What is water scarcity?

There is no single water crisis, nor a simple solution. Different countries and different water basins face unique problems, sometimes even within the same region. With finite limits to local water, the critical challenge becomes how we can manage those resources to safely deliver the water needed to fuel growth, as well as for meeting the needs of people and the environment. So, when we talk about water savings in relation to water scarcity, what exactly are we saying (and more importantly, what aren’t we)?

The logical approach to water scarcity is to save water in a relevant and cost effective manner; if we don’t have enough water available then we should reduce the amount of water used. This seems very simple and logical, and a reason numerous existing examples are cited as “water savings”. Is that really the case though? Are they all water saving? To determine how a potential water saving impacts water scarcity we should first understand the basin context. Why the focus on basins? Because water, just as everything else, is interconnected forming part of a larger system linked through nature and human civilization.

Water basins and water savings

A system that suffers from water scarcity in this case is one in which there’s insufficient water available to meet demand at any specific time. The challenge can be addressed through supply side measures such as new dams, water transfers, desalination and water re-use. It can also be addressed by demand side measures that make better utilisation of the water resource that is already available; these might include measures that reduce consumptive use, by reducing the volume of water consumed for evapotranspiration, and those which reduce non consumptive use, like low flush volume plumbing fittings. Measures that reduce consumptive use, it should be noted, have the greatest potential to positively impact basin water scarcity. Finally, the location of the basin plays a critical role in reducing what’s considered non-consumptive use.

Practical examples

Water basin solutions are by no means simple, and must be guided by national, regional and local considerations  including economic development as well as the sustainable allocation of resources between competing economic, societal and environmental demands.Because reducing water demand is a complicated subject highly dependent on various parameters, individual examples found on this site and the catalogue shouldn’t be taken as cut and paste solutions to what may be happening in your country or region. These case studies are designed to inform and inspire, and will no doubt contribute to the conversation we should all be having about how best to address a much too common problem – water scarcity, within the basin context, and beyond.

Learn more about how best to interpret the case studies here.