The Water Crisis – sustaining water, easing scarcity

It is hoped here to give an insight into how water stress/scarcity and how natural thresholds relating to population–environment interactions operate. It is well known that expanding populations and economies place increasing demands on water supplies and that the problems are becoming more acute. To date the water supply has always expanded to meet population requirements. For the time being there is plenty to go around, nearly three-quarters of the earth’s surface is water, but the provision of water supplies is chaotic and piecemeal. There can be intense competition for water resources, especially in the LEDCs. In the MEDCs water has become a tradable commodity; federal and local governments have to provide it at the right price, quality and quantity to be attractive to investors etc. There is a real risk around the globe that serious social and political conflicts will arise because of water shortages.

80 countries with 40% of world population don’t have enough water.


CASE STUDY - The Case of the Tigris-Euphrates Basin - A situation with serious international implications is the demand for the waters of the Euphrates by Turkey, Syria and Iraq. The Euphrates is the primary water source for millions of people who depend on it for power generation and irrigation in an extremely arid climate. Conflict over water in this area is decades old. It has intensified in recent years as a result of a massive Turkish dam building programme known as the Greater Anatolia Project (GAP), designed to provide a supply of water and power adequate to fuel the development needs of Turkey’s population, which is growing at 1.6% annually. When completed, it will provide Turkey with a generating capacity of 7500 megawatts of electricity-nearly four times the capacity of Hoover Dam – and open up at least 1.5 million hectares of land to irrigated cultivation.

Full implementation of the GAP system of dams could result in a 40% reduction of the Euphrates’ flow into Syria and an 80% reduction of flow into Iraq. This will reduce the electrical output of Syria’s Tabqa Dam by up to 12% of capacity, while Iraq could lose irrigation water to one million hectares. The levels of salinity will increase as well as the amounts of agricultural and industrial pollution in the remaining water being conveyed into Syria and Iraq.

Syria and Iraq have already threatened war over their access to the Euphrates. As the populations of these nations continue to expand, driven by fertility rates well above the global average, the competition for fresh water between agriculture and development could endanger stability in the region.

CASE STUDY - The Nile - In Egypt they have recognised for some time that the headwaters of the Nile might be developed, it too has threatened war, to preserve its access to fresh water. Ethiopia has already built some 200 small dams since emerging from civil war and famine.

CASE STUDY - The Edwards Aquifer – South Central Texas, USA - Described as one of the USA’s ‘most wondrous aquifers’, because of its storage capacity, flow characteristics, water producing capabilities and efficient recharge ability, the groundwater from the limestone of the Edwards Aquifer is designated as the ‘sole source’ of drinking water for the 1.5 million people of San Antonio and the Austin–San Antonio corridor. It is also vital to agriculture, the light industry of the region, tourism and recreation. Growth in all areas is posing a major problem because of over drafting. This has resulted in the implementation and enforcement of critical management plans and water conservation ordnances, and led to an increasing number of water-user disputes. In an attempt to defuse the growing number of disputes the San Antonio Water System and ALCOA (the Aluminum Company of America) have joined forces to pump water from a site 100 miles NE of San Antonio. The pumping will break San Antonio’s addiction to increasingly scarce local groundwater.

The proposed new water source might well safeguard San Antonio’s future; but what of the area around Bastrop County where the water is to be sourced? Texas State law suggests that San Antonio Water and ALCOA would have to ‘replace and repair’ wells damaged by pumping, even though landowners in Texas can pump from their own land, without limit, whether this dries up the aquifer or not.

Groundwater is subsurface water that fills the pore spaces of soil and rock below the water table. It is in constant motion.


The whole world watches disputes in the LEDCs and MEDCs of the world with concerned interest. The then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, in 1997, stressed that water ‘was the most urgent issue on the global agenda’. The projected world population growth will ensure that over the next couple of decades there must be cooperative interest in shared water resources. The USA has gone as far as suggesting water-rich countries negotiating trans-boundary solutions, moving water to areas of scarcity. However, the challenge of reconciling competing demands and claims to water will occupy many governments for the time being.

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