Water scarcity: Fact or fiction? uri icon

abstract

  • It is surprisingly difficult to determine whether water is truly scarce in the physical sense at a global scale (a supply problem) or whether it is available but should be used better (a demand problem). The paper reviews water scarcity indicators and global assessments based on these indicators. The most widely used indicator, the Falkenmark indicator, is popular because it is easy to apply and understand but it does not help to explain the true nature of water scarcity. The more complex indicators are not widely applied because data are lacking to apply them and the definitions are not intuitive. Water is definitely physically scarce in densely populated and areas, Central and West Asia, and North Africa, with projected availabilities of less than 1000 m(3)/capita/year. This scarcity relates to water for food production, however, and not to water for domestic purposes that are minute at this scale. In most of the rest of the world water scarcity at a national scale has as much to do with the development of the demand as the availability of the supply. Accounting for water for environmental requirements shows that abstraction of water for domestic, food and industrial uses already have a major impact on ecosystems in many parts of the world, even those not considered "water scarce". Water will be a major constraint for agriculture in coming decades and particularly in Asia and Africa this will require major institutional adjustments. A "soft path" to address water scarcity, focusing on increasing overall water productivity, is recommended. (c) 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

publication date

  • 2006
  • 2006
  • 2006