Water Scarcity
Step #5

Water Scarcity

Since July 2010, the human right to water and sanitation is included in the Declaration of Human Rights by resolution 64/292: "[...] the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights [...]" (UN, 2010). However, more than 40% of the global population are negatively affected by a natural water scarcity and a scarcity that is resulting from mismanagement and lacking governance in regional water sectors.[1] As this trend is projected to rise - by 2050, at least one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water (UN) - it is not exaggerated to support a statement given by the former World Bank Vice President Ismail Serageldin more than 25 years ago:

The wars of the twenty-first century will be fought over water

Ismail Serageldin

In general we can differentiated between:[2]

  • Physical Scarcity
    We speak of a physical scarcity if water resources (like groundwater or surface water in lakes or rivers) development is approaching / exceeding sustainable limits. > 75 % of river flows are withdrawn for agriculture, industry and domestic purposes e.g. in the MENA region, Central Asia or India (regionally)
  • Approaching Physical Scarcity
    If, in the near future, water resources are not able to be recharged naturally, a region is approaching physical scarcity. > 60 % of river flows are withdrawn for agriculture, industry and domestic purposes e.g. in South Africa, Central America (Mexico), Central Asia or India (regionally)
  • Economic Scarcity
    Human, institutional and financial capital limit access to water even though natural water resources are available locally to meet human demands. < 25 % of water from rivers is withdrawn e.g. in Sub-Saharan Africa, South East Asia, Bangladesh or India (regionally)


  1. Sustainable Development Goal on Water and Sanitation - United Nations (UN) - as of 04/2018
  2. Areas of Physical and Economic Water Scarcity - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) - 2007

Further Readings

Sustainable Development Goals

United Nations (UN) · 04/2018

Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG baselines

World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) · 2017