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Competence Centre on Foresight

We foster a strategic, future-oriented and anticipatory culture in the EU policymaking process.

Page | Last updated: 10 Dec 2020

Water scarcity

  • Growing population, urbanization, increasing demand for agricultural and industrial production, economic growth, and climate change are putting water resources under ever-increasing strain (pdf). | Related Megatrend: Climate and environment; Migration; Security; Inequalities
  • There is a paradigm shift of wastewater being considered a problem needing a solution -- ‘treatment and disposal’ -- to becoming a solution to many problems, including water scarcity and energy by ‘reuse, recycle and resource recovery’, in the context of a circular economy. However, currently, over 80% of global wastewater is discharged without treatment; high-income countries treat about 70% of the municipal and industrial wastewater they generate; upper-middle-income countries treat about 38%, lower-middle-income countries up to 28%, while in low-income countries, only 8% of the wastewater undergoes some kind of treatment. | Related Megatrend: Climate and environment; Security; Inequalities
  • In 2015, 663 million people - 1 in 10 - lacked access to safe water; some one billion people do not have access to safe sources of drinking water and 2.4 billion people live without improved sanitation.  
  • By 2025, 50% of the world's population might be living in water-stressed areas.
  • Global water demand might increase 55% by 2050, compared to 2015. Meantime, it is estimated that in 2030, global demand will exceed current sustainable supplies by 40%, with the largest increases coming from manufacturing, electricity and domestic use.
    | Related Megatrend: InequalitiesDemography
  • Over 70% of the global water withdrawals go to agriculture; Over the past 50 years, irrigated area has more than doubled, total livestock has more than tripled and inland aquaculture has grown more than twentyfold.  | Related Megatrend: Climate and environmentConsumerism; Geopower
  • Eutrophication - pollution due to over-enrichment of water by nutrients such as nitrogen phosphorus - is increasing, becoming one of the leading causes of water quality impairment, loss of subaquatic vegetation, change in species composition, coral reef damage, low dissolved oxygen, and the formation of dead zones (oxygen-depleted waters) that can lead to ecosystem collapse. | Related Megatrend: Climate and environment; MigrationConsumerism
  • Fragile states in Africa and the Middle East are most at risk of experiencing food and water shortages, but China and India are also vulnerable.

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