European countries such as Belgium, Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal are currently facing high water stress, with water scarcity only set to worsen with climate change, according to new data from the World Resources Institute (WRI).
“Water stress is the biggest crisis no one is talking about,” said Andrew Steer, president and CEO of WRI. “Its consequences are in plain sight in the form of food insecurity, conflict and migration, and financial instability,” he added.
“A new generation of solutions is emerging, but nowhere near fast enough,” said Steer, warning that “failure to act will be massively expensive in human lives and livelihoods”.
The WRI study says that a combination of factors such as population growth, socioeconomic development and urbanisation are increasing water demand. Climate change is making things worse by making precipitation and demand more variable, the report added.
Anticipating the latest UN report on land use and climate change, campaigners recently warned that water mismanagement and overconsumption, notably in agriculture, are increasingly exacerbating the effects of drought across Europe.
Water scarcity could be a permanent future stress if countries do not act to improve water efficiency in agricultural irrigation, invest in grey and green infrastructure and recycle waste water, the WRI study says.
Nearly one-quarter of the world’s population – around 1.7 billion people – currently live in areas where agriculture, industries and cities outstrip 80% of their available water supply every year, the study says.
The European Commission is expected to present its review of the Water Framework Directive in October.