Around 80% of people living under water stress lived in Asia; in particular, northeast China, as well as India and Pakistan, the UN World Water Development Report 2023 released on March 22, 2023, said.

The UN report, which was released on the eve of the first major UN conference on water in over 45 years since 1977, says the global urban population facing water scarcity is projected to increase from 933 million (one-third of the global urban population) in 2016 to 1.7–2.4 billion people (one third to nearly half of the global urban population) in 2050, with "India projected to be the most severely affected".

The UN water summit is being co-hosted by the governments of Tajikistan and the Netherlands. More than 6,500 delegates, including 100 ministers and several heads of state, from the world over are expected to take part in the three-day Water Conference in New York from March 23.

It says water use has been increasing globally by roughly 1% per year over the last 40 years and is expected to grow at a similar rate through 2050. The factors driving the use are population growth, socio-economic development and changing consumption patterns.

The bulk of this increase is concentrated in middle- and lower-income countries, particularly in emerging economies like India.

António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, says humanity is blindly travelling a dangerous path. "Vampiric overconsumption and overdevelopment, unsustainable water use, pollution and unchecked global warming are draining humanity’s lifeblood, drop by drop," he writes in his foreword.

The report, published by UN-Water and Unesco, says water scarcity is becoming endemic as a result of the local impact of physical water stress, coupled with the acceleration and spreading of freshwater pollution. "As a result of climate change, seasonal water scarcity will increase in regions where it is currently abundant – such as Central Africa, East Asia and parts of South America – and worsen in regions where water is already in short supply – such as the Middle East and the Sahel in Africa."

On average, 10% of the global population lives in countries with high or critical water stress, the data shows.

Groundwater provides half of the volume of water withdrawn for domestic uses globally and around 25% of all water withdrawn for irrigation. "Hotspots of groundwater depletion are found around the world, most often in areas with intensive groundwater withdrawals for irrigation or to supply large cities," says the report.

In terms of future trends, the overall global demand for water will continue to increase at an annual rate of about 1%, resulting in an increase of between 20 to 30% by 2050, with a margin of error of over 50%. According to World Bank (2016), water scarcity, exacerbated by climate change, could cost some regions up to 6% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2050 due to water-related impacts on agriculture, health and incomes, potentially spurring migration and even conflict.

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