17 Environmental Impacts of Water Scarcity

A healthy human being requires access to clean freshwater; however, 2.7 billion people face water scarcity at least once a year, and 1.1 billion people lack access to water altogether. Water scarcity may affect two-thirds of the world’s population by 2025.

People won’t have enough water to drink, bathe, or feed crops when the waterways run dry, and there may be an economic downturn. Furthermore, poor sanitation—a problem that affects 2.4 billion people—can result in additional water-borne infections, including cholera and typhoid fever, which are severe diarrheal diseases. So, what are the environmental impacts of water scarcity?

The UN has proclaimed unfettered access to freshwater as a fundamental human right. Since everyone needs water to survive, losing access to drinking water can hurt people’s health and quality of life. Water scarcity and shortages, however, can also pose a threat to international peace and security and have other negative effects on the environment.

What is Water Scarcity?

A shortage of safe water sources or a shortage of water are two definitions of water scarcity. Access to clean drinking water is decreasing as the world’s population rises and climate change continues to impact the ecosystem.

785 million people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water. In several communities worldwide, inadequate sanitation and hygiene practices, as well as limited or unstable access to water and sanitation facilities, result in the death of more than 800 children per day from drinking contaminated water.

Water scarcity has an impact on communities and families. If they don’t have easy access to clean water, they risk being imprisoned in poverty for many generations. Kids leave school early, and parents find it difficult to support their families.

The most severely impacted groups are women and children. Women and girls typically carry the weight of transporting water for their families for an estimated 200 million hours every day, making them more susceptible to infections from contaminated water.

Having access to clean water transforms everything and is essential for progress. Access to clean water improves people’s ability to maintain proper sanitation and hygiene.

Youngsters are healthier and more likely to go to school. Parents set aside their concerns about diseases associated with water and the scarcity of clean water. They might instead concentrate on diversifying their sources of income and watering their livestock and crops.

Environmental Impacts of Water Scarcity

  • Ecosystem Disruption
  • Disappearing Wetlands
  • Damaged Ecosystems
  • Biodiversity Loss
  • Soil Degradation
  • Food Insecurity
  • Health Risks
  • Conflict Over Resources
  • Modified Patterns of Flow
  • Disruptions to the Food Chain
  • Elevated Salinity
  • Extreme Weather Events
  • Reduced Resilience to Climate Change
  • Migration Patterns
  • Energy Production Challenges
  • Water is Now Traded as a Commodity 
  • Climate Change Feedback

1. Ecosystem Disruption

Water scarcity can disrupt aquatic ecosystems by altering water flow, temperature, and nutrient levels, which can affect the delicate balance of aquatic flora and fauna.

Reduced water supply can cause changes in the composition of aquatic communities, habitat loss, and migration patterns. Water scarcity affects ecosystems and jeopardizes functions such as pollination, climate regulation, and water purification.

2. Disappearing Wetlands

Since 1900, around half of the world’s wetlands have been lost. Wetlands, which are among the planet’s most productive environments, are home to numerous animal species, including fish, birds, mammals, and invertebrates.

Many of these species use wetlands as nurseries. Furthermore, wetlands help to support rice farming. Rice is a basic food for half of the world’s population. Additionally, they offer a variety of ecosystem services—such as recreation, storm protection, flood management, and water filtration—that are beneficial to mankind.

3. Damaged Ecosystems

Lack of water affects the distribution and make-up of flora, which modifies ecosystems and may cause desertification in some areas. Natural landscapes are frequently the losers when water becomes scarce.

Formerly the fourth biggest freshwater lake in the world, the Aral Sea is located in central Asia. However, the sea has lost an area the size of Lake Michigan in just thirty years.

Because of excessive pollution and water being diverted for power generation and cultivation, it is now as salty as the ocean. The land has become contaminated as the sea has receded. This ecological disaster has resulted in lower life expectancy rates, higher infant mortality rates, and food shortages for the local population.

4. Biodiversity Loss

A variety of species that depend on water bodies may become extinct as a result of many species finding it more difficult to adapt to changing environmental conditions or to survive as water scarcity worsens.

This can lead to a decrease in biodiversity when particular species become more susceptible to extinction as a result of the absence of vital water resources, which affects both ecological stability and biodiversity overall.

5. Soil Degradation

Due to plants’ inability to survive without enough water, soil erosion and deterioration are caused by water scarcity. Because inadequate water supply makes it difficult to properly irrigate, it also lowers soil fertility, which in turn reduces agricultural production and raises the possibility of desertification in dry places.

