17 countries are close to the "Day Zero

Water Risk Atlas shows hotspots for water shortage

17 countries suffer from extreme water stress, many more are also threatened by a lack of water. © cinoby / iStock
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Water alarm: A quarter of the world's population is at risk of acute water shortage, as revealed by a new Atlas water risk. Because they live in one of the 17 countries, which already use up to 80% of their ground and surface water without drought or heat waves. These include mainly countries in the Middle East and North Africa, but also India, Pakistan and San Marino. But the European Mediterranean countries are also under considerable drought stress, as the researchers report.

In 2017, Rome had to ration its water for the first time. In 2018, Cape Town was close to "day zero", and this year the northern Indian city of Chennai faces empty water reservoirs. More and more regions worldwide are falling into water shortage - and this is not true more only for traditionally arid areas. The main reason for this is the increasing overuse of groundwater and surface reservoirs by irrigation, industry and municipalities.

As for water supplies worldwide, scientists from the World Resources Institute (WRI) in Washington have now identified. Their new water risk atlas shows for 189 countries how water abstraction is related to water supplies and groundwater supplies - and how high the risk of drought and lack of water is.

Water Risk Atlas: This map shows the water stress of 189 countries. © World Resources Institute (WRI)

Water consumption doubles

"Water stress is the biggest crisis that hardly anyone talks about, " says Andrew Steer, head of the World Resources Institute. "However, its consequences in the form of hunger, conflict, migration and financial insecurity can not be overlooked." As he and his team have determined, global water use has more than doubled since the 1960s. However, the resources did not grow.

The atlas reveals that water stress is extremely high in 17 countries - affecting one quarter of the world's population. In these countries, 80 percent of the available water resources are already consumed in a normal year. If, however, a heat wave or longer drying time is added, a dramatic lack of water threatens. In addition, the demand for water in these areas is also increasing. display

Middle East and North India particularly affected

The 17 countries include, above all, countries in the Middle East and North Africa. In many places, water scarcity is approaching a "day zero", the time when running water will no longer be available. These include the Arab Gulf States, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Botswana and Eritrea. But it also includes the small Mediterranean state of San Marino, Turkmenistan, India and Pakistan.

Northern India is particularly affected as the researchers report. Here the groundwater resources are almost exhausted. "The current water crisis in Chennai has attracted global attention, but many other areas in India are experiencing chronic water stress, " says Shashi Shekhar of WRI India. India ranks 13th on the list of countries most vulnerable to water shortages, but it covers three times as many people as the remaining 16 countries in this category.

Water stress also in Europe

But Europe is also affected: in the category of countries with high water stress Ranges 18 to 44 on the list - some European countries are also represented. On average, they exhaust around 40 percent of their available water resources. Among them are many Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Portugal, Spain and Greece. But also some Balkan states and, astonishingly, Belgium are represented here.

Researchers in other regions with intensive agricultural irrigation, such as the western US, China or the South and West Indies, also see a worrying development. Even in Germany, regional competitions for the resource water are no longer a rarity.

Reuse instead of waste

According to WRI scientists, a major part of the water problems could be avoided by more efficient use of existing resources. This includes above all a more consistent reuse of wastewater. Although 84% of all wastewater is collected and processed in the Arab Gulf States, only 44% are recycled.

Water expert Engelbert Schramm of the Institute for Social-Ecological Research (ISOE) agrees: "If we do not want to leave anyone behind in the world-wide water supply, as the United Nations explains in the Sustainability Goals We need to consistently use water multiple times, "he says. "Instead of building dams that are mostly associated with forced relocations or tapping the last groundwater resources, some of which are renewing very slowly, we have to establish wastewater as an additional water resource. This will enable us to significantly reduce the pressure on the natural water cycle. "

Source: World Resources Institute (WRI)

- Nadja Podbregar