Water crisis

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Introduction to water crisis.

  1. Water crisis
    1. Digits
    2. World prospection
    3. Conflicts
    4. Future


As you know, 71 % earth is composed of water, but 97.4 % only is saline water.

The major part of this 2.6 % soft water is formed by mountain glaciers and by Arctic and Antarctic icebergs, the left quantity comes from ground waters, lakes, rivers and streams.

The soft water is renewable because it is formed by evaporation cycle (cloud, rain, snow). The quantity available is then constant (it is the same since the prehistory). However, the population is constantly growing. Indeed, the world population should reach 9 billion individuals in 2050. It reached one billion individuals in 1800, and 6 billion individuals in 2001.

Today, one quarter of the population does not have access to the drinking water, i.e. 1.5 billion inhabitants, and 400 million inhabitants are living in a shortage zone.

Then, the main cause of this water stress is undoubtedly the population increase.

In the next future, this should intensify the unequal repartition of water resources, conflicts between uses and also alter the water quality.

World prospection : 2025

For such countries as Russia, Canada, the major part of South America and of sub-Saharan Africa, we do not note any shortage risk, because these zones enjoy important water reserves. These countries will use less than 20 % their available soft water reserves (in blue on the graph).

In the major part of Central and Eastern Europe, in some regions of the United States, or of China, there is a competition risk between the various uses because water consumption will be 20-40 % (in yellow on the graph).

Over 40 %, shortage risks are high. This concerns North Africa, Middle East, Central Asia, the major part of India, North China and West part of the United States.

penurie eau prospective water crisis 2025

Let us speak about conflicts the water creates and might create in the future.

Policy and water conflicts:

As most streams cross several countries, conflicts are frequent. Indeed, upstream countries are served first (as the stream springs up in its territory). Not only they build dams to produce electricity (and to facilitate agriculture), reducing considerably the flow of downstream (affecting the neighboring country) but, moreover, contaminates stream with chemical products (mainly due to fertilizers and pesticides from arable zones near the stream), affecting water quality and facilitating diseases expansion.

This is the case of Danube in Europe common to eight countries, of the Nile in Africa crossing eight countries as well, of Mekong in South East Asia crossing six countries.

carte fluviale river map

There exists 200 river basins in the world, and only one third of these streams are managed by treaties, and only a few of them have the status of international stream, such as Danube.

A control example of stream not managed by treaties is that of Euphrates and Tigris.

Indeed, Euphrates and Tigris spring up in Turkey and flow into Persian Gulf. Then they flow through Syria and Iraq. Turkey built in 1980 several dams on Euphrates then reducing down water flows. Syria, and even more Iraq, complains about the flow of this stream drawn out by Turkey and about its water quality.

tigre euphrate tigris euphrates

Indeed, in 1976, Ankara, the capital city of Turkey, launched the G.A.P. project ( Güneydoğu Anadolu Projesi – South-East Anatolia Project). This project aims at building 22 dams and 19 power plants.

gap project g a p

G.A.P. project produces 30 billion KW/hr electricity, allows to irrigate 1.7 million hectares of dry lands and then to develop approx 10 % Turkey surface.

turquie barrages dam turkey

G.A.P. project in 2010 assures 7 000 kilometers irrigation canals. In East Anatolia, wheat production increased by over 100 %, cotton almost 400 % and tomato 500 %.

Anatolia incomes have then quintupled, 3.5 million jobs were created, increasing then the standard of living of inhabitants and attracting FDI (Foreign Direct Investments) and tourism.

As Euphrates stream does not have an international status, Turkey stores then behind its dams a one-year Euphrates flow, reducing down water flows of course. Then in Syria and in Iraq.

When entering Syria, Euphrates flow amounts to 830 m3/second. As per Damas, G.A.P. has reduced by 40 % Euphrates flow in Syria. The Syrian population having doubled between 1970 and 2000, from 7 million to 16 million inhabitants, this population might meet water shortage problems up to 2025.

Therefore, Syria also built dams. Tabqa dam on Euphrates in 1973 (this dam produces 50 % electricity for the country and allows to irrigate agriculture) and also another dam in Tichrin.

In Iraq, the situation is then worse with Euphrates flow amounting to 100 m3/second only.

barrages turquie syrie irak maladies iraq syria turkey dam illness disease

Furthermore, this water has a bad quality because it is contaminated by fertilizers, industrial and city discharges coming from upstream. Also, this water is very salted, damaging soils. As you know, water pollution contributes to an increase of diseases, for example typhoid, from 2 000 to 28 000 cases between 1994 and 2000.

Syria and Iraq require from Euphrates, of course, the acknowledgement of the status of international stream. But we note that Turkey has not wished to sign the United Nations Convention in 1997 concerning the use of international streams, so Syria and Iraq cannot claim before the international jurisdictions.

This is not the only example, we can also mention the stream problems between Israeli and Palestinian people.


Therefore, in these arid zones, there is a risk on the water quantities available as well as on the various uses, since water is presently used in the world at 70 % for agriculture, 20 % for industry and 10 % for the domestic consumption.

The medium requirements in the world are estimated at 50 liters water a day. The consumption is over 200 liters in Europe and 500 liters in the United States or in Australia.

consommation eau water consumption

The problem is that the population will be 60 % urban in 2025.

population urbaine urban density

And out of the 30 megalopolis counting over 8 million inhabitants, 26 will be situated in developing countries (yellow points on the map).

megalopoles eau megalopolis water

So, it will be necessary to feed these cities with drinking water, the consumption of which should increase in 2025 by 40 % compared to 2005. It will also be necessary to feed these populations, and then increase in surface the irrigation by 30 % minimum.

This is the reason why we might have water shortages.

In India, China and Mexico, approx 85 % water is used for agriculture, whilst only 20 % is used in France.

As you know, the intensive irrigation may have serious consequences on the environment, as demonstrated by Aral Sea in Central Asia. Due to the development of cotton intensive cultivation in Kazakhstan and in Uzbekistan, the irrigation gradually reduced the flow of Amou Daria and Syr Daria streams with very significant losses because only 40 % water drawn out reached the irrigated cultures. The consequence is Aral Sea drying out, the level of which lowered down since 1960 by 13 meters and the surface reduced by 30 %.

mer aral sea

mer aral sea

Aralsk and Mouniak harbors are now located 50 kilometers away from the sea. There also is a salinity increase of soils and a Fauna disappearance, and then, for the populations, an agricultural yield reduction and a loss of quality of the drinking water.

Today, over 3 million people die of diseases related to water. As Pasteur said, “we drink 90 % our diseases”.

To the image of South East Asia, there are numerous parts of the globe which have supply, sanitation, pollution problems (risks of diseases).

At present, Asia uses 70 % world water consumption (explained by the density of population and by having the biggest irrigated surfaces in the world).

In the majority of developing countries, only 10 % of waste waters are treated. Every year, cholera and diarrheas hit 700 million people. An example, 90 % beds in public hospitals in Brazil is occupied by patients having diseases related with water pollution.

Furthermore, in several big capital cities, we meet problems related to water requirement, following the example of Mexico and Bangkok. Indeed, under the demographic pressure, lakes around get dried out, streams are overexploited and, what is more dangerous, ground waters are emptied, causing dangerous land collapses.

The question is: when will water be privatized?

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