Earth's Clean Water Supply

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Clean Water Scarcity - Population Growth

Population growth is contributing to clean water scarcity on the planet, generally by increasing the demand for a limited supply of water.


  • Growth in population causes excessive consumption of resources. The growth in population in the world has tripled and water consumption has grown six-fold.
  • Inequality in wealth distribution has also brought waste. Currently, 20% of the poorest countries make up 1.3% of private consumption, while 20% of the richest countries contribute to 86%.
  • For example, the estimated use of water by a family of four in the US is 400 gallons of water per day with a 70% indoor use, with 27% of this use happening in the bathroom.
  • The usage of water globally has doubled since 1960. Today, 1.7 billion people live in countries that use 80% of their water supply every year on agriculture, industries and cities.
  • About 70% of water is used for irrigation and agriculture to feed the high population.


  • Over 44 countries in the world are experiencing high stress water levels, while 17 countries are experiencing extreme stress water levels.
  • In 2050, 9.7 billion people will live in water stress regions.
  • Approximately 844 million people around the globe do not have access to clean water and safe water.
  • Four billion people live in regions with severe water scarcity for at least a month annually.
  • Water demand will grow to 55% by 2050, with 70% of the water being used for irrigation.


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Clean Water Scarcity - Urbanization

Urbanization is contributing to clean water scarcity in different ways including the increasing industrialization and its wastewater disposal in natural water sources, the contamination of natural water sources by human wastes, water-wasting culture in urban spaces. Therefore, 700 million people in urban spaces live without clean water. Actions that are being taken to avoid clean water scarcity that could be and are being implemented in various areas are avoiding industrial wastewater and giving eco-education to citizens in urban areas.



  • The urbanization not only causes land-use change but excessive use of energy and resources have overburdened the ecosystem and has the worst implications on human health; one of them is the clean water scarcity.
  • Industrialization is the primary cause of water pollution.
  • In a study published in the Asian Journal of Water, Environment and Pollution, the researchers found that "clean water has been contaminated by excrement through sewers, industrial effluent, urban and agricultural excess and saline intrusion."
  • Clean water scarcity is related to the difference between developed and developing countries. Urbanization creates water stress as wealthier populations use more water, energy, and water-intensive goods.
  • Because of showers, washing machines, and dishwashers, urbanization creates a culture of water wasting among wealthy people (people can afford these amenities).
  • Furthermore, poorer populations living in urban areas within developing nations suffer from limited access to drinking water and basic sanitation.
  • Therefore, urban spaces in developing countries are both sites of clean water scarcity and high consumption.


  • Improving water infrastructure in urban areas around the world would improve the problems with water scarcity.
  • In a study published in Elsevier journal about how the water scarcity can be avoided, taking in account 50 big urban cities, was found that 78 ± 3% of their water from surface sources, some of which are far away: the watersheds where this water is stored is occupying the 41% of the global land surface.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency of the USA is taking action to reduce illegal discharges by industrial polluters. The EPA is engaging with authorized states, as well as the Association of Clean Water Administrators, to broaden and transition this initiative to become it in a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. (Source 5)
  • A crucial way of avoiding water scarcity problems in urban areas is eco-education, specifically teaching citizens in urbanized areas on how to avoid unnecessary water wasting.


We began our research by looking for information on how urbanization is contributing to the clean water scarcity in the world. We looked through reliable sources on this topic in Academic journals from Science Direct Elsevier and Research Gate. From these databases, we were able to find what actions could be and are being taken to combat this global problem. We further searched on government official websites like The Chicago Council and for additional information. We also cross-referenced the information we found on sources like Unwater, which offers insight into the current problems that people living in urban areas face when it comes to clean water scarcity.
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Clean Water Scarcity - Competition

Some factors causing water scarcity around the world include climate change, water overuse, as well as increased pollution. Several places around the world are affected by water scarcity, and about 2.7 billion people are affected by water scarcity every year. About eight mighty rivers across the globe are running dry from overuse.


