The Effects of Overpopulation on Water Resources and Water Security

Daniel Altieri

Water is one of the most integral and important aspects of daily life for every human being, for example, food, clothing, and almost everything else humans interact with involves water. Therefore, water and water security is going to be a crucial focus for governments in the next few decades, especially since the population is expected to reach approximately 9.7 billion by the year 2050, and 11.2 billion by 2100 (United Nations DESA). Similar to oil and other fossil fuels, water is a finite resource, and the knowledge for world leaders to be able to manage a limited resource with a growing population will be critical for to have in order to maintain or grow their nations’ prosperity. On the other hand, if current water resources are not properly regulated, an eventual increase in world population will become problematic for many regions and countries. Overpopulation will strain current water resources to their limits, cause an increase in water pollution, and lead to an increase in civil and international conflicts over existing water supplies.

One of the consequences of overpopulation is the pressure that is put on available water resources in order to serve a growing population. Approximately fifty percent of the worlds’ population will be living in regions around the globe that are considered “water stressed”, a term defined as when the demand for water exceeds the amount that is available, either due to lack of it, or poor quality, by the year 2030 (compared to fifteen percent currently). Since 1990, the global population increased by an average of eighty million people, which heightens the world demand for freshwater by about sixty four billion cubic meters of water per year (United Nations World Report). This increasingly high demand for water will also affect food production in water stressed areas such as the Middle East, India, China, and the southwestern United States. Water intensive crops in California, such as almonds, use approximately eight percent of all available freshwater, and one ton of grain requires one thousand tons of water. Worldwide grain and staple crop production uses between seventy five to ninety percent of accessible freshwater. Places in the Middle East, India, and China are going to experience at least and additional fifty million people of each of their populations without adequate food by 2050 (Population Institute). The connections between a growing population that needs a higher demand for drinking water and water for agriculture shows that the shortages of water that are expected to affect many regions of the world will have severe consequences on the lives of millions of people, and that world leaders will need to find solutions in order to conserve and protect water resources for their countries, or find alternative methods to find new sources of water, such as desalination.

Growths in regional and global population will also lead to increased cases of water pollution. As of 2013, there are an estimated seven hundred and eighty million people who don’t have access to safe drinking water, while about two billion people don’t have proper water sanitation (WHO). About half of these statistics are for people living in cites. From the projected population size of around ten billion by 2050, the number of people who will live in urban areas is expected to increase almost two and a half billion people by that same year, on top of almost four billion people currently, putting the global urban population at about sixty five percent in 2050 (Bogardi). Urban areas have a high risk of water pollution. Runoff from streets can carry oils, heavy metals, and other containments, while sewage water can leak into ground water, bringing bacteria, nitrates, phosphorus and other chemicals. Waste dumping also can pollute existing sources of freshwater with hazardous materials and toxic chemicals. It is estimated that between forty to fifty percent of all available freshwater sources on earth are polluted (Living Lakes Partnership). The combination of the expected substantial increase of people residing in urban areas and the preexisting dangers of water pollution in urban settings, will lead to a rise in the amount of water that is not potable due to pollution. It is imperative that infrastructure to limit freshwater pollution is invested in in the future, by both developed and underdeveloped nations.

Finally, the pressures that are put on water resources by overpopulation will lead to civil and international conflict over control of available quantities. Accounts of battles and fights over water resources dates back to 600 BC, when Assyrians would poison, divert, and destroy water supplies in order to put their enemies under siege (Pacific Institute). Since the year 2000, there have been at least over one hundred and ten major conflicts over water resources either between nations or within one. Middle Eastern countries, such as Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria, countries in Africa like Darfur, Sudan, and Somalia, and the South American countries of Peru and Brazil have all experienced armed struggles involving scarce water supplies. These armed conflicts are due to multiple countries relying on a single water source, such as the Shatt al-Arab river between Iran and Iraq. A dispute over water withdrawal from the river was an important factor that caused the Iran-Iraq war in 1980 (Pacific Institute). The United States has listed water scarcity, and other consequences of overpopulation and climate change, as a threat to national security, realizing the important social and political chaos that limited water access can cause (Department of Defense). To help dissuade countries from engaging in armed conflict over water resources, government leaders need to recognize how water is a finite resource, and the consequences that can happen when a finite resource is abused. There has to be agreements and contracts between nations who are in water stressed regions and who share the same water source that outline distribution amounts according to population size and or agricultural needs.

As the global population is expected to keep growing in the coming decades, the negative impact that humans will have on earths finite resources, especially water, will become increasingly apparent as areas of the world will start to experience drastic shortages of water, leading to instability in food production, industry, social order, and political and military control. In order to limit the amount of chaos and conflict that will ensue over limited water resources, there needs to be compromise and cooperation between all countries, not just the nations that are water stressed, to provide water management techniques, newer and more efficient technology to conserve as much water as possible, and strict security and enforcement of all regulations to prevent groups and individuals using water to gain power.

Works Cited:

“DoD Releases Report on Security Implications of Climate Change.” Defense Media Activity. US Department of Defense, 29 July 2015. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.

“Population and Water”. Population Insititute, July 2010. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.

“Urban Water Pollution.” Urban Watersheds. Living Lakes Partnership, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.

“Water Conflict - The World’s Water.” The World’s Water. The Pacific Insitiute, 17 Feb. 2016. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.

“Water in a Changing World,” UN Water Development Report 3, (World Water Assessment Programme, 2009), Accessed June 21, 2010.

“World Population Projections.” UN News Center. United Nations, 29 July 2015. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.


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