The World's Water Consumption May Exceed Supply By 2050

By on
Freshwater Lake
A general view of Lake Bunyonyi, a twisting 25-km (15.5-mile) long freshwater lake which lies in the far southwest of Uganda January 8, 2015. Reuters/Michael Turner

Increasing demand for water could exceed supply by the mid-21st century, according to a new study by Anthony Parolari and colleagues at Duke University.  The researchers also discovered that this was a recurrent phenomenon during the course of history. Yet, civilisations were able to surmount lack of water supply by exploring new technologies.  

To be able to determine cyclical patterns of water consumption during the past centuries, the scientists used a mathematical model capable of analysing historic data to forecast unforeseen trends. Population growth and development concurred with increased need for water resources. Consequently, new inventions to resolve shortage and to ensure continuous supply have been developed.  

Using this analysis, the research team foresees a comparable possibility of creating new technologies to prevent or to counter deficiency in supply.  According to Parolari, this method of analysis has been used in predicting seismic activity and other occurrences such as the variation of economic growth and recession.  He says that the model implies the likelihood of another period of major change in water supply by the 2050s.

World population is expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050. This means that Earth’s freshwater supply, which has been efficiently consumed since the 1980s due to increased awareness on conservation, may not be enough to sustain the rising demand, despite productive use of water.  Limited resources may prompt the world to explore other potential renewable source of water to sustain the increasing demand.

The optimistic projection was inspired by the 1960 study of the Austrian physicist Heinz von Foerster, which predicted that increase in population would still be able to prevail over limitations brought about by inadequate resources.  Palorali said that humans tend to be inventive and have always explored means to generate more resources or to conserve existing reserves. Results of this study are published in the journal Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water.

Although 70 percent of the planet is submerged in water, only 2.5 percent of this resource is fresh. Furthermore, 1.5 percent of freshwater is contained in ice mass or compacted snow, so 1 percent is available for consumption of around 7 billion people and other living organisms.  Water consumption has doubled compared to the rate of population growth, according to the United Nations.  In the next decade, around 1.8 billion people worldwide are predicted to experience water scarcity due to increased consumption and climate change.

To contact the writer, email:


Join the Discussion