We are living amidst a global water crisis, but too many of us are unaware of this stark and devastating reality.
By 2030, major cities expected to experience ‘high’ or ‘extremely high’ water stress include:
Cities suffering water shortages Placeholder
Cities suffering water shortages

The United Nations projects that more than 5 billion people could be affected by water scarcity in just 10 years. Access to clean water is a fundamental human right that is currently under threat around the world. This threat is both a result of climate change and socio-political factors that determine who gets clean water and who doesn’t. The global water crisis impacts our ability to provide quality health care, grow quality food, power our cities and ultimately, sustain life on earth.

But the crisis can be curtailed.

We – citizens of Planet Earth , government officials, students, parents, activists, can all work together to ensure water justice around the world. The global water crisis currently threatens social, political, and economic systems the world over.


Health. Peace. Food. Sustainability. Water needs to be safe now, sustainable in the future, and widely accessible.Water touches every facet of our lives and we each have a role to play in securing the basic necessities it provides. Our actions will drive this change. Together we can protect this vital resource that touches all of our lives.

What is the global water crisis?

Water is closely bound up with the socio-political world, with water being a factor in managing challenges such as political instability, famine, and epidemics. It is also closely bound up with global plays for power and money. Whether it be due to climate related events, failure of institutions to ensure a regular supply of water, or lack of adequate infrastructure, water insecurity – the root of the global crisis - curtails our shared resources for growing food, providing quality health care, powering our cities and developing the sustainable infrastructure essential to tackle future challenges. This is not an issue that will affect us all in the distant future. It affects us all now, and there are many things we can do to address it. Our actions as individuals, communities, companies and governments affect water security around the globe.

What is water justice?

According to the Stockholm International Water Institute, water justice is a combination of social and environmental justice that applies to water governance  - water allocation and management. It not only addresses the distribution of outcomes but also the processes that underpin them. Water justice challenges us to be explicit about the rationales we adopt to justify our water allocation and management decisions. Concerns about getting one’s fair share arises when an individual or group feels that others are taking more than their fair share from a common or communal resource such as water.

What do we mean by water scarcity?

Water scarcity can mean scarcity in availability due to physical shortage, or scarcity in access due to the failure of institutions to ensure a regular supply or due to a lack of adequate infrastructure.

Where is the water crisis currently unfolding?

Water scarcity already affects every continent. Water use has been growing globally at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century, and an increasing number of regions are reaching the limit at which water services can be sustainably delivered, especially in arid regions.

In what ways does the current water crisis appear?

The WWF has identified 9 challenges that define the current water crisis around the world. Those include: 


    1. Water-induced migration: Around the world, water source restrictions have led to mass migrations of people across and within borders. 
    2. Disappearing lakes and livelihoods: Climate change has caused the disappearance of lakes around the world and other environmental catastrophes have caused a loss of livelihoods.
    3. Urban System Collapse: Karachi is a key example of urban system collapse, in which municipalities’ water supplies are unable to meet the needs of its populations, and this unmet need causes severe citywide disruptions.
    4. Tactics of Terrorism, War, and Violence: Not only are conflict fought over water, but water is often used as a strategic weapon by one side during conflict.
    5. Job Loss: Mismanagement or limited water supplies have caused many commercial operations to close and lead to job loss. 
    6. Drought: Widespread drought has caused national emergencies around the world, including in Guatemala, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Somalia, South Africa, Swaziland, and Venezuela. 
    7. Coastal Inundation: Rising sea levels are causing unprecedented flooding. 
    8. Transboundary Gamesmanship: Political interests prevent shared resources, such as lakes, reservoirs, rivers, from benefitting all parties and instead are structured to benefit only one side, often to the detriment of the other. 
    9. Population Exceeding Infrastructure: In many countries, the water crisis is so acute that the municipalities are simply unable to meet the basic needs of their populations.  
What do we mean by WASH?

WASH is an acronym that stands for "water, sanitation and hygiene". Universal, affordable and sustainable access to WASH is a key public health issue within international development and is the focus of the first two targets of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6). Targets 6.1 and 6.2 aim at equitable and accessible water and sanitation for all.

How many people lack access to safely managed drinking water and sanitation services?

Worldwide, 80 percent of municipal and industrial wastewater is returned untreated, and in the United States, 50 percent of rivers are polluted. Good water quality is essential to human health, social and economic development, and the ecosystem. However, as populations grow and natural environments become degraded, ensuring there are sufficient and safe water supplies for everyone is becoming increasingly challenging. A major part of the solution is to produce less pollution and improve the way we manage wastewater.

What is the link between water and climate change?

