Economic water scarcity

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Economic water scarcity is caused by a lack of investment in water infrastructure or insufficient human capacity to satisfy the demand of water in areas where the population cannot afford to use an adequate source of water.

Symptoms of economic water scarcity include a lack of infrastructure, with people often having to fetch water from rivers or lakes for domestic and agricultural uses (irrigation). Although much emphasis is put on improving water sources for drinking and domestic purposes, evidence suggests that much more water is used for other uses such as bathing, laundry, livestock and cleaning than for drinking and cooking alone.[1] This observation suggests that putting too much emphasis on drinking water needs addresses an insignificant part of the problem of water resources and therefore limits the range of solutions available.[1]

Large parts of Africa suffer from economic water scarcity; developing water infrastructure there could therefore help to reduce poverty. Investing in water retention and irrigation infrastructure would also help to increase food production, especially in developing countries that largely rely on low-yield agriculture.[2] Being able to provide a community with water that is adequate for consumption would also greatly benefit the people’s health.[1] Overcoming this type of scarcity, however, can require more than just new infrastructure; it requires socio-economic and socio-political types of intervention that address poverty and socio-inequality but because there is a lack of funding, much planning must come into play.[3]

The term was first defined in a wide-ranging 2007 study on the use of water in agriculture over the previous 50 years[4] of practitioners, researchers and policymakers, overseen by the International Water Management Institute in Sri Lanka, with the aim of finding out if the world had sufficient water resources to produce food for the growing population in the future. Water is one of the most crucial elements in developmental planning; efforts to develop, conserve, utilize and manage water resources have to be guided by national perspectives.[5]

The term physical water scarcity was used by the study to define situations where there is not enough water to meet all demands, including that needed for ecosystems to function effectively.


  1. ^ a b c Madulu, Ndalahwa (2003). "Linking poverty levels to water resource use and conflicts in rural Tanzania". Physics & Chemistry of the Earth - Parts A/B/C. 28 (20–27): 911. doi:10.1016/j.pce.2003.08.024.
  2. ^ Duchin, Faye; López-Morales, Carlos (December 2012). "Do Water-Rich Regions Have A Comparative Advantage In Food Production? Improving The Representation Of Water For Agriculture In Economic Models". Economic Systems Research. 24 (4): 371–389. doi:10.1080/09535314.2012.714746.
  3. ^ Noemdoe, S.; Jonker, L.; Swatuk, L.A, (2006). "Perceptions of water scarcity: The case of Genadendal and outstations". Physics and Chemistry of the Earth. 31 (15): 771–778. doi:10.1016/j.pce.2006.08.003.
  4. ^ Molden, D. (Ed).
  5. ^ Anand, P.B (2004). "The political economy of water scarcity and issues of inequality, entitlements and identities". International Journal of Technology Management & Sustainable Development. 3 (2): 115–131. doi:10.1386/ijtm.3.2.115/0.

Paul Guinness (2011), Patterns and Change, Cambridge University Press 2011, ISBN 978-0-521-14733-0