An estimated 4 billion people in the world do not have access to enough water supplies in order to meet their daily needs, according to a new study conducted by researchers in the Netherlands.
In a paper published in the journal Science Advances, Arjen Hoekstra, a water management professor at the University of Twente in Enschede, led a team of researchers in studying the impact of water scarcity on the people and ecology of the world.
Their findings suggest that the water shortage being felt by the planet right now is fueled by the rapid growth of human populations, their consumption habits and the demands for supplies for agricultural purposes. The effect of the water crisis can be seen on the landscape of the Earth, according to Hoekstra.
"Groundwater levels decline and lakes disappear," Hoekstra pointed out.
"You have less water flowing in the rivers. This threatens ecosystems and biodiversity, and harms local downstream communities where water will not flow."
While earlier studies have tried to analyze water consumption around the world on a yearly basis, Hoekstra studied its effects on each month.
The models the research team used took into consideration various climate data, land use, soil samples, the growth of different crops, irrigation systems, population densities and industries.
The researchers discovered that the ongoing water shortage affects about 4 billion people in the world compared to the 1.7 to 3 billion people that were initially believed in previous estimates. About half of the total number of people without enough water supplies can be found living in India and China alone.
The team also found that the water crisis has become widespread, with regions and countries such as North and South Africa, the Middle East, Mexico and even parts of the American West suffering from critical shortages.
Hoekstra said that they now have more accurate data on how water scarcity affects these areas of the world. They are able to determine when a possible shortage could occur and what could likely be the cause of it.
Their findings can help provide a new baseline for world leaders to use as basis for future policies.
Hoekstra recommends for governments to designate a water cap for their area every month in order to help regulate water use depending on the available supply. This also raises the public's awareness on just how much water they use to meet their basic needs.
By allowing people to become more aware of their water consumption, Hoekstra believes that they can make better choices regarding the amount of water they use to make their products. If people consume a less amount of meat, for instance, they will be able to save a large amount of their water supply.
Hoekstra and his team point to the importance of using water sustainably to help maintain enough supply for everybody. This is one of the key points highlighted in the agenda of world leaders.
Aside from climate change, water scarcity is another high priority in terms of environmental concerns set by the World Economic Forum, Hoekstra said. It remains one of the biggest risks to the economy of the world.
Hoekstra added that government leaders should place a premium on available water resources. They should learn how to allocate their water supplies more wisely as well.
He and his colleagues hope that their findings can help urge people to take action on the ongoing water shortage. The study can provide them with information on how to use water efficiently and sustainably and how to make a lasting difference by changing even their consumption habits.
Photo: Mark Lee | Flickr