  • Several problems, including groundwater contamination, have become universal concerns. Access to fresh water and sanitation services have presented enormous "challenges to rapidly growing cities" where there is a high demand for water.
  • Several places and regions are experiencing a chronic shortage of water due to its use, which has increased more than twice as fast as the human population since the last century. Pressure on water sources keeps increasing across several parts of the globe, especially in places like China, India, Pakistan, the Middle East, and various countries in Africa.
  • Insights ascribed to the United Nations reveal that over 1.1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water as consumers put ever-increasing demand on available water resources. The efforts and cost required to build or maintain access to water are on the rise. Going by the current rate of consumption, "two-thirds of the world's population" is likely to experience water shortages by the year 2025.
  • Some factors giving rise to water scarcity around the world include water overuse, climate change, as well as increased pollution.
  • About eight mighty rivers are running dry from overuse. From waterways in the American West to China, Australia as well as India, some world's most famous rivers have been used to low levels and are drying from the overuse for agriculture, industry, and drinking purposes.
  • Quite often, water resources get used as a medium for discarding municipal as well as industrial wastes/discharges. These contribute to a great extent in adding toxins to such water resources, making them unsafe for human consumption and aquatic life.
  • According to the World Bank, in several Arab countries, the overuse of aquifers is causing salinization across the region, especially in densely populated coastal areas, such as Latakia in Syria, Beirut, Gaza, and along the Gulf.
  • The number of individuals who depend on the Colorado River for sustenance is estimated to double by 2060. The implication is that there is a potential for very thirsty lawns in the future.
  • Cities and towns are estimated to use about 15% of the Colorado River’s supply. City users account for the primary drivers of increasing cases of water level decline from the river.
  • Agriculture is estimated to be using over 70 % of the Colorado River’s water supply. Recently, farmers have been burdened by Colorado residents looking to buy up water, resulting in farms getting out of production.
  • According to NASA. In May 2006, Hal Simpson, a Colorado State Engineer, ordered the "shutdown of 400 wells" located in Platte County, Colorado so that that water will be available for contracts downstream. Consequentially, Colorado farmers that relied on the shutdown wells to water their crops could not function for the year.
  • The use of water resources by the Ilısu Dam project is one of the factors that are likely to cause a more decline in Iraq's water resources. This is according to Hassan al-Janabi, the Iraqi minister of water resources


  • Several "point source" pollutants are discharged legally or illegally by various manufacturers, oil refineries, or wastewater treatment facilities into water resources. Sometimes, contamination from faulty septic systems, chemicals, illegal dumping, etc., compete for water resources.
  • Several "point source" pollutants are discharged legally or illegally by various manufacturers, oil refineries, or wastewater treatment facilities into water resources. Sometimes, contamination from faulty septic systems, chemicals, illegal dumping, etc., compete for water resources.
  • According to World Bank reports, countries in the Gulf region can focus on "enhancing their desalination capacities," by reusing wastewater, developing strategic reserves, and pursuing aggressive water-demand conservation/management programs. Countries that depend on shared water resources should place a high priority on international "water resource agreements with border countries."
  • Governments can place a ban on the cultivation of crops that require large volumes of water for irrigation such as rice.
  • Historically, the use of underground storage and tunnels has proven to be effective in reducing evaporative losses. Evaporation is usually effectively controlled using water cisterns as well as the "underground aflaj system." The practice of using underground storage can be reinstated in order to complement existing storage facilities.


  • According to UNESCO, the planet's fresh water resources, when managed effectively and sustainably, can meet the global water demands of a growing population "with good quality water."
  • The EPA controls the amount of point source pollutants permitted to be discarded via water by limiting the quantity of pollutants that can be discharged by a facility directly into surface water. Although point source pollutants often originate from specific places, they usually affect a long stretch of waterways and ocean.
  • Some governments, including the government of Iraq, have banned the cultivation of crops that require high volumes of water for irrigation such as rice.
  • In order to conserve already scarce water resources, some farmers have discontinued the cultivation of intensive irrigation crops such as rice, and now farm strategic crops like wheat.
  • Historically, the use of underground storage and tunnels has proven to be effective in reducing evaporative losses. Evaporation is usually effectively controlled using water cisterns as well as the "underground aflaj system."
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Clean Water Scarcity - Climate

Climate change is a major factor affecting safe water availability and scarcity. Various ways for mitigating this impact have been identified.


