Water Stress

As water use increases, it becomes more difficult to access the resource sustainably. Water users need to handle conflict or cooperation, as well as avoiding breaching ‘planetary boundaries’, and eating into ‘environmental flow requirements’.

Water Shortage

Whether there is insufficient water to meet human needs is driven by population, but also depends on ‘needs’ vs. ‘wants’, what water sources are accessible, and whether needs can be met in other ways. Human water needs include water supply security, food security, minimum water levels, minimum water quality and maintaining ecosystem services.

Altered flows

Human water use involves changes to natural patterns of runoff and river discharge, through water withdrawals, consumption and return flows, land use change, irrigation, and inter-basin water transfers.

Sharing water

When local water sources can’t satisfy needs, a common solution is to look elsewhere. A region becomes dependent on upstream water inflows or on imports of “virtual water”. Water allocation decides who gets what.

Possible futures

What should you do? There are a broad range of actions that can alleviate water scarcity. There is no such thing as a free lunch, there will always be flow-on consequences. When everything is changing, it’s important to think about what lines you should avoid crossing.

Explore the effect of a range of actions on scarcity in future!

Research & Data

Publication list: Analyses in the atlas are based on published research. Brief comments are given for each water scarcity related publication describing how it connects with the themes presented in the atlas

Data: all data and analyses in the atlas are open access and open source. All data and code are listed here. Alternatively, data can be downloaded from each page.


Rosa, L., Rulli, M.C., Davis, K.F., Chiarelli, D.D., Passera, C., D’Odorico, P. Environmental Research Letters

Gerten, D., Lucht, W., Schaphoff, S., Cramer, W., Hickler, T., Wagner, W. Geophysical Research Letters

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