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Water Scarcity

Water is essential for agricultural production and food security. It is the lifeblood of ecosystems, including forests, lakes and wetlands, on which our present and future food and nutritional security depends.

Yet, our freshwater resources are dwindling at an alarming rate. Growing water scarcity is now one of the leading challenges for sustainable development. This challenge will become more pressing as the world's population continues to grow, their living standards increase, diets change and the effects of climate change intensify.

Girl Fetching Water

Did You Know?

  • Around 700 million people in 43 countries suffer today from water scarcity.

  • By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world's population could be living under water stressed conditions.

  • With the existing climate change scenario, almost half the world's population will be living in areas of high water stress by 2030, including between 75 million and 250 million people in Africa. In addition, water scarcity in some arid and semi-arid places will displace between 24 million and 700 million people.

  • Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest number of water-stressed countries of any region.

Fetching Water


Kaka Kodi, 35, wipes the sweat from her brow. She’s breathing heavily but doesn’t slow down.

With the sun blazing from a cloudless sky, Kaka is walking for hours to the only available well in the region where she lives.

At the distribution point, one of the few in South Sudan, she pays SSP4 or about R2.51 to get 20 liters of clean water. The queues are long and, with the heavy container balanced on her head, it takes Kaka more than an hour to get back to her four children. The water barely lasts a day.

“Sometimes I don’t have enough water for washing or even for cooking.

I usually have to beg for water from neighbors and when they don’t give it to me, my children cry because they can’t get water to drink,” she explains.

There is little or no infrastructure in rural areas. Many boreholes have been deliberately destroyed in the conflict. Girls of 15 years or younger are responsible for fetching water. They sometimes walk up to four hours to fetch water, often from a dirty swamp.

Although an uneasy peace agreement seems to hold, there are still pockets of fighting. Frustration, anger and resentment linger across the country, rendering girls and women fetching water extremely vulnerable.

“We see a lot of gender violence, a lot of attacks on women.” According to the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (Unicef), being “needed at home” is a major reason children, especially girls from poor families, drop out of school.

Children in the war zone sometimes go thirsty for up to 55 hours because there is no water to drink. From time to time Kaka’s family — she has a husband and six children — don’t eat because they can’t get clean water with which to cook.

There are no quick-fix solutions here. Political stability is a prerequisite for any long-term improvement. This country has been at war for 40 of the last 60 years. There is no capacity, limited commitment and no money. The ministries [responsible for water supply] are completely underfunded.

Climate Change

Water scarcity is expected to intensify as a result of climate change. It is predicted to bring about increased temperatures across the world. More frequent and severe droughts are having an impact on agricultural production, while rising temperatures translate into increased crop water demand.

In addition to improvements in water-use efficiency and agricultural productivity, we must take action to harvest and reuse our freshwater resources and increase the safe use of wastewater. Doing so will not prevent a drought from occurring, but it can help in preventing droughts from resulting in famine and socioeconomic disruption.

Water scarcity already affects every continent. Around 1.2 billion people, or almost one-fifth of the world's population, live in areas of physical scarcity, and 500 million people are approaching this situation.

Another 1.6 billion people, or almost one quarter of the world's population, face economic water shortage (where countries lack the necessary infrastructure to take water from rivers and aquifers).

Water scarcity is among the main problems to be faced by many societies and the World in the 21st century. Water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century, and, although there is no global water scarcity as such, an increasing number of regions are chronically short of water.

Water scarcity is both a natural and a human-made phenomenon. There is enough freshwater on the planet for seven billion people but it is distributed unevenly and too much of it is wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed.


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