  • The year 2017 was "the third hottest year since the mid-1800s". While the earth’s temperature continues to rise, a substantial reduction of water resources is expected. In some regions, droughts are increasing water scarcity and negatively impacting population’s health.
  • As a result of climate change, the world is expected to encounter a 66% reduction in water availability by 2050.
  • With higher temperatures, weather can alter availability and distribution of rainfall, snow melt, river flows and groundwater, deteriorating water quality.
  • When water supplies are scarce, its effects can accumulate and last for years, until rainfall rates return to normal. Water scarcity can have other dangerous consequences, like decreased flows in rivers and streams which increases the "concentration of harmful pollutants". Also, when bodies of water become dry, animals often search for drinking water in human supplies, increasing the contact between humans with wild animals, which may be hosting diseased insects.
  • When people are not getting sufficient water for sanitation and hand washing, respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases can spread with more ease. When soils dry out and become compacted, food safety can be affected, because it is more likely that rain carries contaminants to crops instead of being absorbed into the ground.
  • Around 80% of diseases in developing countries are caused by "unsafe drinking water and waterborne diseases".
  • According to a study done in the coastal region of Bangladesh, 80% of Durgabati village inhabitants agreed "that increasing temperature and decreasing precipitation are the major climatic changes". Inhabitants of Gopalpur village have perceived that "lack of rainfall during the dry season, high salinity in surface and groundwater, and high temperature impede access to safe drinking water".
  • Climate change’s impact on water availability hampers food production, as 70% of the global water is used for agriculture. By 2030, the demand for food is expected to be 60% higher than today, which will spike food prices. For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa food prices are expected to augment 77% by 2080 as a result of climate change, while the worldwide average increment will be 17%.
  • Water scarcity caused by climate change also affects economies, as water is vital for "health, incomes, properties and agriculture".


  • A crucial climate change mitigation strategy for the near future ensuring that everyone has access to sustainable water and sanitation services. An integrated view on water and environment is needed to design agricultural and economic sustainable systems that help slow climate change and adapt to the inevitable changes.
  • Adaptation can highly "reduce vulnerability to climate change" by preparing communities against climate change, mitigating potential damages, and helping them confront adversities. To implement any adaptation strategy it is crucial to understand the problem and the possible solutions.
  • Alternatives for adapting to climate change outcomes and safe water scarcity through available practices are suggested. Some examples could be "the use of pond sand filters, rainwater harvesting, and importing potable water with the active participation of the government, nongovernmental organizations, and communities".
  • A drastic action and financial commitments from countries that contributed most to climate change are required to "providing water and sanitation systems" that can better cope with the impacts of climate change.
  • The World Bank recommends ensuring water is used most efficiently in order to combat water shortages, especially in agriculture. Meaningful changes can be done by "investing in climate-smart equipment and infrastructure" globally, which may help to "end pollution cycles while conserving resources".
  • It is also essential to make changes in governmental policies to fight climate stressors and manage water sustainably.


  • The Paris Agreement brings all nations to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with special support to assist developing countries.
  • Richer nations, which have caused the most carbon emissions that lead to catastrophic events, have committed to give $100 billion a year to poorer nations to deal with these consequences, "but are failing to deliver".
  • These contributions are falling short and are being used to mitigate carbon emissions, rather than adaptation (water, sanitation and hygiene services). In 2016, just $23 billion was spent on adaptation globally, which represents 6% of total climate spending.


