Sustainable Development Goals

Indicator 6.4.2 - Level of water stress: freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available freshwater resources

The level of water stress: freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available freshwater resources is the ratio between total freshwater withdrawn by major economic sectors and total renewable freshwater resources, after taking into account environmental water requirements. This indicator is also known as water withdrawal intensity and will measure progress towards SDG Target 6.4.

Target 6.4

By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity.

Level of water stress: freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available freshwater resources


This indicator will improve knowledge on the efficiency and sustainability of water usage. Together with indicator 6.4.1, it will provide vital information to ensure that water resources support the world's ecosystems and continue to be available for future generations.

Key results

Water stress remains alarmingly high in many regions, threatening progress towards sustainable development

Water stress is one of the most serious current threats to sustainable development. High water stress – the withdrawal of too much freshwater from natural sources compared to the freshwater available – can have devastating consequences for the environment and hinder or even reverse economic and social development. The resulting water scarcity, which tends to disproportionately affect the most vulnerable people, could displace an estimated 700 million people by 2030.

Water stress affects countries on every continent. High water stress has many undesirable consequences, such as hindering the sustainability of natural resources and hampering economic and social development, all of which tend to disproportionately affect the most vulnerable people.

Globally, water stress remains at a safe 18.4 percent, having risen slightly from 18.2 percent in 2015. However, the world average masks huge regional variations. For instance, Central and Southern Asia as well as Northern Africa all registered very high water stress over 70 percent, and experienced an upward surge in water stress between 2015 and 2018. Eastern Asia and Western Asia follow with water stress levels between 45 and 60 percent, with the latter registering an increasing water stress level since 2015.

For this reason, the gradually increasing trend of global water stress over the past 20 years reflects increasing stress in several areas of the world, which decreases in other areas of the world are not able to compensate.

By contrast, the water stress in some regions such as sub-Saharan Africa and Central and South America is low enough to provide some countries with scope for sustainably increasing water use, provided that adequate precautions are taken. In regions affected by high water stress, urgent and concrete measures are required to save water and increase water use efficiency.



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