Water Shortage

Water shortages have flow-on effects, such as decreased food production, which leads to humanitarian crises and environmental refugees.

Melting ice in mountain snows and glaciers, increasing droughts due to temperature rises and salt-water intrusion due to rising sea levels will greatly reduce the world’s fresh water supplies. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) now estimates that climate change will place an additional 3 billion at risk of water shortages.

Water is a global resource. It doesn’t respect national borders. Rich and poor countries will be affected alike, but developing countries that are already struggling to provide food and water for their people will suffer the most as a result of water shortages.

The IPCC has warned that Himalayan glaciers could disappear altogether by 2035, and most others 2050. Rapidly melting of the glaciers will result in an increase in flooding in the short term. But in the longer term, disappearing glaciers will lead to a gradual decrease in river flows, subjecting large parts of Asia.

Many Indian towns rely on rivers fed by glaciers to meet their water needs. When the glaciers melt away, so too will the communities that depend on their fresh water.

In Nepal and Bhutan, run-off from receding glaciers has flooded into vast lakes that threaten to burst, devastating nearby villages. But once the glaciers are gone, these countries will also be struck by water shortage.

Because these countries are densely populated, water shortages will displace millions. Even conservative projections of climate change show that 63 % of the world population will live in countries of significant water stress by 2025. Waves of environmental refugees will be forced out of their native lands.

Even more worrying is the threat of a war over water resources between India, Pakistan and China grows as climate change exacerbates water shortages.

Wealthy countries will also be affected by water shortages. Australia, the Mediterranean region and parts of the US are particularly vulnerable due to their already dry climates. Increased frequency and intensity of droughts will ravage the food production of these areas, and subject their populations to severe drinking water restrictions.

What is more, wealthy nations are dependent on the water of the developing world.

Food and other commodities all require water in their production process. As water shortages strangle developing countries, the imports of the richer nations will become much more scarce, leading to major economic impacts.

And more economic costs will be incurred in order to adapt to the problem of water shortages.

In addition to better water efficiency, some argue that wide-scale construction of desalination plants to convert sea into drinking water may eventually be necessary to secure the world’s drinking supply.

However desalination plants are unaffordable for many governments, and consume vast amounts of energy, generating more greenhouse gases, global warming and water shortages. Hence water shortages must be solved by sustainable solutions.


Greenpeace, ‘Health, Food and Water’,http://www.greenpeace.org/international/campaigns/climate-change/impacts/health_food_water

Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, ‘Policy-relevance of the Working Group II Contribution to IPCC AR4 (Fourth Assessment Report)’, http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/presentations/unfccc-barcelona-nov-09/jpvy-nov-09-bcn.pdf

Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, ‘Policy-relevance of the Working Group II Contribution to IPCC AR4 (Fourth Assessment Report)’, http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/presentations/unfccc-barcelona-nov-09/jpvy-nov-09-bcn.pdf

Greenpeace, ‘Health, Food and Water’,http://www.greenpeace.org/international/campaigns/climate-change/impacts/health_food_water

BBC News, ‘Desalination ‘not the solution’’, BBC News, 19 June 2007, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6767533.stm