Water Scarcity Definition

Water scarcity definition: it is a shortage of water due to inadequate infrastructure or a lack of regular supply. That means people can’t get enough clean water to fulfill their basic drinking, cleaning, farming and sanitation needs because demand exceeds supply.

Throughout the decades, organizations have used different methods of assessing water shortage, such as the ratio of how much water a specific population uses versus its total available supply. The most recent methods focus on determining levels of water stress based on the availability of water geographically within a region and seasonal fluctuations in water resources.

Different forms of water scarcity exist. Physically, water resources may be overused and not meet the needs of a population. For example, changing weather patterns significantly impacts the south of Madagascar, which suffers from the country’s lowest water service coverage. Lately, more frequent and intense droughts have led to hunger and malnutrition.

Economically, poor management (usually through governments), inadequate infrastructure and limited investments drive the water crisis, where otherwise adequate water resources exist. In addition to physical scarcity, Madagascar does not have a national system to monitor groundwater or predict water shortages and droughts in order to efficiently use water resources.

Other definitions revolving around the water issue include:

  • Water stress: A result of scarcity, in terms of accessibility of clean water, which can result in conflict over water resources, compromised health, illness and death.
  • Extreme water scarcity: When annual water supply is less than an average of 500 cubic meters per person annually.1
  • Extreme water vulnerability: The sum total of the highest levels of physical water insufficiency and the lowest levels of drinking water that a village lives with.
  • Water security: The ability of a village to obtain sustainable access to adequate amounts of clean water to sustain health, jobs, socio-economic development and a peaceful and politically stable climate. This includes protection from pollution and water-related disasters.

Without clean, accessible water, families often remain stuck in a cycle of generational poverty. Women and children suffer the most; children are more vulnerable to getting sick or dying from contaminated water, and women and girls are the primary ones who have to give up work and school because they spend multiple hours a day gathering water.

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1 “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.
* 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.