In order to provide the requested information, we made use of reliable sources like The Borgen Project, a nonprofit organization that addresses poverty and hunger; GRACE Communications Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to creating a more sustainable food system; Stanford University, a private research university known for its academic strength; UN-Water, the United Nations inter-agency coordination mechanism for all freshwater related matters; Springer, a leading global scientific, technical and medical portfolio; and ReliefWeb, a leading humanitarian information source on global crises and disasters.
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Clean Water Scarcity - War

Access to clean water is quickly becoming a major issue around the world, especially in places hit by war and conflict. Factors like destruction of water infrastructure and use of water resources as weapons of war, coupled with effects of climates change, have caused even more challenges with regard to access to clean water in war-torn places around the world. This report digs deeper into ways in which war is contributing to clean water scarcity on planet earth. The report also looks at some remedial mechanisms being put in place to combat clean water shortage.

How War is Contributing to Clean Water Scarcity on Planet Earth

  • More than 180 million people in different countries around the world lack access to basic drinking water because of conflict, violence and instability. This is according to a report compiled by UNICEF to commemorate the 2017 World Water Week .
  • According to the report, children's rights to safe water and sanitation are particularly under threat in conflicts and emergencies.
  • UNICEF says people in conflict-torn areas are "four times more likely to lack basic drinking water than populations in non-fragile situations"
  • Examples of countries that are having challenges with accessing clean water as a result of conflicts include Yemen, Syria, Nigeria, and South Sudan.
  • In north-east Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, around 30 million people, including 14.6 million children lack access to safe water.
  • In many conflict hot spots, water and sanitation systems have been attacked, damaged or left in deplorable conditions to the point of collapse.


  • Yemen is reeling from the effects of more than two years of war. The war damaged water supply networks and distribution channels to the country's largest cities.
  • As a result of the war in Yemen, around 19 million people in the country lack access to clean water according to another UN report. In particular, the report says the country is having an acute shortage of portable water since the war started in 2015.
  • International aid organizations are calling for more help from the global community in addition to a long-term political solution in the country.
  • Last year, UNCEF put out a statement condemning an attack on vital and lifesaving water systems in Yemen.
  • The attack happened on a major water facility in Saada, northwest of Yemen. This was the third attack that destroyed more than half of the project and cut off 10,500 people from safe drinking water.
  • In March 2018, an attack happened on the Nushour water project and caused damage that cost UNICEF around $20,000 in repair.
  • UNICEF says the war in Yemen has already destroyed the water and sanitation system leaving 8.6 million children without regular access to safe water. This has led to increased cases of water-borne diseases, including acute watery diarrhoea and cholera.
  • The current damage to the water system in Yemen is estimated at $300,000.


  • In Syria, where war has been raging for seven years, around 15 million people lack access to safe water. This includes around 6.4 million children.
  • In Syria, water has, on many occasions, been used as a war instrument. 2016 alone reported 30 deliberate water blockages including in Damascus, Aleppo, Hama, Raqqa and Dara. In these towns, water pumps were destroyed and water sources contaminated.


  • Conflict in northeast Nigeria has left 75 per cent of water and sanitation infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed. This has caused water scarcity to 3.6 million people in the region.

South Sudan

  • In South Sudan, civil war has raged for the last four years. This has caused damage and completely destroyed almost half the water points across the country.
  • A report from the government water authority says around 80% of the country has no access to clean water as vital infrastructure has been destroyed in the fighting.
  • Armed groups target water infrastructure during fighting as a way of destroying the communities of their enemies

How Water Shortage is Being Combated in War-Torn Countries

  • Using relevant bodies, governments are long-term water resource management policies. For instance, the Yemeni Water and Environment Ministry was established in 2003 as "an expression of the Yemeni government’s high level of interest in problems related to water."
  • There is increased calls for normalcy to allow water projects meant to address water shortage to be completed. Many projects in Yemen were halted when the Houthis launched the offensive in 2014.
  • In Syria, the UN and other global partners are working with local water authorities to “to implement an emergency plan to meet around 30 per cent of the daily needs of people.”
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Detailed Analysis - Clean Water Scarcity

Clean water is water that can be safely used (i.e., it is sanitary and hygienic) for daily activities like drinking and cooking. Water scarcity is when the available water per person is below 1000 cubic meters per year or about 2700 liters per day.


