The Global Water Shortage

Adapted from:

Water Resources Research Center, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, University of Arizona

1. When most U.S. citizens think about water shortages — if they think about them at all — they think about a local problem, possibly in their town or city, maybe their state or region. We don't usually regard such problems as particularly worrisome, sharing confidence that the situation will be readily handled by investment in infrastructure, conservation, or other management strategies. When water feuds arise, e.g., between Arizona and California, we expect them to be resolved through negotiations or in the courtroom.

2. But shift from a local to a global water perspective, and the terms dramatically change. The World Bank reports that 80 countries now have water shortages that threaten health and economies while 40 percent of the world — more than 2 billion people — have no access to clean water or sanitation. In this context, we cannot expect water conflicts to always be peacefully resolved.

3. Consider: More than a dozen nations receive most of their water from rivers that cross borders of neighboring countries viewed as hostile. These include Botswana, Bulgaria, Cambodia, the Congo, Gambia, the Sudan, and Syria, all of whom receive 75 percent or more of their fresh water from the river flow of often hostile upstream neighbors.

4. In the Middle East, a region marked by hostility between nations, obtaining adequate water supplies is a high political priority. For example, water has been a controversial issue in recent negotiations between Israel and Syria. In recent years, Iraq, Syria and Turkey have exchanged verbal threats over their use of shared rivers. (It should come as no surprise to learn that the words "river" and "rival" share the same Latin root; a rival is "someone who shares the same stream.")

5. More frequently water is being likened to another resource that quickened global tensions when its supplies were threatened. A story in The Financial Times of London began: "Water, like energy in the late 1970s, will probably become the most critical natural resource issue facing most parts of the world by the start of the next century." This analogy is also reflected in the oft-repeated observation that water will likely replace oil as a future cause of war between nations.

6. Global water problems are attracting increasing attention, not just at the international level, but also within the United States, in its popular press, in natural resource journals and as the subject of books. Former Sen. Paul Simon from Illinois recently authored Tapped Out: The Coming World Crisis in Water and What We Can Do About It. A book for the general, non-specialized audience, Simon's publication sounds an alarm about the approaching crisis. "Within a few years, a water crisis of catastrophic proportions will explode upon us — unless aroused citizens ... demand of their leadership actions reflecting vision, understanding and courage."

7. A prime cause of the global water concern is the ever-increasing world population. As populations grow, industrial, agricultural and individual water demands escalate. According to the World Bank, world-wide demand for water is doubling every 21 years, more in some regions. Water supply cannot remotely keep pace with demand, as populations soar and cities explode. World population has recently reached six billion and United Nation's projections indicate nine billion by 2050. What water supplies will be available for this expanding population?

8. But population growth alone does not account for increased water demand. Since 1900, there has been a six-fold increase in water use for only a two-fold increase in population size. This reflects greater water usage associated with rising standards of living (e.g., diets containing less grain and more meat). It also reflects potentially unsustainable levels of irrigated agriculture.

9. In addition, water quality is deteriorating in many areas of the developing world as population increases and salinity caused by industrial farming and over-extraction rises. About 95 percent of the world's cities still dump raw sewage into their waters. As a result of these phenomena, many countries suffer increasing desertification.

10. Climate change represents a wild card in this developing scenario. If, in fact, climate change is occurring — and most experts now agree that it is — what effect will it have on water resources? Some experts claim climate change has the potential to worsen an already gloomy situation. With higher temperatures and more rapid melting of winter snowpacks, less water supplies will be available to farms and cities during summer months when demand is high.

11. A technological solution that some believe would provide adequate supplies of additional water resources is desalination. Some researchers fault the United States for not providing more support for desalination research. Once the world leader in such research, this country has abdicated its role to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Japan. There are approximately 11,000 desalination plants in 120 nations in the world, 60 percent of them in the Middle East.

12. Others argue that a market approach to water management would help resolve the situation by putting matters on a businesslike footing. They say such an approach would help reduce the political and security tensions that exacerbate international affairs. For example, the Harvard Middle East Water Project wants to assign a value to water, rather than treat rivers and streams as some kind of free natural commodity, like air.

13. Other strategies to confront the growing global water problem include slowing population growth, reducing pollution, better management of present supply and demand and, of course, not to be overlooked, water conservation. As Sandra Postel writes in her book, Last Oasis, "Doing more with less is the first and easiest step along the path toward water security."

14. Ultimately, however, an awareness of the global water crisis should serve to put our own water concerns in perspective. Whether our current activity is evaluating Arizona's Ground Water Management Act or, at a more personal level, deciding whether to plant water-conserving vegetation, the wiser choice would likely be made, if we are guided by an awareness that water is a very scarce and valuable natural resource.

The Global Water Shortage – Exercises

Exercises adapted from Esti Eisenberg

Pre- and post-reading exercises by Zhanna Burstein, Minna Lipner, and Anna Lyubman

I. Pre-Reading

1.Of all the water in the world, how much is fresh water?

a. Slightly less than half

b. About 20%

c. Only 3%

Now that you know the answer, what conclusion can you reach based on this statistic?


