Water Scarcity

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that water scarcity is a problem on this planet since 70% of it is covered with oceans, rivers, lakes and the like. But only 3% of that water is fresh—and only a third of that is accessible (not frozen or otherwise obtainable).1

Water Scarcity Definition


Nearly half of the people in the world already live in water-scarce areas where they struggle to access water at least one month a year. About 75% of them live in Asia.2 By 2050, experts predict that this number could increase to somewhere between 4.8 to 5.7 billion people. Researchers estimate that two-thirds of the global population may struggle with water shortages by 2025.3

In the last 100 years, water use has increased by nearly six times compared to the early 1900s.4 As a result, more and more regions are reaching limits regarding sustainable and accessible water.5 In just four years, from 2004 to 2008, aquifer depletion nearly tripled when compared to the historical average.6

“The world is in a water crisis, and children’s lives and futures are at risk … water is life: without it, they cannot survive,”7 states UNICEF.

Water scarcity affects children’s physical and mental development, exacerbates malnutrition and stunting and disrupts learning. More than 700 children younger than five die every day from diarrhea caused by drinking contaminated water and poor sanitation and hygiene, which depend on clean water.8 In addition, diarrhea prevents people from absorbing essential nutrients. Lack of clean, easily-accessible water also reduces parents’ ability to work and provide for their families due to illness, time spent collecting water and, sometimes, death from waterborne diseases.

Factors that increase water scarcity


The problem stems from a number of factors, including: poor management, population growth, conflict, contamination, agriculture and climate change.

Poor water management ranges from governments lacking a national system to monitor water availability and predict shortages and droughts, to damaged treatment facilities, pipes, pumps, etc., that remain unfixed. Aging infrastructure causes a significant loss of water through leaks.

Growing populations mean more demands for water. In fact, researchers project needs for water will rise by 20% to 30% per year by 2050.9 Even in regions that historically have had plenty of water, people’s needs (for growing food, drinking water, hygiene, sanitation, etc.) are exceeding the supply.10

Currently, 60% of river basins don’t have water use agreements. Often, governments don’t enforce agreements, so trying to share resources like lakes, rivers and aquifers between borders can lead to conflict. Violence linked to water scarcity has more than doubled in the last decade,11 and the World Economic Forum calls the water crisis the greatest societal risk.12 Lack of water is a root cause of migration, displacing families and eroding communities.

Lack of sanitation and unprotected wells and surface water promote unclean water. Contaminated water supports disease-causing pathogens, which can lead to serious illness and even death. Polluted water just exacerbates the global water crisis.

Agriculture uses more freshwater than anything else (about 72%),13 and it wastes a lot, through inefficiencies such as leaking irrigation systems and evaporative loss.

Changing weather patterns are dramatically affecting our water supplies. In some regions, it’s causing droughts. In others, rising sea levels due to melting glaciers are causing floods, which can result in saltwater contaminating drinking water supplies (like aqueducts) and harming infrastructure—from bursting dams to damaging sanitation and water facilities. Nearly 75% of natural disasters from 2001 to 2018 were water related (including floods and droughts), and the intensity and frequency of these weather patterns are expected to increase.14

Water Scarcity FAQs »

The good news is: There are water scarcity solutions, and GFA’s water initiatives have made a difference in hundreds of thousands of lives. Everyone is a child of God, and everyone deserves clean, accessible and sufficient water. You can help provide clean water for an entire village by donating to our Jesus Wells, drilled up to 600 feet to supply pure water, even in droughts.

Discover more solutions here.

Learn more about water projects in Africa

1 “Water Scarcity Overview.” WWF. https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/water-scarcity. Accessed November 19, 2021.
2 “Water: 12 Things to Know.” Asian Development Bank. https://www.adb.org/news/features/12-things-know-about-water. August 24, 2015.
3 “Water Scarcity Overview.” WWF. https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/water-scarcity. Accessed November 19, 2021.
4 Wada, Y. et al. “Modeling global water use for the 21st Century: Water futures and solutions initiative and its approaches.” https://core.ac.uk/display/33971790?source=2. January 20, 2016.
5 “Water Scarcity.” United Nations: UN Water. https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/scarcity/. Accessed November 19, 2021.
6 Betsy Otto. “New study raises question: What don’t we know about water scarcity?” World Resources Institute. https://www.wri.org/insights/new-study-raises-question-what-dont-we-know-about-water-scarcity. May 29, 2013.
7 “Reimagining WASH: Water Security for All.” Prepared by Programme Division, UNICEF. https://www.unicef.org/media/95241/file/water-security-for-all.pdf. March 2021.
8 Ibid.
9 “Reimagining WASH: Water Security for All,” (p.11). Prepared by Programme Division, UNICEF. https://www.unicef.org/media/95241/file/water-security-for-all.pdf. March 2021.
10 Betsy Otto. “New study raises question: What don’t we know about water scarcity?” World Resources Institute. https://www.wri.org/insights/new-study-raises-question-what-dont-we-know-about-water-scarcity. May 29, 2013.
11 “Reimagining WASH: Water Security for All,” (p.11). Prepared by Programme Division, UNICEF. March 2021. https://www.unicef.org/media/95241/file/water-security-for-all.pdf.
12 “The Global Risks Report 2019,” (p.11). World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2019. January 15, 2019.
13 “Water Scarcity.” United Nations: UN Water. https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/scarcity/. Accessed November 19, 2021.
14 “Reimagining WASH: Water Security for All,”(p.11). Prepared by Programme Division, UNICEF. https://www.unicef.org/media/95241/file/water-security-for-all.pdf. March 2021.
* Cover Photo: Tahsin Shah. “A semi-nomadic man carries water in the Cholistan Desert.” Wikimedia. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_semi-nomadic_man_carries_water_in_the_Cholistan_Desert.jpg. June 29, 2014.