The world population relies only on 0.75% of the planet’s available water. 1.75% of global water resources are frozen, while the remaining quantity, a staggering 97.5%, is salty water.
Water scarcity currently affects approximately 40% of the global population, with the figures expected to increase, mainly due to climate change and population growth.
As the United Nations predict, 25% of the world population will face either chronic or recurring water shortages by 2050. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report confirms the dramatic evolution, stating that climate change will expose about 1 billion people to water scarcity, all over the world, in the coming decades.
“Just because it isn’t happening here, doesn’t mean it’s not happening” is one phrase that encompasses the extreme conditions of other geographies, in discrepancy with less obvious repercussions in Europe. As a result of climate change or human actions, water scarcity and its deteriorating quality are spark or aggravate conflicts, which often causes waves of migration, affecting Europe and other similar regions.
Moreover, “just because it isn’t happening now, doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen in the future” perfectly describes the tremendous challenges facing Europe in the near future, in the medium to long term. For instance, as repeatedly mentioned by reputed experts, England is set to run out of water in the next 20-25 years, due to population growth, poor or non-existent water management strategies, or the worsening effects of climate change. Unless we identify and define the measures needed to adjust our water consumption and management, in all our economic activities, we are bound to face difficult times.
Europe is already facing challenges caused by significant water issues outside our geographies, which will continue to affect us in the decades to come. These issues will increase in intensity, and sooner than later Europe will also face its own water-related problems. Additionally, Europe’s external policies and instruments will be put to a test, considering the impact of these water-related issues and crises, on sectors such as foreign policy, development aid or capacity building.
Europe’s internal water issues are complex and hard to quantify at this moment. As various European Institutions mention, water is under pressure from different uses, from a vast range of sectors, such as agriculture (24% of the total freshwater is used for irrigation), tourism, energy (44% of the total freshwater is used to cool thermal generators) or transport.
The EU’s long-term vision considers that although Europe will face an increased flood risk (mean annual river flow set to increase), water availability will become more of an issue in Southern Europe and the Mediterranean area, regions that are already displaying significant signs of drought, and water scarcity already affects one-third of its territory.
One dramatic consequence of dryness and increasing temperatures due to global warming is the prevalence of wildfires, with over 480 wildfires occurring across Europe in 2019. Another effect will be thermoelectric generation (nuclear included), which will be under increased pressure, especially in Southern European. Consequently, thermal electricity output will suffer most from water availability in the near future in the Mediterranean basin, France, Germany and Poland.
The same strategy mentions the higher risks faced by European cities, which are more and more vulnerable to floods and sea level rise, water scarcity, water pollution and droughts.
Ultimately, beyond mere consumption, water is essential in all economic and social aspects of life. There is a need to understand all these dimensions and how sustainability can be improved in this regard; therefore, there is a need of a new knowledge, which will gather all the scattered subjects of the topic and will put forth useful outputs to feed all policy and corporate agendas.
offwater.org is a European think tank with a specific focus on water-related issues and their long-term effects on the European region. The mission of offwater.org is to conduct thorough analysis of global water issues, derive lessons and draw parallels. offwater.org will increase the EU’s capability to understand water conflicts in other parts of the world and deliver adequate solutions at the European level, as water issues closely interlink with global politics.
Our main objectives, although not limited to, are to raise the general public’s awareness on the challenges induced by water scarcity, its poor quality or inadequate wastewater management. We aim to generate behavioral change and mobilize concrete actions, while also engaging in policy research and helping decision makers and corporate entities understand the social and economic impacts of our public water policies and regulations.