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Half the World to Face Severe Water Stress by 2030 unless Water Use is "Decoupled" from Economic Growth, Says International Resource Panel

Paris/Nairobi, 21 March 2016 - Without altering current levels of water consumption and pollution, almost half of the world's population will suffer severe water stress by 2030, damaging the well-being of millions of people, according to a new report from the International Resource Panel (IRP).

The report, entitled Policy Options for Decoupling Economic Growth from Water Use and Water Pollution, finds that as the global population rises, increased urbanization, climate change and a shift in how food is consumed are likely to dramatically increase future demand for water.

Under current trends, demand for water will exceed supply by 40 per cent in 2030, the report says, forcing governments to spend $200 billion per year on upstream water supply as demand outstrips cheaper forms of supply - up from historic averages of $40 to $45 billion.

Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said: "Reliable access to clean water is a cornerstone of sustainable development. When clean water is consistently unavailable, the world's poorest must spend much of their disposable income buying it, or a large amount of time transporting it, which limits development. And since only half of one per cent of the world's freshwater is available for the needs of both humanity and ecosystems, we will need to do more and better with less if we are to ensure healthy ecosystems, healthy populations and economic development."

The UNEP-hosted IRP - a consortium of 27 internationally renowned scientists, 33 national governments and other groups - says that in sub-Saharan Africa, a region struggling to cope with the impacts of climate change and poverty, water demand is expected to rise by 283 per cent over 2005 levels by 2030.

If the world is to stave off the looming crisis, then efforts to decouple water use from economic growth will need to be strengthened, the report says. Furthermore, the report lists a number of factors that will increase demand for water in the future and presents tools and policy recommendations that can improve the situation.

Despite the importance of water, many countries have a "mixed track record" in managing their water resources, the report says. The most cost-effective way of achieving water decoupling, according to the report, is for governments to create holistic water management plans that take into account the entire water cycle: from source to distribution, economic use, treatment, recycling, reuse and return to the environment.

Specifically, to achieve water decoupling, the IRP recommends:

  • Investing more in research and development to improve technology that reduces water waste;
  • Building sustainable infrastructure to improve the efficiency of water use and eliminate water contamination and pollution;
  • Introducing policies to curb water demand and re-allocate water to sectors where it produces goods and services most beneficial to society while ensuring vulnerable groups are protected;
  • Strengthening research into the value of ecosystem services and water to human welfare and economic development.
  • Doing more to assess "virtual water" (the water used to manufacture goods that are traded internationally), water footprints and related impacts to better understand how international trade patterns could be used to support decoupling where it is most needed.


Shereen Zorba, Head, UNEP News Desk, Nairobi. Tel: +254-20 762 5022 / +254 788 526 000. Email:

Moira O'Brien-Malone, Head, Communications, UNEP Division of Technology, Industry and Economics, Paris. Tel: +331 44 37 76 12 / +33 6 82 26 93 73. Email:

Or contact the UNEP newsdesk on

Editors' notes

To download a copy of the report, please visit here.

About the IRP

The International Resource Panel assesses the latest scientific, technical and socio-economic findings on global resource use to provide science-based advice for policy-makers, industry and the community on ways to improve global and local resource management. The Panel works to steer the world away from overconsumption, waste and ecological harm to a more prosperous and sustainable future.

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