Thirsty third of world report water scarcity concerns

Singapore and Western Sahara face toughest competition for water resources, while China and US are equally pushed

Source: Flickr/ChrisMRichards

Source: Flickr/ChrisMRichards

By Sophie Yeo

Sixty-nine countries are already facing extremely tough competition for water, according to a study by the World Resources Institute.

According to the study, the first to rank countries based on water scarcity, 37% of the countries experience high water stress, meaning at least 40% of their water is taken up by industrial, agricultural and residential use.

A total of 17 countries achieved the highest possible score, with over 80% of their water resources used up each year. While it is unsurprising that the famously arid Western Sahara is on this list, Singapore is renowned for its positive water management.

Other countries that face severe water stress include Bahrain, Barbados and the United Arab Emirates. China and the US were roughly on a par, coming in at 70 and 72 respectively. Australia was at 45 on the list, with the UK at 76.

In 170th place, Croatia is the least water stressed country in Europe, and the least stressed countries overall are Benin, Burundi, Central African Republic, Rwanda and South Sudan.

An interactive map developed by the researchers spell out which countries suffer from the smallest water resources.


The rankings are based on five indicators. This includes measuring a country’s baseline water stress, or how much water is removed every year from rivers, streams and shallow aquifers for domestic, agricultural and industrial uses.

For highest scoring countries, this means more than 80% of their water is withdrawn annually, leaving farms, residents and companies extremely vulnerable to even the slightest change in water supply.

The study also based its findings on the variation in water supply between years and between months of the year, as well as the number of floods recorded from 1985 to 2011 and the intensity of droughts between 1901 and 2008.

The researchers at the WRI are the first to rank water stress on a countrywide scale. They points out that, while local measures are useful in terms of providing very specific detail, a view of the national situation is key for decisions affecting the economy, environment and communities.

They point out that commercial banks, for example, evaluate certain types of risks at a country level, and without sufficient data water scarcity faces being completely ignored when they look at risks to their investments.

“Yet until now, scant country-level water risk data existed,” write  Paul ReigAndrew Maddocks and Francis Gassert, the authors of the report, in a blog post.

Water management

The report also highlights that, even though some countries may experience from water stress, with correct management systems in place, they need not suffer as a result.

For instance, good water management means that supply of water in Singapore far outstrips demand, in spite of the fact that the country has no freshwater lakes or aquifers.

The country uses advanced rainwater capture systems to supply 20% of its water, grey water reuse for 30%, as well as importing 40% from Malaysia. An additional 10% is provided through desalination. This enables its residents to draw on a stable supply of water, in spite of the scarce natural resources.

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