is essential for all socio-economic development and for
maintaining healthy ecosystems. As
population increases and development calls for increased
allocations of groundwater and surface water for
the domestic, agriculture and industrial sectors, the pressure
on water resources intensifies, leading to
tensions, conflicts among users, and excessive pressure on
the environment. The increasing stress on
freshwater resources brought about by ever rising demand
and profligate use, as well as by growing
pollution worldwide, is of serious concern.
What is water scarcity? Imbalances
between availability and
demand, the degradation of groundwater
and surface water quality, intersectoral
competition, interregional and international
conflicts, all contributes to water scarcity.
Scarcity often has its roots in water shortage, and it
is in the arid and semiarid
regions affected by droughts and wide climate variability,
combined with population growth and
economic development, that the problems of water scarcity
are most acute.
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. By 2025, 1 800 million people
will be living in countries or regions with absolute water
scarcity, and two-thirds of the world population could be
under stress conditions. The situation will be exacerbated as
rapidly growing urban areas place heavy pressure on
neighbouring water resources.
Addressing water scarcity
requires actions at local,
national and river basin
levels. It also calls for
actions at global and
leading to increased
collaboration between nations on shared management of water resources (rivers,
lakes and aquifers), it requires
an intersectoral and multidisciplinary approach to managing
water resources in order to maximize economic and social
welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the
sustainability of vital ecosystems.
Integration across sectors is needed. This integration needs to take into account development, supply, use and demand, and to place the emphasis on people, their livelihood and the ecosystems that sustain them. On the demand side, enhancing water productivity (the volume of production per unit of water) in all sectors is paramount to successful programmes of water scarcity alleviation. Furthermore, protecting and restoring the ecosystems that naturally capture, filter, store and release water, such as rivers, wetlands, forests and soils, is crucial to increasing the availability of water of good quality.
First and foremost, water scarcity is an issue of poverty. Unclean water and lack of sanitation are the destiny of poor people across the world.
Lack of hygiene affects poor children and families first, while the rest of the world's population benefits from direct access to the water they need for domestic use. One in five people in the developing world lacks access to sufficient clean water (a suggested minimum of 20 litres/day), while average water use in Europe and the United States of America ranges between 200 and 600 litres/day. In addition, the poor pay more. A recent report by the United Nations Development Programme shows that people in the slums of developing countries typically pay 5-10 times more per unit of water than do people with access to piped water (UNDP, 2006).
For poor people, water scarcity is not only about droughts or rivers running dry. Above all, it is about guaranteeing the fair and safe access they need to sustain their lives and secure their livelihoods. For the poor, scarcity is about how institutions function and how transparency and equity are guaranteed in decisions affecting their lives. It is about choices on infrastructure development and the way they are managed. In many places throughout the world, organizations struggle to distribute resources equitably.
Water for life, water for livelihood. While access to safe water and sanitation have been recognized as priority targets through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Johannesburg plan of action of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), there is increasing recognition that this is not enough. Millions of people rely in one way or another on water for their daily income or food production. Farmers, small rural enterprises, herders and fishing people - all need water to secure their livelihood. However, as the resources become scarce, an increasing number of them see their sources of income disappear. Silently, progressively, the number of water losers increases - at the tail end of the irrigation canal, downstream of a new dam, or as a result of excessive groundwater drawdown.
It is probably in rural areas that water scarcity affects people most. In large parts of the developing world, irrigation remains the backbone of rural economies. However, smallholder farmers make up the majority of the world's rural poor, and they often occupy marginal land and depend mainly on rainfall for production. They are highly sensitive to many changes - droughts, floods, but also shifts in market prices. However, rainwater is rarely integrated into water management strategies, which usually focus exclusively on surface water and groundwater. Countries need to integrate rainwater fully into their strategies to cope with water scarcity.