by Betsy Otto
people say that water is the oil of the 21st Century. If only water
were that simple.
Water is very complicated. It's affected by large-scale
issues like climate change and globalization.
International commerce moves virtual water (the water it takes to
grow or produce a product) from farms in Brazil to grocery stores
in China and Egypt.
But water is also inherently local,
impacted by site-specific weather, geography, and other
environmental and land use conditions. Managing and using water,
then, requires understanding it in its full geographic context.
WRI is launching its new Aqueduct mapping
tool to do just that. Aqueduct provides businesses,
governments, and other decision makers with the highest-resolution,
most up-to-date data on water risk across the globe.
Armed with this information, these decision-makers can better
understand how water risk impacts them-and hopefully,
take actions to improve water security.
5 Findings about Water
So, what are these global maps telling us? Here are five
Water risk has many dimensions. WRI's Aqueduct
tool offers a new way of combining and mapping multiple
indicators of water stress. Factors like inter-annual variability,
floods, droughts, and groundwater depletion are added to
baseline water stress, revealing a richer picture of water stress
across the globe. Other important factors related to water quality
and reputational risk are also included to help companies and
governments understand the full breadth of water risks associated
with a particular region or water basin. Not only do these layers
enrich the overall picture, they can help inform strategies for
improving water security.
Water stress is growing worldwide. Our new global Aqueduct
maps use the most recent 2010 data (previous maps used
data from 2000). The picture that emerges shows that water stress
is both more prevalent and more severe than estimated in 2000. The
new maps reveal areas of higher water stress on every continent,
particularly in China, South and Central Asia, and Africa.
Water stress isn't just in arid regions
anymore. One of the striking things about Aqueduct's new
maps is that many parts of Europe and the U.S. East Coast
and upper Midwest now show medium to high levels of water risk.
These regions are not arid, yet they still face significant water
stress as demand increases and supply is affected by climate change
and other factors.
High competition and annual variability make for a bad
combination. In some areas with elevated water
stress-including the U.S. West, Australia, northern China,
northwest India, and parts of Pakistan-there is also high
variability in available water supply from year to year. In places
where demand for water is high relative to the available supply, a
greater likelihood of low-water years makes the situation even
Increasing risks to food security. Most of the
world's water is used for agriculture, which accounts for
approximately 70 percent of all freshwater withdrawals. Overlaying
the world's major irrigated crop regions on Aqueduct maps reveals
that many of these areas already face significant water stress. The
situation may become more severe in the future-water stress is
likely to grow due to climate change and increased demand for food
Aqueduct provides users with the highest-resolution, most
up-to-date data on water risk across the globe. The red sections
indicate areas facing water risks. -See more here:
Using Aqueduct to Promote Better Water
These are just some overarching conclusions we can draw from
Aqueduct's new maps. Aqueduct is primarily designed to provide
companies, investors, and governments with a highly granular,
up-to-date, composite view of how water stress affects their
specific industries and economies anywhere in the world.
The Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas generates
customized water risk maps for nine water-intense sectors-such as
agriculture, oil and gas, and mining. Businesses operating in these
sectors can look at a picture of global water risk tailored to
their industry. The Atlas also allows users to customize risk
indicator weightings based on their business or primary
As complex as water is, it's essential that we start to
understand it better if we're going to have any chance of boosting
water security in the future. In the coming months, WRI will be
creating more data overlays using Aqueduct maps to look at water
risk associated with key food and energy issues. We see this as
only the beginning of the important water conversations that need
to begin across the world.