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Worries about water shortages on the rise, says new global survey

Posted on March, 15 2023

Fifty-eight percent of people are seriously concerned about fresh water shortages, according to research published ahead of the UN Water Conference
With the world gathering in New York next week for the first UN Water Conference in 46 years, new research from GlobeScan highlights the global impact of worsening water shortages, which are disrupting societies, economies, the environment, and every aspect of life as we know it.

Fifty-eight percent of people across the world are very concerned about fresh water shortages, while 30 percent say they have personally been “greatly” impacted by a lack of fresh water.

Climate change is strongly connected to water shortages, with nearly four in ten people, who have been personally affected by climate change, saying they experienced it through drought.

Together with Circle of Blue and WWF, GlobeScan is releasing these key water findings from its GlobeScan Radar Survey ahead of the UN Water Conference from March 22-24, where governments and companies must commit to urgent action to tackle the world’s water crises.

Key research findings include:
  • 58% of people globally believe fresh water shortages is a “very serious” issue. Mexicans, Colombians, and Brazilians report the most concern about access to water, while people in China, Hong Kong, Japan & South Korea are the least likely to say fresh water shortages is a “very serious” issue.
  • Strong concern about fresh water shortages has increased over the past few years, from a low of 49% in 2014 to 61% in 2022 among 17 countries consistently tracked, along with concern about climate change (45% in 2014 to 65% in 2022).
  • People in Argentina, South Korea, Viet Nam, Colombia, Germany, and Peru report the largest increases in concern about water shortages over the past year.
  • 30% of people globally claim they are “greatly” personally affected by fresh water shortages, while a global majority feel at least moderately personally affected (56%). Only one-quarter (25%) say they are not affected at all.
  • Majorities of people surveyed in Colombia, Italy, Mexico, Peru, and Turkey say they are greatly personally affected by a lack of fresh water. In contrast, fewer than one in ten say they are greatly affected in Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands.
  • Globally, people in urban areas (32%) are more likely than those in rural (28%) or towns and suburban areas (26%) to feel greatly affected by a lack of fresh water.
  • As many as 38% of people say they have been “greatly” personally affected by climate change, while as many as 75 percent have been at least “moderately” affected.  
  • People who say they have been personally affected by climate change often mention drought as one of the ways they have been impacted; 37 percent of those experiencing climate change personally claim this is through experiencing drought.
J. Carl Ganter, Managing Director at Circle of Blue: “We are seeing a rare convergence, when public opinion is aligning with profound realities as the world faces compounding water challenges that are affecting how we grow our food, generate our power, and support a sustainable economy and environment. This survey of some 30,000 people definitively shows that citizens around the world are feeling and talking about the effects of water and climate stress. On the eve of the UN Water Conference, this is a crucial barometer that reveals increasing public demand for action from political and corporate leaders.”

Alexis Morgan, WWF Global Water Stewardship Lead: “Water doesn’t come from a tap – it comes from nature. But with nature loss and climate instability increasing, water scarcity will only worsen, impacting societies and economies across the globe. Yet through collaboration, restoring wetlands, re-connecting rivers, and replenishing aquifers, we have proven ways to tackle these shared water challenges. It's time to urgently invest in these solutions."

Perrine Bouhana, Director at GlobeScan comments: "It comes as no surprise that people are becoming more and more worried about the availability of fresh water. Last year droughts affected the lives of countless numbers of people on every continent. Indicators suggest this is likely to get worse. High levels of public concern about water means there is an opportunity right now for governments and NGOs to help people and businesses understand how their actions can genuinely make a difference to this globally important problem that affects all of us."
Climate change and increasing demand drying out some rivers
© WWF / Simon Rawles

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Worsening drought risk threatens people and nature as climate changes
© Olivier Mesnage / Unsplash
The Chairwoman of the Community Forest User Group drinking from the local water spout in Nepal.
© Karine Aigner/WWF-US
Healthy rivers are central to tackling water crises and climate change