.

Water scarcity solution

With all these numbers, it looks like we are running out of cleanwater. But earth cannot run out of this liquid, thanks to the process called the water cycle. This system continuously produces and recycles water, from vapor to liquid, to ice as it circulates the globe.

Earth produces enough freshwater for everyone, but the real problem is that human activities are disrupting the water cycle. Freshwater is being depleted faster than it can replenish by rain or snowfall. And this supply isn’t distributed evenly.

The earth has diverse climates and geography meaning that some regions receive more rainfall and natural water sources while other areas receive less and have geographic features that make transporting this liquid much more difficult.

Sometimes distribution infrastructure and the energy needed to move freshwater across these regions are extremely expensive. However, a lot of things are being done to try counter all the different contributors to this crisis.

Environmental policy is set to play a critical role in solving this crisis. Policies can help address the crisis by reducing all the factors that are impacting freshwater resources such as pollution, leakage, wastage, etc…

Environmental policy can also help protect water resources from being used in unintended ways and also help reduce demand by encouraging the use of conservation technologies. A lack of proper and well maintain distribution infrastructure can lead to the depletion of this precious resource.

Hench, investing in water-related infrastructure can lead to a proper and fair distribution. But perhaps the most important thing to do is focus on awareness, to encourage the masses to stop wasting this precious resource.

Moreover, by raising awareness and educating about scarcity, people can start using it more efficiently. Teaching children about how to use the resource wisely, installing water conservation measures at home, and campaigning for water conservation are some of the ways this can be done.

Many people don’t realize how much water they use every day, and even less are aware of the shortages that are happening in other parts of the world. Education can help increase awareness of the issue. Recycling some of this precious liquid can also help solve the issue.

By recycling wastewater and stormwater, we can reduce the amount of freshwater that needs to be used for irrigation, and manufacturing. Investing in proper wastewater facilities and constructing proper networks to collect stormwater can help reduce flooding and prevent sewage to pollute freshwater sources.

Moreover, harvesting rainwater can help solve the issue. Rainwater can be collected from roofs, gutters, downspouts, parking lots, driveways, and other surfaces and used for washing, cleaning, and gardening. And treatment plants can also recycle rainwater for sanitation purposes.

But perhaps the most difficult but necessary endeavor is limiting agricultural thirst. Proper irrigation systems can help solve scarcity problems by reducing the amount of water needed for irrigation. Instead of flooding the entire field, using precision farming techniques can prevent wastage.

Strict irrigation policy can also be a key solution to reduce unsustainable practices and wastage. Some farmers are already finding ingenious ways to reduce their impact, like using special irrigation techniques to grow “more crop per drop”, and breeding new crops that are less thirsty.

Some industries are adopting new production processes that use less water like vertical farming. In vertical farming, crops are grown on vertically stacked shelves. This method allows for dense crop production, which reduces the need for land and irrigation.

Vertical farming uses 95% less water than traditional agriculture. In addition, it can help to improve food security by creating more sustainable and equitable food systems because everything is grown indoors, and sheltered from climate conditions.

Climate change is exacerbating the effects of water scarcity, such as increased flooding and drought. Reducing the effects of global warming can stabilize weather patterns, thereby reducing some pressure on the water cycle.

Furthermore, technology like desalination can enhance freshwater production. Desalination is the process of removing salt from seawater. It is a valuable solution to scarcity issues, as it can provide a safe, potable, and consistent supply of water in areas with high demand.

Another way to help solve this crisis is to price water appropriately. This means charging people adequately for what they use. This will prevent the unsustainable waste of this precious resource.

Final words

When water is scarce, a community cannot meet its needs. Supplies are insufficient and the infrastructure is inadequate. Scarcity affects billions of people in a variety of regions around the world. Managing resources effectively is important for building resilient communities.

Scarcity is an enormous undertaking and can be particularly difficult to tackle in arid regions. In fact, it can result in more shortages than ever, so it’s critical that people understand how water scarcity impacts us.

The UN-Water Program coordinates efforts to address freshwater access and sanitation issues worldwide. But we can’t just rely on experts and wait until all the precious liquid is already down the drain.

We have to do something for the generations to come. We all need to make changes in our daily lives to strike a balance between the comforts of modern life and the health of the planet.