Water Stress

How Does Water Stress Affect the World?

Water is an essential, life-giving resource; however, millions of people do not have accessible, clean drinking water. Moreover, most countries worldwide overuse their available water sources, creating stress on their local and global water supply.

So, what is water stress? Water stress indicates that the demand for safe and accessible water exceeds the supply, meaning that countries worldwide withdraw more water from their water sources annually than those water sources can sustain long-term.1 Increasing population and urbanization strongly affect the strain on water sources.

According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), many countries withdraw up to 80% of their available water supply annually. This pattern of water overuse is not sustainable, and many regions are in crisis as a result. Andrew Steer, president and CEO of World Resources Institute (WRI), claims,

“Water stress is the biggest crisis no one is talking about; its consequences are in plain sight in the form of food insecurity, conflict and migration, and financial instability.”2

Agriculture accounts for the most global freshwater usage, followed by industry and domestic use. Increasing populations and food demands force farms, fields and other forms of agriculture to use more and more water for irrigation. In addition, water runoff from farms can mix with pesticides and other chemicals, contaminating the surrounding water and the soil. Without appropriate treatment, this agricultural runoff is unsafe.

Water covers approximately 71% of the surface area of the globe; however, only 3% of that is freshwater viable for drinking, agriculture and other human needs.3 Freshwater is found in rivers, lakes, reservoirs and groundwater. But surface water must be filtered or otherwise sanitized before human use to prevent harmful waterborne diseases. A lack of clean, accessible water worldwide and the extensive overdrawing from our limited water sources are causing a global water crisis.

The highest water stressed countries include countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) such as Qatar, Israel, Lebanon, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Pakistan.4 According to experts, countries in MENA experience higher levels of water crisis because it is a hot, arid climate with minimal rainfall. MENA countries are also often densely populated and require more water than other countries.1 Even high-income, developed regions like Northern America and Europe experience water limitations that stress their natural resources. Numerous countries worldwide are overusing their water supply annually and will feel the effects in the coming years.

The World Health Organization (WHO) notes how many people lack access to clean water. According to WHO, 663 million people worldwide do not have safe and accessible drinking water, meaning that unclean water regularly exposes 8% of the world to disease, dehydration and even death due to their water source.5 Polluted water may have chemicals such as lead, arsenic or excessive levels of fluoride or dangerous microorganisms such as rotavirus, cholera, dysentery or human waste. Water pollutants can cause health complications, illness or even death. According to WHO, a staggering “829,000 people die each year from diarrhea as a result of unsafe drinking-water, sanitation, and hand hygiene.”5

Water overuse is an ongoing crisis worldwide. Countries and communities must take responsible steps to preserve their long-term water supply. Here are a few steps to do so:

  • Increase awareness — Education about local, national and global water use and overuse is vital. People should make mindful and informed decisions about the products they buy and the resources they use. When families reduce their water use, they can help their communities maintain healthy water supplies. Small actions such as limiting shower length, skipping a car wash or using water purifiers at home rather than buying bottled water can make a difference.
  • Increase agricultural efficiency — Agriculture accounts for more than 70% of freshwater usage.3 Utilizing irrigation techniques on farms that use less water can help with water overuse.
  • Increase wastewater treatment — Wastewater can be a safe water source when the water is properly stored, treated and monitored. Water recycled from agricultural runoff is viable for agriculture, industry and domestic use without overdrawing surface water. Cities, villages and other communities need increased training and technology to treat water to remove chemicals, disease and other waste so that the water is safe for everyday use.

Water stress is a global issue that requires local, national and international solutions. Every person can begin to make small changes to help reduce water overuse and stress in their communities.

What is GFA World doing to help the water crisis?

GFA World has built Jesus Wells in communities in Asia for numerous years and plans to expand these efforts into Africa in the near future. Jesus Wells can be a life-saving resource for many families to protect them from dehydration, lack of sanitation and even severe disease.

Jesus Wells can last up to 20 years and provide clean water for up to 300 people a day.

Please support GFA World in bringing thousands of Jesus Wells that supply life-giving water to people in areas such as Asia and Africa.

Learn more about clean water charity

1 Felter, Claire and Kail Robinson. “Water Stress: A Global Problem That’s Getting Worse.” Council on Foreign Relations. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/water-stress-global-problem-thats-getting-worse. April 22, 2021.
2 “RELEASE: Updated Global Water Risk Atlas Reveals Top Water-Stressed Countries and States.” World Resources Institute. https://www.wri.org/news/release-updated-global-water-risk-atlas-reveals-top-water-stressed-countries-and-states. August 6, 2019.
3 “Water Facts — Worldwide Water Supply.” Bureau of Reclamation. https://www.usbr.gov/mp/arwec/water-facts-ww-water-sup.html#:~:text=3%25%20of%20the%20earth’s%20water,water%20is%20available%20fresh%20water. Accessed January 2022. 
4 Hofste, Rutger Willem, et. al. “17 Countries, Home to One-Quarter of the World’s Population, Face Extremely High Water Stress.” World Resources Institute. https://www.wri.org/insights/17-countries-home-one-quarter-worlds-population-face-extremely-high-water-stress. August 6, 2019.
5 “Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH).” World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/health-topics/water-sanitation-and-hygiene-wash. Accessed January 2022.