Population Explosion and Water Scarcity

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How Rise in Population is Leading to Water Scarcity


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Water is one of the most important natural resources on Earth, a key element of life for every living being on this planet. While the sources of water may seem to be in abundance (consider the oceans and seas), only less than one percent of the world’s water is actually usable for basic human needs. This relatively minuscule amount has to be shared by many competing users. This usable water is freshwater, found not in our oceans, but in our rivers, lakes, under the ground, and in rainwater. With so many beings vying for its availability, the resultant stress on freshwater is leading to water scarcity in almost all corners of the world. The World Wide Fund for Nature said that almost two-thirds of the world’s population could suffer from water shortage by 2025 . While the reasons for this imminent catastrophe vary from altered weather patterns to increased pollution, what is cited as perhaps the most important factor influencing this is the uncontrolled expansion in the population of the human species.



For thousands of years, human population grew only slowly, gradually – at a rate that was not yet weighing on nature’s resources – but in recent centuries this rate has jumped dramatically. This exponential rise has led to a population explosion in the last two hundred years. This uncontrolled rise in population has inordinately increased the demand for water and mounted pressure on the already finite and scarce resources of the planet. The demand for water for domestic, industrial, agricultural and municipal needs and also evacuation for waste materials – these have skyrocketed in the past few decades. Certain geographies have been more affected than others.


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The most water-scarce areas are typically those with fewer water resources, a relatively high existing population density, and an even higher population growth rate. It is certain that population growth will further impact water availability.

Measurement of water scarcity

The sources of water may seem to be in abundance, but only less that one percent of the world’s water can be used for basic human needs. This little amount has to be shared by many competing users. Stress on freshwater due to rising demand is already leading to water scarcity in many places. Water in many cases is even a major cause for political tensions between nations.


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In light of these issues, the extent of water scarcity needs to be measured in order to understand the magnitude of the development work necessary. There are various ways to measure water scarcity, one such is by determining per capita availability and percentage of water used within a certain national boundary.

As a general benchmark, countries can be classified as water scarce if there are fewer than 1,000 cubic meters of renewable fresh water available per person per year, and as water stressed if there are between 1,000 and 1,667 cubic meters available per person per year.2 Approximately 2 billion people are currently living in areas faced with water stress or scarcity. Water scarcity affects all social and economic sectors and threatens the health of ecosystems.



Larger the population, higher the (water) tension

The rise in population leads to higher demand for water for domestic, industrial, agricultural and municipal needs and also evacuation for waste materials. The most water scarce areas are typically those with few water resources, high population, and even higher population growth rates. E.g most of the world’s water scarce areas is from MENA (The Middle East and North Africa) regions, where they are currently unable to meet their basic water demand. 7 of the world’s top 10 water scarce countries are from the MENA region.

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With per capita water availability projected to fall by half by 2050, the situation is likely to be dire in the coming years. 5 Projections show that by 2035, 3.6 billion people will be living in areas with water stress or scarcity, as population growth causes more countries and regions to become water scarce.



If we were to try and trace the reasons for overpopulation, there a broad few that we can circle out. The rise in birth rate either due to bad family planning or illiteracy is a big cause for population growth in India. An estimated 215 million women in developing countries want to avoid pregnancy but are not using modern contraception. 

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To repress this accelerated loss of natural resources, serious measures need be taken in order to slow down the rate of population growth. This can lead to more people accessing clean and safe water universally, in the years to come. Though the challenge of a rapidly growing population, on the efforts to provide adequate and clean water to every citizen, has been acknowledged in various policies and planning documents, there is still an urgent need for effective policies to be drafted and implemented to combat population growth. Increasing access to voluntary family planning services can help slow population growth, and complement ongoing efforts to ensure adequate and clean water for all.


Written by: Prakriti Sharma & Priyanka Pandey

Edited by: Anirban Banerjee