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The Most Water-Stressed Countries In The World

Some countries are managing their water better than others (and some just have more to begin with). See where lack of water is the most pressing issue with this interactive map.

The Most Water-Stressed Countries In The World

The World Resources Institute’s Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, released earlier this year, is a treasure trove for anyone who wants to understand the water risks faced by countries across the globe–and as the population grows and climate change heats up, there are more risks of shortages, droughts, and floods than ever before.

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WRI eventually decided it could go even further in its water risk assessments. “We had interest from outside stakeholders in understanding water risk across a country, like water stress and supply,” explains Paul Reig, an associate on the Aqueduct project. “We did realize over time that it would be very valuable to provide an average score for a country. Obviously not all areas within a country are equally important.” The water risk exposure in an area with no water users is very different, for instance, than in an area that’s highly populated or dependent on water for agriculture.


This is the basis for WRI’s new ranking of the most water-stressed countries in the world. The ranking gives countries score of 0 to 5 (5 is most water stressed) based on domestic, industrial and agricultural water use. “For each country, we…identified where water is being used by domestic users using population density, by industrial users using nighttime lights, and agricultural users by maps of irrigated land,” says Reig.

According to WRI, these countries have the highest baseline water stress (ratio of total annual water withdrawal to total available annual renewable supply). Click on any individual country here to see how it stacks up in the domestic, agricultural, and industrial arenas.

And here’s the map view (red is most water-stressed, beige is least):


Just because a country is severely water-stressed doesn’t mean that residents should think about fleeing to less stressed pastures. Singapore is about as water-stressed as a country can be, but it manages that stress extremely well using seawater desalination, recycled water, and other tactics. As a result, the country is considered to be a water management success story.

Conversely, not every country with a lower water stress ranking has a wealth of available water. Some of the African countries with the lowest water stress, like Rwanda and Uganda, just have less of a demand for water compared to their supply than more water-stressed nations.

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The rankings are pretty dire. A staggering 37 countries have a ranking of 5.0 in at least one sector, and many rely on domestic water for most of their needs. Even the less water-stressed countries, like the U.S. and China (both at 2.9) vary across sectors. While the U.S. has medium to high stress in the industrial and domestic sectors, it has high water stress in the agricultural sector–no surprise to any farmer who has dealt with recent droughts.

Reig believes the rankings will be most useful to financial institutions, research institutions and international organizations that build indices which could take the water stress data into account, and academic institutions. WRI hopes to update the rankings on a biannual basis.

Explore the interactive rankings here.

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.

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