Water is a fundamental resource for life, recognised as a human right. Avoiding water shortages is a key aspect of managing water scarcity.
A simple way of assessing water shortage is to estimate how much water is available per person in rivers, lakes and aquifers (“blue” water), and then judge whether that value is too low. This provides a first assessment, before thinking about complex questions like defining what is a ‘need’ vs ‘want’, or defining what it means to have easy access to water.
The increase in water shortage is driven mainly by population growth – water availability has not changed much. However, it is the areas with low water availability that see shortages first because there is less water to share around. A rearranged version of this indicator (its inverse), is interpreted as a “water crowding index”.
Water shortage can be thought of as population-driven scarcity, while water stress is demand-driven. Shortage can occur even with a small water demand if population is sufficiently high and water availability sufficiently low. Water demand may be low because needs are not being met, or the region is using green water or is importing water-dependent products.
In principle, water shortage can be avoided by keeping population low – within the “carrying capacity” of the local resources. In practice, if water availability is low, the solution is generally to find ways to increase supply (including virtual water and desalination) and to improve efficiency of its use. This analysis only includes the effect of local infrastructure and storage – it shows the base case before more substantial adaptation.
In general, water shortage often seems to be tolerated – local populations find solutions to meet their needs rather than being limited by local resources. Keeping track of the solutions being used is therefore important in evaluating whether human right to water is being met. In many regions, this analysis therefore suggests that unaccounted solutions are likely in use, rather than saying that water really is insufficient.
The interpretation of the indicator changes depending on how water availability and use are calculated. Other results can be viewed in the exploration tool. For the results shown:
Explore this data in a full interactive visualisation - change assumptions, zoom in to specific regions and see the role of water availability vs population
Water shortage refers to situations where there is insufficient local water to meet human needs.
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