6. Food Insecurity

To produce the food we consume, we need water. Currently, agriculture uses over 70% of freshwater withdrawals for purposes such as irrigation, pesticide application, fertilizer use, and animal maintenance.

More freshwater resources will need to be diverted, as agricultural production must increase by 70% by 2050 to meet demand as the world’s population continues to rise.

An estimated 13 million people in the Horn of Africa are anticipated to be hungry due to the severe drought brought on by exceptionally dry weather, according to a February 2021 UN World Food Programme assessment.

Food prices have skyrocketed as a result of severe and protracted droughts that destroyed food crops and increased livestock mortality rates. As a result, families are finding it difficult to purchase food, and the region as a whole is experiencing high rates of malnutrition. The UN cautions that if things get worse, a humanitarian crisis will break out.

7. Health Risks

In places where water scarcity is common, having limited access to clean water raises the danger of waterborne illnesses, which can hurt human health and even spark epidemics.

In areas with inadequate sanitary facilities, water scarcity can result in the consumption of tainted water, which can further spread waterborne infections, malnourishment, and other health problems.

8. Conflict Over Resources

One of the most significant consequences of the scarcity of water is that it leads to heightened competition amongst water consumers, which may in turn cause conflicts and endanger millions of lives.

Drought in India has led to severe disputes amongst local water users, many of whom rely on water for their livelihoods. On a larger scale, water conflicts and other political issues have been the source of conflict between India and its neighbor, Pakistan.

For decades, the two countries have fought over control of infrastructure projects and upstream water barrages that controlled the flow of water into Pakistan.

Climate change and the mishandling of water resources are making these diplomatic tensions worse. The Himalayan Glaciers, which feed the Indus Basin, are predicted to retreat further in the coming year and eventually lower groundwater recharge.

Similar to this, the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile River’s upstream portion is endangering Egypt’s water supplies.

Even though the dam benefits two-thirds of Ethiopia’s people and has a significant positive economic and social impact, Egypt may lose up to 36% of its entire water supply as a result of the dam’s reduction of the amount of water flowing downstream. Egypt may have to use force to defend its water supplies.

9. Modified Patterns of Flow

The dynamics of entire ecosystems, nutrient cycling, sediment transport, and stream flow patterns can all be impacted by water scarcity.

10. Disruptions to the Food Chain

Because many species depend on aquatic habitats for their survival, reduced water availability throws off the balance in predator-prey relationships, which in turn impacts the food chain.

11. Elevated Salinity

Lack of water can cause bodies of water to become more salinized, which lowers the water’s quality and renders it unfit for a variety of species.

12. Extreme Weather Events

Extreme weather events like heat waves and droughts can be exacerbated by water scarcity, which puts additional strain on ecosystems and exacerbates environmental problems.

13. Reduced Resilience to Climate Change

Ecosystems with limited water resources may be less able to withstand the effects of climate change, leaving them more vulnerable to disruptions and additional deterioration.

14. Migration Patterns

A lack of water can restrict river flow, which can impede fish migration and impact fish reproduction as well as the general health of aquatic ecosystems. They may push people to relocate in quest of better living conditions, uprooting communities and even igniting resource disputes where they land.

15. Energy Production Challenges

Water scarcity has an impact on hydropower output and can restrict the amount of water available for thermal power plant cooling, which can worsen energy-related problems and reduce energy production.

16. Water is Now Traded as a Commodity 

The recent addition of water to the list of commodities that can be traded on Wall Street, along with gold, oil, and other commodities, has raised concerns that the market may drastically worsen the consequences of the water crisis and intensify competition.

The first-ever water trade market in the United States was introduced in 2020 with contracts worth USD 1.1 billion linked to water pricing in California. It enables governments, hedge funds, and farmers to protect themselves against potential changes in California’s water supply.

Although classifying water as a tradable commodity might remove some of the uncertainty around water prices, it also places essential human rights in the hands of investors and financial institutions.

17. Climate Change Feedback

Water scarcity creates a feedback loop that makes environmental problems worse by altering regional climatic patterns, such as decreased rainfall and higher temperatures. This leads to climate change.


Lack of water can have profound effects on the environment, affecting biodiversity, climatic patterns, ecosystems, and the general balance of the ecosystem. These consequences underscore the need for sustainable water management strategies by highlighting the connections between many environmental, social, and economic factors and water scarcity.


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A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.

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