What is the cause of the global water crisis?

By Daniil Filipenco

What is the cause of the global water crisis?

As you read this article, nearly 2 billion people will be struggling to secure safe access to one of the basic necessities of existence – clean drinking water. Despite the fact that governments and humanitarian organizations have assisted many of those living in water-stressed areas to gain access to this vital resource, the situation is expected to worsen. While various experts and think tanks have come up with a broader explanation of the causes of water shortage, a universal ‘cause’ is still to be agreed upon. However, one factor is that the global water shortage is caused by multiple, small-scale and localized mini-crises which, when added together, represent the pieces of a much bigger and bleaker picture.

Among the causes that have the biggest impact and trigger expanding water crises are climate change, poor water management, and the increasing demand for water.

Water crises can vary greatly from one location to another, having a serious impact on people’s health, the economy, and international trade. They can also cause conflicts, large-scale migration and negatively impact various ecosystems.

Of great concern is that if today’s practices of water overuse carry on, by 2030 there will be a 40% shortfall between water supply and demand.

What is water scarcity?

When there is a shortage of safe, usable water in a particular location, this is known as water scarcity. This situation usually occurs during a certain longer period of time rather than over a single or short period. Typically, local inhabitants notice a reduction in water levels or note its worsening quality.

Although water covers about 70% of the Earth’s surface, not all of this is fit for human consumption. Fresh water – which is what we normally use – accounts for only 3% of the total water on the planet, and many people cannot benefit from it.

Around 70% of freshwater on the planet is utilized for agriculture with the remaining 30% being used for industrial purposes and home usage.

What are the causes of water crises around the world?

The world’s current water crises did not develop overnight. Although freshwater has always been a limited resource, our poor management of it has been a major factor in the ongoing worldwide water crises. Put simply, the majority of us are just not aware of the forthcoming water shortages and so continue to use water thoughtlessly.

Poor water infrastructure

Authorities across the world utilize a variety of infrastructures to clean and deliver water to customers after a source has been found but much of this infrastructure is obsolete and defective which leads to significant water leakage.

According to the UN World Water Development Report 2019, poor communities frequently do not profit from government investment in water infrastructure.

“In the European Union, for example, the average value of water losses is 20-30%. Some of the old networks in Italy may register even 40-50%. This means that if there are 100 litres of water pumped into the network – only 60 litres will reach the consumers while 40 will leak outside the network. In the developing countries, we discovered leakages of up to 70%”, says Agostion Avanzi, an expert in the field of water and sanitation.

See also: Agostino Avanzi: Modern water supply and sanitation ought to rely on research and development to become sustainable

Wastage of water

Some people clean their teeth leaving the faucets running which every day wastes up to 23 litres of water per minute. It has also been shown to be a massive waste of water when a shower is turned on but then there is a wait for the water to warm up.

Even though these represent apparently small volumes of water waste compared to inadequate infrastructure and agriculture, it becomes obvious how large this problem is when extended across populations of millions.

Climate change

At the supply level, the global water crisis is being impacted by the changing climate in many different ways. While higher temperatures lead to greater water consumption, the effects can extend considerably further. Here’s how climate change impacts water crises around the world:

  • Water evaporation due to rising temperatures will result in higher atmospheric water vapor concentrations and more heavy rainstorms in the forthcoming years. Flooding, which comes as a result of heavy rains, can impact wells and sewage treatment facilities, and pollute land and water supplies with salt water or faeces.
  • Ice caps and glaciers are all melting more rapidly, causing avalanches and landslides and impacting numerous river systems that are fed by melting snow.
  • Increasing temperatures are causing drought and wildfires forcing people to migrate and leaving many regions even more vulnerable. High temperatures also increase the risk of deadly pathogens in water.

  • With a growing population and an increasing number of factories and office buildings around the world, the demand for water continues to increase at an alarming rate. Moreover, to pump, transport, and treat water, a great deal of energy is required.


It may come as a surprise to learn that agriculture uses 70% of all freshwater for irrigation and other purposes and there are situations where groundwater supplies have been entirely depleted.

Furthermore, agribusiness significantly pollutes water supplies with large amounts of agrochemicals, drug remnants, and saline drainage being released into waterways.

Natural systems are neglected

A wide variety of plants worldwide help to create ecosystems that filter pollutants, act as a storm- and flood-proofing barriers, and manage water supplies. The problem is that humans have decimated many of the ecosystems that naturally provide these functions.

For instance, researchers discovered that 8,600 square kilometres of mangrove forests around the globe have vanished over the last three decades. Moreover, the planet’s forests, which once covered 57% of the Earth, have slowly diminished, taking their ecosystems with them and today, according to the FAO, only 31% of the world’s land area is covered by forests.

In the meantime, the absence of such natural systems will continue to exacerbate the world’s water issues.

Final word

As the population of Earth steadily grows, so does the demand for water. Moreover, as a result of climate change, an increasing number of areas worldwide — including previously water-abundant regions — will experience stress on their water supplies.

It has been estimated that climate change could cause half of the global population to reside in water-stressed regions by 2025, the most affected being people from low-income households.

Considering how people currently pollute and overuse water, and taking into account the effects of climate change, it is anticipated that water could soon become a scarce resource. The number of people who will not have access to clean water will increase and that is exactly what a water crisis is all about.