Trends in Water Demand

By 2025, water withdrawal is projected to reach 5,235km3 per year, which is to impact on food production, human welfare and the environmental. Any predictions are tentative as they involve uncertain factors such as climate change.

three alternative futures

Scenario Water changes by 2025 Wider impacts
Business as usual ·        Water scarcity will reduce food production

·        Consumption will rise by +50%

·        Household water use rise by +70%

·        Industrial water demand in developing countries will increase

·        Developing countries will rely on food imports but increased hunger

·        In Sub Saharan Africa, grain imports will > triple

·        In parts of western USA, China etc water will be pumped out faster than aquifers can be recharged

Water crisis ·        Global water consumption will increase

·        Demand for domestic water will fall

·        Demand for industrial water will +33%, yet output stays the same

·        Food production will decline and food prices increase

·        In developing countries, malnutrition and food insecurity will increase

·        Dam building declines and aquifers in Chindia will fail

·        Conflict over water between and within countries will increase

Sustainable water ·        Global & industrial water use will have to fall

·        Global rain-fed crop yields increase due to improvements in water harvesting and sustainable farming

·        Agricultural and domestic water prices double

·        Food production could increase slightly

·        Prices could fall slowly

·        Investment in crop research and technology would increase

·        Unsustainable pumping of groundwater would end

·        Governments delegate farm management to community groups

Climate change

  • Increase in mean annual temperate are leading to earlier snowmelt in mountain areas, causing increase in spring discharge in major river basins.
  • This water will be lost to oceans or evaporates as present water management cannot store or use it effectively.
  • Snowfields in the Andes are already disappearing as rainfall replaces snowfall
  • This means the loss of a primary source of water.
  • Melting of Himalayan glaciers could threaten water supplies of nearly half the world’s population in Asia
  • Cyclones and monsoon threaten water supplies, but it shortages of water bought by increased frequency and intensity of drought that will be most devastating.
  • Dried up rivers, irrigation failure and depleted aquifers threaten the lives of millions in Asia and sub Saharan Africa.

How will China be affected by climate change?

Major rivers in China, Vietnam and India are fed by seasonal melting of mountain glaciers and every summer, surface runoff occurs off the Himalayas and the Tian Mountains. They create hydrological stores which feed into the Yangtze and Yellow river.

As long as new snow falls onto glaciers each winter, cities in Asia are guaranteed a sustainable water supply, however, a warmer climate (as a result of climate change) and the disappearance of mountain glaciers could lead to water insecurity and although in the short-term melt water will increase but in the long-term, this could lead to water shortages due to the lack of surface runoff.

case study: water futures for india and its neighbours

Indian sub-continent has insecure water future because:

  • Has considerable supplies of water provided by three of world’s major rivers but its monsoon climate creates extremes of flooding and drought.
  • Rapid population growth and urbanisation, the existence of a large rural population and recent industrialisation are creating an unsustainable demand for water.
  • The political division of some of its major drainage basin does not help water management, and disputes with neighbours over water are ongoing.

water players and decision makers

Different players and decision makers have key roles to play in securing future water supplies, but their aims may conflict.


Category Players
Political International organisations e.g. UN, regional and local councils, pressure groups
Economic (Business) World Bank, governments, utility companies e.g. Thames Water, agriculture, industry, TNCs
Social (Human welfare) Individuals, residents, farmers, consumers, NGOs e.g. Water Aid
Environmental (sustainable Development) Conservationists, planners, NGOs e.g. WWF

World Trade Organisation and TNCs

  • Many developing countries have benefited from international aid to improve their water provision.
  • Most aid projects try to work with the needs of local people and also follow international guidelines to gain the agreement of riverside land users.
  • However, the Three Gorges’ Dams, Turkey GAP project and India’s Narmada project have proceeded without restrictions imposed by guidelines.
  • The WTO encourages countries to open up their economies to private investment in return for debt relief.
  • Countries wishing to develop major water schemes have been turning to private companies for finance.
  • Therefore, as countries follow WTO guidelines, control of their water infrastructures is being transferred to multinational companies such as Veolia who see water as a business.
  • Water supplies may be improved but local consumers have to pay.



  • UN’s World Water Assessment Programme monitors changes in demand for water and likelihood of international tensions.
  • Tries to find peaceful solutions when conflicts arise.

Between 1948 and 1998, most disputes over water ended peacefully – just 43 involved military acts, 18 of these were between Israel and its neighbours.

case study: the ebro river in spain

  • July 2001 – Spanish government approved to divert water from lower Ebro valley to supply cities, farms and tourists in the SE of the country.
  • Three years later the newly elected government cancelled the diversion project and replaced it with cheaper, more localised schemes, including desalination plants.

The decision was due to debate between players:

  • Big international investors were concerned because they had marketed the SE of Spain as the ‘new Florida’.
  • Vast tourist development between Alicante and Almeria costing billions of euros, many based on new golf courses, were to be supplied with Ebro water.
  • People in Murcia and Almeria saw the Ebro scheme as the beginning of a new future, allowing development of holiday homes, resorts and Europe’s biggest tourism complex at Cabo Cope.
  • The head of the Murcia region governmental claimed desalination was unproved and expensive
  • EU funding was available but may not be in the future.
  • Environmentalists in the north protests the scheme was a misuse of scarce resource and that it would have drastic impact on the Ebro and its fragile delta.
  • The Environment Minister claimed that the desalination plants would provide the same amount of water sooner and more cheaply.
  • The new national government also promised improving water cycling and make irrigation systems more efficient.
  • Environmentalists claimed that the aquifers of the Ebro basin were drying out because of over extraction.
  • They and other critics felt that subsidies offered to farmers for irrigation encourages the use of unsuitable land.