What is Water Stress?
As you become more familiar with the global water crisis and related terms, you may be wondering, “What is water stress?”
According to Merriam-Webster, stress is defined as a “constraining force or influence: such as a force exerted when one body or body part presses on, pulls on, pushes against, or tends to compress or twist another body or body part.”1 In the case of water stress, the force exerted is the world population’s demand on limited water resources.
According to MIT estimates, this stress, and a growing demand for water, could result in half of the world’s population living in “at least moderately stressed water-resource conditions” by the year 2050.2 There are already approximately 4 billion people, or two-thirds of the population, who face severe water scarcity at least one month a year.3
A recent study by World Resources Institute revealed “17 countries—home to one-quarter of the world’s population—face ‘extremely high’ levels of baseline water stress, where irrigated agriculture, industries and municipalities withdraw more than 80 percent of their available supply on average every year.”4 With increased water usage, as populations and industries grow, “It becomes more difficult to access the resource sustainably,” said Water Scarcity Atlas.5
There are two main categories of water scarcity: physical scarcity, which refers to a shortage caused by local ecological conditions, and economic scarcity, which is from inadequate water infrastructure.6 Rather than there being an “either/or” causation, however, water stress is often created by a combination of such factors.
Regardless of the cause, water stress can devastate public health and impair economic development.7 An adequate water supply is essential for human survival, both in terms of drinking water and growing crops. It is also necessary for industry, used in the manufacture of things like cars, furniture, books, buildings and electricity.8 Water stress deteriorates the quantity and the quality of freshwater resources.9
In Vimal’s agrarian village in Asia, residents struggled because of the quantity and quality of their water.10 They suffered from drought four months out of the year, and there simply wasn’t enough water to go around. It impacted their livelihoods and their health. The water they did have was contaminated; drinking it frequently caused sickness and sometimes even death. In developing countries, many water sources are contaminated with fecal matter, arsenic or other pollutants.11 This water, when consumed, leads to many diseases, including cholera, typhoid, polio, diarrhea and dysentery.
GFA World is helping villages like Vimal’s gain access to the essential water they need through clean water initiatives. Jesus Wells, for example, are dug deep below the surface to access underground aquifers. As a result, they provide clean water year-round, relieving the water stress and improving people’s lives.
1 “Stress.” Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stress. Accessed October 26, 2021.
2 Felter, Claire and Kali Robinson. “Water Stress: A Global Problem that’s Getting Worse.” Council on Foreign Relations. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/water-stress-global-problem-thats-getting-worse. April 22, 2021.
3 C. Adam Schlosser, Kenneth Strzepek, Xiang Gao, Arthur Gueneau, Charles Fant, Sergey Paltsev, Bilhuda Rasheed, Tony Smith-Greico, Élodie Blanc, Henry Jacoby, and John Reilly. MIT Joint Program. “The Future of Global Water Stress: An Integrated Assessment.” MIT Joint Program. https://globalchange.mit.edu/sites/default/files/MITJPSPGC_Rpt254.pdf. January 2014.
4 “Agriculture and Food.” The World Bank. https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/agriculture/overview. Accessed August 30, 2021.Rutger Willem Hofste, Paul Reig and Leah Schleifer. “17 Countries, Home to One-Quarter of the World’s Population, Face Extremely High Water Stress.” World Resources Institute. https://www.wri.org/insights/17-countries-home-one-quarter-worlds-population-face-extremely-high-water-stress. August 6, 2019.5 “Water Stress.” Water Scarcity Atlas. https://waterscarcityatlas.org/water-stress/. October 25, 2021.
6 Felter, Claire and Kali Robinson. “Water Stress: A Global Problem that’s Getting Worse.” Council on Foreign Relations. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/water-stress-global-problem-thats-getting-worse. April 22, 2021.
7 Felter, Claire and Kali Robinson. “Water Stress: A Global Problem that’s Getting Worse.” Council on Foreign Relations. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/water-stress-global-problem-thats-getting-worse. April 22, 2021.
8 Leahy, Stephen. “From Not Enough to Too Much, the World’s Water Crisis Explained.” National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/world-water-day-water-crisis-explained. March 21, 2018.
9 “Water stress.” European Environment Agency. https://www.eea.europa.eu/archived/archived-content-water-topic/wise-help-centre/glossary-definitions/water-stress. Accessed October 27, 2021.
10 “Jesus Well Relieves Water Crisis.” GFA World. https://www.gfa.org/news/articles/gfa-world-jesus-well-relieves-water-crisis/. March 2019.
11 Luby, Stephen. “Water Quality in South Asia.” Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2740663/. June 2008.