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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  News & Events  /  News  /  News Archive  /  2017  /  March 2017  /  The uncertain dimensions of the global water crisis

The uncertain dimensions of the global water crisis

Simon and Richard on the importance of ground water resources

The uncertain dimensions of the global water crisis


Adequate supplies of freshwater to sustain the health and well-being of people and the ecosystems where they live remain among the world’s most pressing needs. This is reflected in UN Sustainable Development Goal 6.4, to reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity

Unfortunately, according to a new study by PhD researcher, Simon Damkjaer, and Professor Richard Taylor, published in Ambio on World Water Day, 22 March, there are significant limitations to how ‘water scarcity’ is currently measured.

Misrepresentations of freshwater resources and demands are particularly severe in low-income tropical countries, where most of the global population now live and the consequences of water scarcity are most severe. As a result, they argue that we simply do not know the dimensions of the global water crisis.

Simon, working with the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources, and Richard call for renewed debate about how best to measure ‘water scarcity’. It should be redefined, they argue, to reflect the freshwater storage required to address imbalances in supply and demand.

This would allow recognition of the contribution of groundwater, the world’s largest accessible store of freshwater, accounting for nearly 50% of global withdrawals.

Such a measure could also be used to explore a range of options, as well as dams, to address freshwater storage needs, including using renewable groundwater, soil water and trading in virtual water.

As Richard explains:

“How we understand water scarcity is strongly influenced by how we measure it. Grossly misrepresentative measures of water scarcity can identify scarcity where there is sufficient and sufficiency where there is scarcity. An improved measure of water scarcity would help to ensure that limited resources are better targeted to address where and when water-scarce conditions are identified.”

World Water Day

World Water Day, held on 22 March every year, is about taking action to tackle the water crisis. There are over 663 million people living without a safe water supply close to home, spending countless hours queuing or trekking to distant sources, and coping with the health impacts of using contaminated water. World Water Day focuses on the importance of freshwater and advocates the sustainable management of freshwater resources



Irrigated maize crop supplied by groundwater in Zambia

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