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A dried up watercourse – just one impact of water scarcity

The water scarcity crisis

Tackling a global thirst

Today more than 740 million people live without access to clean, safe water. To coincide with World Water Week 2015 and its theme of water for development, we take a look at why managing this scarce resource is key to improving the lives of people globally.

The World Economic Forum considers water crises to be the biggest risk facing the planet today. And, sadly, water scarcity is a problem that threatens to get much worse.

With the global population set to expand to 9bn by 2050, and also to urbanise, demand for precious water resources will increase dramatically. Unless everyone can learn to cope with less water, more and more communities could find themselves running out.

What can be done to avert a disaster? Our experts believe the world needs a revolution in the way people use water in homes, for industry, for agriculture and to produce energy.

"We’re looking at a revolution ... the way in which we value water, capture it, store it, reuse it, recycle it."

Mark Fletcher, Global Water Leader, Arup

Water scarcity is a global problem

Water scarcity doesn’t only affect areas typically associated with droughts, such as Africa. Our research for the new, updated Drivers of Change: Water cards, which explore how water issues will shape the future, showed that this is a global problem. Indeed, by 2025, The Population Institute estimates that 1.8bn people will be living in water-scarce regions.

What can be done about water scarcity?

There’s no doubt that tackling water scarcity will require radical changes in behaviour. Recognising the social, environmental and economic value of water is an essential first step – at the moment, most people just aren’t conscious of the need to use it more efficiently.

With 66% of the global population expected to be living in cities by 2050, it’s also vital that urban areas can cope with, and help tackle, water scarcity. This is what water-sensitive urban design aims to do. It’s something we embrace in the approach we call Design with Water, which considers the water cycle as a whole and uses measures such as green spaces to both manage water and provide public amenities.

In fact, there are dozens of examples of practical solutions to overcome water scarcity. On behalf of the 2030 Water Resources Group (WRG), we’re in the process of cataloguing more initiatives for the publication Managing Water Use in Scarce Environments which will complement the 40 case studies that we wrote as part of the initial catalogue. The catalogue provides a tool for decision makers and forms a focal point for action.

More solutions for water-scarce regions

We believe engineering expertise has a vital role to play in tackling water scarcity through projects that conserve water or find new sources. For example, we designed a 600m3/day sewer-mining scheme to supply Melbourne Cricket Ground, Richmond Football Club and Yarra Park with recycled water, making use of water that would otherwise be flushed away.

Another project saw us design a critical new intake tunnel for Lake Mead in Colorado. As drought causes water levels in the lake to decline, the new tunnel will safeguard supplies for millions of people. Meanwhile, in Uganda, our assessment of the River Rwizi catchment highlighted the risks posed by current and future water use in an area where 90% of people are subsistence farmers.

Helping clients to make best use of precious and scarce water resources is a theme that runs through much of our work around the world.

Meet our water team

Learn more about some of our people helping tackle water scarcity around the world.