We feel the effects of climate change through water. Water availability is becoming less predictable in many places, and increased incidences of flooding threaten to destroy water points, treatment plants, and sanitation facilities and contaminate water sources. In some regions, droughts are exacerbating water scarcity and thereby negatively impacting people’s health and productivity. The extreme weather we see from climate change means our hot days are hotter, increasing demand for water, and our dry spells are longer, meaning changes in water management and allocation are necessary. 

What role does water pollution and waste water play in the water crisis?

Worldwide, 80 percent of municipal and industrial wastewater is returned untreated to bodies of water later used for drinking water. In the United States, 50 percent of rivers are polluted by wastewater, agricultural runoff, or industrial chemicals. Good water quality is essential to human health, social and economic development, and the ecosystem. However, as populations grow and natural environments become degraded, ensuring there are sufficient and safe water supplies for everyone is becoming increasingly challenging. A major part of the solution is to produce less pollution and improve the way we manage wastewater.

What is water governance?

Water governance refers to the political, social, economic and administrative systems in place that influence water’s use, allocation, and management. Essentially, who gets what water, when and how, and who has the right to water and related services, and their benefits.

What role do governments play in addressing the global water crisis?

Governments can enable public funding towards water programs, mobilize new financing for water management, and establish regulatory frameworks that stimulate more sustainable water governance. Resources and services must go where they are intended – and most needed – so that water is fairly and sustainably managed. Governments need to cooperate beyond borders, have responsive thinking, accountability mechanisms in place, timely disbursement of information, clear communication, resource their staff with training, and have better platforms for inclusive participation. Additionally, by enabling innovation and infrastructure investment to treat contaminated water on a large scale, enough potable water can be produced to make a difference. Governments can also stop and/or regulate the  sources of pollution. And most importantly, governments are best positioned to ensure that the voices of those most affected are a part of developing the solution.

What role does agriculture play in the global water crisis?

Agriculture is the largest consumer of the world’s freshwater resources, and more than one-quarter of the energy used globally is expended on food production and supply.The water-food-energy nexus is central to sustainable development. Demand for all three is increasing, driven by a rising global population, rapid urbanization, changing diets and economic growth. Agriculture is currently not incentivized to optimize water usage leading to inefficient use, wastage, and unnecessary environmental contamination. Agriculture is the largest consumer of the world’s freshwater resources, and more than one-quarter of the energy used globally is expended on food production and supply.

What is water integrity?

Water integrity refers to honest, transparent, accountable, and inclusive decision-making by water stakeholders, aiming for equity and sustainability in water management.

How many people will be affected by living in water-stressed areas?

In less than five years, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas that lack the capacity to access and meet the necessary human demand for water. Water Justice activist Maude Barlow acknowledges that by 2030 “demand for water will outstrip supply by 40 per cent and that one-third of the world’s people will live in basins where the demand-supply deficit is more than 50 per cent.” (Source:  The Council of Canadians, 2018)

Why are women and children disproportionately affected?

Women and girls across the world are on the front lines of managing water insecurity. Women spend 200 million hours daily collecting water in addition to 266 million hours finding a place to use the bathroom. This is often time that is taken away from working on income-generating opportunities and attending school. Open-defecation also often puts girls and women at a disproprtionately higher risk for disease, harrassment, and sexual violence.

Is the problem getting worse or better?

The problem is growing. A 40% shortfall in freshwater resources by 2030 coupled with a rising world population has us careening towards an even greater global water crisis than we now see. In less than three decades, water demand is projected to grow by 55 percent (including a 400-percent rise in manufacturing water demand).

What is the trickle down effect of water insecurity?

The global water crisis impacts agriculture, health, energy systems, governance, and political stability around the world.​ With water being described as the ‘new petroleum’, a resource with tremendous power to influence entire countries, water insecurity is a crisis that affects everyone.

What is UNSDG 6?

UNSDG 6 Is a sustainable development goal aimed at ensuring access to water and sanitation for all. The SDGs are to be achieved globally by 2030. SDG 6 consists of a single goal and eight targets. Forward thinking countries around the globe have oriented their national efforts to align with the goal and targets.

What do water access governance and COVID 19 have to do with each other?

Equitable availability, rational allocation, and well-managed access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services is fundamental to fighting the virus and preserving the health and well-being of millions in homes, communities, and health care facilities. COVID-19 will not be stopped anywhere without access to safe water for all people living in vulnerability, UN experts said.

What is the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP)?

OPP is an NGO that began work in Orangi town in 1980. Orangi is situated on the periphery of Karachi and is a cluster of 113 low income settlements* with a population of 2.3 million. On the success of its five basic programs of low cost, locally affordable sanitation, housing, health, education and credit for micro enterprise, in 1988 OPP was upgraded into three autonomous institutions. Its approach is to encourage and strengthen community initiatives (with social, technical guidance and credit for micro enterprise) and, evolve partnerships with the government for development based on local resources, and maintain a legacy of activism and positive contribution to the next generation of community stewards.

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