  • Clean water is water that is safe for activities like drinking, cooking, cleaning, bathing, lawn watering, and the like. The United Nations and World Vision International both associate clean water with water used for sanitation and hygiene purposes. The majority (80%) of this type of water originates from surface sources (e.g., rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and oceans), while groundwater aquifers supply the remaining 20%.


  • Water scarcity is a deficiency or lack of clean water supplies. While population growth can cause this deficiency, other external factors include a lack of access and climate change. The United Nations defines water scarcity as unavailability due to a physical supply shortage or the failure of institutions to ensure a regular supply.
  • Water stress starts when the rate of available water per person is below 1700 cubic meters a year or 4600 liters per day. The condition of water scarcity occurs when the amount of available water per person is below 1000 cubic meters per year or about 2700 liters per day. Absolute water scarcity occurs when the available water per person is below 500 cubic meters per year or roughly 1400 liters per day.
  • The latest data indicate that 49 countries are water stressed, nine are in a state of water scarcity, and 21 are in a state of absolute water scarcity. In 2016, about 4 billion people, roughly two-thirds of the world population, experienced severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year; by 2018 that figure dropped to 2 billion.



  • In 2016, World Vision International found that clean water scarcity resulted in the daily death of nearly 1000 children under the age of five due to conditions stemming from contaminated water, poor sanitation, and improper hygiene.
  • In 2018, the United Nations also discovered that the leading causes of child mortality are unclean water and poor sanitation. Diarrhea resulting from these water conditions is estimated to cause the deaths of 1.5 million children per year. Usually, these children are under the age of five and living in developing countries. [5]
  • According to the United Nations, 673 million people, 9% of the global population, still practice open defecation (mostly in Southern Asia) that may affect clean water. Which, in turn, results in children under the age of five succumbing to diarrhetic deaths.


  • In a 2016 paper, Burek et al. hypothesize that nearly half the global population (4.8–5.7 billion people) will live in waterscarce environment at least one month per year by 2050. Of that number, 69% will live in the Asia region [1].
  • The United Nations estimates that 700 million people will die due to intense water scarcity by 2030. [8]


  • The 1700s-1800s: The Industrial Revolution highlights the need for clean water supplies and sanitation in England.
  • The 1800s: The first water shortages appear in recent, Western historical records.
  • The 1900s: More than 11 billion people die over the century from drought and continues to impact over a billion.
  • 1993: The United Nations designates March 22 as "World Water Day."
  • 2000: United Nations member states initiate the Millennium Development Goals to provide sustainable access to safe drinking water.
  • 2003: UN-Water becomes the coordinating platform for issues of sanitation and clean water access.
  • 2005: The amount of the global population experiencing chronic water shortages increases by 9% for the first time since 1960.
  • 2005-2015: The United Nations initiates an International Decade for Action that prioritizes water and sanitation development.
  • 2010: The United Nation's Millennium Development Goal reaches its water access target five years ahead of schedule.
  • 2013: The United Nations declares "World Toilet Day" to highlight the billions of people with a lack of access to proper sanitation.
  • 2015: The United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals succeed its predecessors the Millennium Development Goals. The former focus on clean water and sanitation targets for 2030.
  • 2018: 2.1 billion people lack safe drinking water, and 1 billion have no access to proper sanitation.

