Global water supply and demand trends point towards rising water insecurity

Groundwater Fresh water Water conservation Water security Water supply

Global water supplies are expected to come under increased stress due to increased demand caused by population growth, rising wealth levels, dietary change, urbanisation, and rising industrial demand. Most of the world’s water is currently used to produce food and that is likely to still be the case in 2050. Agricultural water use is expected to shrink over the next 30 years, however, as industrial and household demand continues to rise. Groundwater sources are likely to come under the greatest amount of pressure from rising water demand, but managed aquifer recharge could reduce some of that pressure. While reducing water consumption by repairing infrastructure and implementing water use efficiencies remain the best options to reduce water stress, those are not always viable. Water recycling and desalination are other policy options that could alleviate, but probably not completely eradicate, global water insecurity.

Key points:

  • Water demand is expected to increase over the next 30 years. It is unlikely that natural supplies will be sufficient to meet that demand in some parts of the world.
  • While most of the world’s water will continue to be used in agriculture, industrial and household demand is expected to rise at a faster rate as the agriculture sector becomes more water efficient.
  • About 20 per cent of the world’s groundwater, which supplies drinking water to more than half of the world’s population, is already over-exploited. It is likely that more of the world’s aquifers will be over-exploited by 2050.
  • Water conservation is the best option to reduce rising water stress, but is not viable in many instances. Desalination, managed aquifer recharge and water recycling could reduce pressure on water sources, but are unlikely to prevent an increase in global water insecurity.
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