How Water Scarcity Affects People

Water scarcity occurs when the demand for water exceeds available resources. According to ScienceDaily, “It already affects every continent and around 2.8 billion people around the world at least one month out of every year.”1 With growing populations, the demands on limited water supplies will only grow. One MIT study estimates that by 2050, half of the world’s population “may be living under at least moderately stressed water-resource conditions.”2 This widespread problem, which disproportionately affects developing countries, has powerful implications for the daily lives of those struggling with it. Below are some water scarcity FAQs, and here is a water scarcity definition.

One obvious effect of water scarcity is dehydration.

With 60 percent of the human body composed of water, humans require water to survive.3 In fact, we can’t live more than three days without this vital element.4

It’s what compels many people, typically women and girls, to walk 30 minutes or more just to collect water.5 This chore drains precious time and energy, taking away time that women could be earning income or caring for their children and time girls could be gaining an education. According to UNICEF, “The 200 million hours women and girls spend every day collecting water is a colossal waste of their valuable time.”6 What’s worse, often the water they work so hard to collect isn’t safe to drink.

Tragically, some 1.1 billion people worldwide are forced to drink water that is contaminated because they lack access to clean water.7

The water they drink to survive often makes them sick with waterborne illnesses such as cholera, typhoid, diarrhea and dysentery. Decreased rainfall can lead to groundwater being polluted with viruses, protozoa or bacteria.8 Other pollutants may include arsenic and fecal matter. In developing countries, approximately 80 percent of illnesses are caused by unsafe water and improper sanitation.9

Lack of water also affects sanitation.

When people don’t have sufficient water for even their basic needs, such as drinking and cooking, proper handwashing and other sanitation matters are often not priority. Additionally, improper sanitation and practices such as open defecation contaminate the very water people drink. The World Water Council estimates 2.6 billion people lack adequate sanitation.10 These conditions, impacted by lack of water, further contribute to disease and the spreading of various illnesses.

Children, whose bodies contain a greater proportion of water, are at the highest risk.

Of the 1.8 million people who die every year from diarrheal diseases, linked to unclean water, 90 percent of them are children under the age of 5.11

For Ragnar’s children, frequent sickness from unsafe drinking water caused them to struggle in school.12 In addition to affecting one’s overall wellbeing, unsafe water can cause vomiting, stomachaches, headaches and confusion, things that inhibit a child’s ability to learn. Long term exposure to contaminants such as arsenic can also lead to cognitive impairment.13

Water is also essential in other aspects of life. For example, water is needed to grow crops and water livestock.

The CDC says, “Drought can limit the growing season and create conditions that encourage insect and disease infestation in certain crops.”14 Thus, it also affects one’s food supply and can contribute to hunger and malnutrition.15 For those dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, such water shortages also affect income and their ability to provide for their families.

In Vimal’s village, people suffered from multiple effects of water shortages.16

He lived in an agrarian village dependent on small ponds to irrigate fields and sustain livestock. The women walked to a well nearly a mile away, sometimes five times a day, for their domestic water needs. Every March through May, drought settled in the area and there wasn’t enough water to go around, leading to conflict and tension. The water they did have wasn’t fit to drink and caused frequent illness. Some villagers even died from water-related ailments.

These are just a few examples of how water scarcity affects people’s daily lives.

Air quality can also be affected. “The dusty, dry conditions and wildfires that often accompany drought can harm health,” said the CDC. “Fire and dry soil and vegetation increase the number of particulates that are suspended in the air, such as pollen, smoke, and fluorocarbons.”17 Demands for water can also create conflict on varying scales, from local tension amongst neighbors, as in Vimal’s village, to outright warfare over this precious resource.18

GFA World’s national missionaries are burdened by the suffering of those without clean water, and they’re doing something about it, including these water scarcity solutions.

Through GFA World’s clean water initiatives—which include Jesus Wells and BioSand water filters—more than 38 million people in Asia have received safe drinking water. Lives, including Ragnar’s and Vimal’s, have been changed as a result of this life-giving water.

After a Jesus Well was installed in Ragnar’s village, his family and entire community gained access to clean water. His children no longer struggled in school because of frequent water-related illness. Their health—and lives—greatly improved.

Likewise, Vimal’s village was blessed with a Jesus Well. Now, the women in his village no longer have to walk long distances to collect water, and their water doesn’t cause disease. The village has an ample water supply, even in times of drought. The Jesus Well has brought health and peace to Vimal’s village.

Learn more about GFA World’s efforts to provide clean water »

1 “Water scarcity.” ScienceDaily. Accessed November 19, 2021.
2 C. Adam Schlosser, Kenneth Strzepek, Xiang Gao, Arthur Gueneau, Charles Fant, Sergey Paltsev, Bilhuda Rasheed, Tony Smith-Greico, Élodie Blanc, Henry Jacoby, and John Reilly. MIT Joint Program. “The Future of Global Water Stress: An Integrated Assessment.” MIT Joint Program. January 2014.
3 Weymiller, Brigitte. “Water, the key to survival.” Gundersen Health System. Accessed November 22, 2021.
4 Sargen, Molly. “Biological Roles of Water: Why is water necessary for life?” Harvard University. September 26, 2019.
5 “Water Inequality.” National Geographic. October 1, 2019.
6 “UNICEF: Collecting water is often a colossal waste of time for women and girls.” UNICEF. August 29, 2016.
7 “Water Supply & Sanitation.” World Water Council. Accessed November 22, 2021.
8 “Health Implications of Drought.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed November 19, 2021.
9 Tamlin, Stephen. “How people are resolving to reduce water scarcity.” Waterlogic. November 8, 2019.
10 “Water Supply & Sanitation.” World Water Council. Accessed November 22, 2021.
11 “Water Supply & Sanitation.” World Water Council. Accessed November 22, 2021.
12 “A Family’s Fight Against Contaminated Water” GFA World. February 2021.
13 Luby, Stephen. “Water Quality in South Asia.” Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition. June 2008.
14 “Health Implications of Drought.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed November 19, 2021.
15 “Solutions to Water Scarcity: How to prevent water shortages?” Solar Impulse Foundation. Accessed November 19, 2021.
16 “Jesus Well Relieves Water Crisis.” GFA World. March 2019.
17 “Health Implications of Drought.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed November 19, 2021.
18 Solutions to Water Scarcity: How to prevent water shortages?” Solar Impulse Foundation. Accessed November 19, 2021.