From Part 05
  • "More than 180 million people do not have access to basic drinking water in countries affected by conflict, violence and instability* around the world, UNICEF warned today, as World Water Week gets under way."
  • "Potable water has become increasingly hard to come by in Yemen since the war started in 2015, highlighted by the nation's cholera outbreak"
  • "A large water facility in Sa’ada, northwest of the country, came under attack this week. This is the third such attack on the same facility. More than half of the project is now damaged, cutting off 10,500 people from safe drinking water."
  • "The Yemeni government has been working on water resource management since the 1990s,” notes al-Sharjabi. “For its part, the Yemeni Water and Environment Ministry was established in 2003 as an expression of the Yemeni government’s high level of interest in problems related to water. Subsequent reforms improved the size and type of water supply networks in rural and urban areas alike.”"
  • "Addressing reporters in New York, UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said the Organization and its partners are working with water authorities “to implement an emergency plan to meet around 30 per cent of the daily needs of people.” Support includes providing water-quality testing equipment and chemicals needed to undertake necessary quality tests, and pre-positioning medicines and kits in case of cholera or other waterborne diseases."
  • "Nearly 80 per cent of the country has no access to clean water, according to the government water authority, which said vital infrastructure has been destroyed in the fighting."
From Part 06
  • "Water scarcity can mean scarcity in availability due to physical shortage, or scarcity in access due to the failure of institutions to ensure a regular supply or due to a lack of adequate infrastructure."
  • "Water scarcity already affects every continent. Water use has been growing globally at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century, and an increasing number of regions are reaching the limit at which water services can be sustainably delivered, especially in arid regions."
  • "Water stress starts when the water available in a country drops below 1 700 m3/year or 4 600 litres/day per person. When the 1 000 m3/year or about 2 700 litres/day per person threshold is crossed, water scarcity is experienced. Absolute water scarcity is considered for countries with less 500 m3/year or roughly 1 400 litres/day per person. "
  • "About 4 billion people, representing nearly two-thirds of the world population, experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year (Mekonnen and Hoekstra, 2016)"
  • "Nearly half the global population are already living in potential waterscarce areas at least one month per year and this could increase to some 4.8–5.7 billion in 2050. About 73% of the affected people live in Asia (69% by 2050) (Burek et al., 2016)."
  • "Nearly 1,000 children under age 5 die every day from diarrhea caused by contaminated water, poor sanitation, and improper hygiene. But we believe the global water and sanitation crisis can be solved within our lifetimes."
  • "Improved sanitation and economic benefits The links between lack of water and sanitation access and the development goals are clear, and the solutions to the problem are known and cost-effective. Research shows that every US $1 invested in improved sanitation translates into an average return of US $9. Those benefits are experienced specifically by poor children and in the disadvantaged communities that need them most."
  • "Unclean water and child mortality Unclean water and poor sanitation are a leading cause of child mortality. Childhood diarrhoea is closely associated with insufficient water supply, inadequate sanitation, water contaminated with communicable disease agents, and poor hygiene practices. Diarrhoea is estimated to cause 1.5 million child deaths per year, mostly among children under five living in developing countries. "
  • "Currently, there are 2.3 billion people worldwide, who still do not have basic sanitation facilities such as toilets or latrines. According to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, at least 1.8 billion people world-wide are estimated to drink water that is not protected against contamination from faeces. An even greater number drink water, which is delivered through a system without adequate protection against sanitary hazards. "
  • "Then clean, potable water is transported throughout a nationwide network of a million miles of piping for activities like drinking, cooking, cleaning, bathing, lawn watering and so forth."
  • "Almost 300 million people rely on public water systems to treat and deliver just over 42 billion gallons of clean water to homes, schools and businesses each day."
  • "Water for the majority (80 percent) comes from surface water sources – rivers, lakes, reservoirs and oceans; the remaining 20 percent comes from groundwater aquifers."
  • "Clean, accessible water for all is an essential part of the world we want to live in and there is sufficient fresh water on the planet to achieve this. However, due to bad economics or poor infrastructure, millions of people including children die every year from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene."
  • "Water scarcity, poor water quality and inadequate sanitation negatively impact food security, livelihood choices and educational opportunities for poor families across the world. At the current time, more than 2 billion people are living with the risk of reduced access to freshwater resources and by 2050, at least one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water. Drought in specific afflicts some of the world’s poorest countries, worsening hunger and malnutrition. "