What Are the Top Water Stressed Countries?

Water stress indicates that the demand for safe and accessible water exceeds the supply.1 Drought, reduced rainfall and water overuse all contribute to water stress. Some regions are prone to drought and water shortages for ecological reasons; others have dense, urban populations that strain existing water sources and systems.

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.2 According to experts, countries in MENA experience higher levels of water crisis because it is a hot, arid climate with very minimal rainfall. MENA countries are also 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.

Water overuse strains local and national water supplies, but unsafe water can also contribute to water stress in impoverished regions. For people experiencing poverty or in areas with limited access to water, even visibly contaminated water may be used for bathing, cleaning dishes and even drinking. Many families do not have another option. Many contaminants are microscopic, so the human eye cannot detect them; however, they still pose a health risk. Contaminated water can harbor waterborne illnesses such as cholera, dysentery and rotavirus.3 All three of these invisible infections cause severe diarrhea and vomiting, which can cause dehydration and even death. According to the World Health Organization, a staggering “829,000 people die each year from diarrhea as a result of unsafe drinking-water, sanitation, and hand hygiene.”3

Illness, infection and dehydration from unsafe drinking water are leading causes of death worldwide. According to a 2014 study of the 500 largest cities, 1 in 4 cities experience “water stress.”3 Water stress affects agriculture, production and the drinking water supply in a community. As a result, it affects people’s livelihoods.

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Learn more about water stress

1 “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 “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.
3 “Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH).” World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/health-topics/water-sanitation-and-hygiene-wash. Accessed January 2022.