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Too little water: towards a sustainable water supply

Infographic | 06-07-2017

Water is essential for agricultural production, industry, human settlements and natural vegetation. Climate change, which brings higher average temperatures and changing precipitation patterns, combined with increasing competition for water resources, may result in substantial increases in the number of people living under severe water stress.

In emerging economies and rapidly urbanising countries, sharp rises in water consumption are expected, mainly due to demands for irrigation and industry. Competition for water between sectors and between countries sharing a river basin may increase. Expansion of irrigated crop areas and the expected increases in crop yields may not be feasible because of water scarcity. Water is first extracted from rivers and lakes or stored in reservoirs. When this supply is insufficient, water is extracted from aquifers. In many cases, groundwater depletion is the main driver of land subsidence, which causes extensive damage to urban infrastructures and buildings. Land subsidence also increases vulnerability to coastal flooding. In the short term, land subsidence poses a larger threat on coastal and delta cities than rising sea levels.

The consequences of water shortages for daily life are unpredictable, and depend greatly on improvements in water management, such as rainwater collection, irrigation efficiency and water storage capacity, and also on changes in crop types and allocation of land and water to agricultural producers.

Source data

Biemans H. (2012). Water constraints on future food production. PhD thesis. Wageningen University.

Bijl DL, Bogaart PW, Kram T, de Vries BJ and van Vuuren DP. (2016). Long-term water demand for electricity, industry and households. Environmental Science & Policy 55:75-86. 

Erkens G and Sutanudjaja E. (2015). Towards a global land subsidence map. Proceedings of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences 372:83. 

Jägermeyr J, Gerten D, Schaphoff S, Heinke J, Lucht W and Rockström J. (2016). Integrated crop water management might sustainably halve the global food gap. Environmental Research Letters 11:025002.

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