2.Study the map below. What change in global water resources does this map represent?

Which regions will be particularly affected by this change?

*Water Withdrawal: The removal of water from some type of source for use by humans. The water is later returned some period of time after it is used. The quality of the returned water may not be the same as when it was originally removed.

3.In many noun phrases in this article, the noun “water” is used to modify another noun. Translate the phrases below into Hebrew.

______/ ______/ ______
______/ ______/ ______
______/ ______/ ______

II. Global Reading

Skim the article by reading the first sentence in each paragraph.

This article discusses several different aspects of the global water shortage. Which paragraphs discuss each topic below? (NOTE: The topics are not in the order of the text.)

Topic / Paragraph(s)
a. Causes of the global water shortage
b. Water as a source of political tension
c. Ways to overcome the global water shortage
d. Conclusion of the text
e. Contrast between views on local and global water shortages

III.Close Reading Questions

1.What attitude do most Americans have to local water shortages?

(Circle the correct word.)

They view them as a MAJOR / MINOR problem.

Quote from the text to support your answer.

Par. #: ______
Quote: ______

2.Why are investment in infrastructure, conservation, and management strategies mentioned in paragraph 1?

a. to show how local water problems cause serious concern among U.S. citizens

b. to present possible ways to settle local problems of water shortages

c. to explain the factors that cause water feuds between different U.S. states

d. to demonstrate that conflicts over water often have to be resolved in court

3.According to paragraphs 1-3, what is the difference between local and global water conflicts?

While local conflicts are usually solved in a ______way, global water conflicts may involve ______.

4.What problem do Botswana, Bulgaria, and Cambodia have?

They share water with ______(ONE WORD) countries.

5.What idea do the examples in paragraph 4 illustrate?

They show that water in the Middle East has great ______importance.

6.In what way are water and oil similar?

They both have the potential to ______.

7.a. Why does the writer mention Sen. Paul Simon’s book?

To show that ______

b. According to Sen. Paul Simon, what may prevent a water crisis?



8.What factors are responsible for the growing global water shortage?

Read paragraphs 7-10 and list as many answers as you can.







9.On what basis do we know that population growth is not the only reason for the increased water demand? (Circle the correct answers.)

Because the growth of the POPULATION / WATER DEMAND is greater than the growth of the POPULATION / WATER DEMAND.

10.Fill in the cause-effect chart below based on paragraph 9.

a. ______
b. over-extraction /  /  / The quality of the water is poor.

11.Which two phenomena related to climate change lead to reduced water resources?

a. ______

b. ______

12.List the solutions to the water shortage discussed in paragraphs 11-13. Give the solutions, not examples.

a. ______

b. ______

c. ______

d. ______

e. ______

f. ______

13.What is the purpose of the statistic at the end of paragraph 11?

To show that:

a. there are many desalination factories in countries around the world

b. the number of desalination plants all over the world is insufficient

c. desalination is an inadequate solution for the reduced water supply

d. the U.S. no longer provides enough support for desalination research

14.What is the writer’s conclusion?

The writer concludes that the most critical factor in dealing with the water shortage is ______. (ONE WORD)

IV.Noun Groups

I. Underline the head noun in the noun groups below. Then translate the phrase into Hebrew.

Paragraph 1 strategies ______

Paragraph 3

2.rivers that cross borders of neighboring countries viewed as hostile


3.the river flow of hostile upstream neighbors ______

Paragraph 5

4.the most critical natural resource issue facing most parts of the world by the start of the next century


5.the oft-repeated observation that water will likely replace oil as a future cause of war between nations


Paragraph 6

6.natural resource journals ______

Paragraph 7

7.ever-increasing world population ______

8.industrial, agricultural, and individual water demands


Paragraph 8

7.increased water demand ______

(cf. increasing water demand ______)

8.greater water usage associated with rising standards of living


9.potentially unsustainable levels of irrigated agriculture


Paragraph 9

10.developing world ______

11.salinity caused by industrial farming and over-extraction


Paragraph 10

12.climate change ______

Paragraph 11

13.approximately 11,000 desalination plants in 120 nations in the world ______

Paragraph 12

14.a market approach to water management ______

Paragraph 13

15.population growth ______

V. Post Reading Activities

1.Read the following report on water shortage in Israel. What factors have contributed to the Israeli water crisis?

Water Shortage in Israel

Israel is now in the middle of one of its worst water crises ever. The contributors to Israel's water crisis include:

  • Increased water consumption - largely due to population growth;
  • Decreased water supply - following four drought years, with the most recent drought (2007/8) especially severe.
  • Closure of drinking water wells - past pollution led to the closure of drinking water wells and to the inability of pumping some 80 cubic meters of water per year.

Water scarcity and decreasing water quality mean that there is a need for greater water efficiency and conservation in Israel. In recent years, major water saving campaigns have been introduced to increase awareness of the need for water conservation and to reduce consumption in the society.

2.People consume water for a great variety of purposes. Name a few examples.


3.The following diagram represents the proportion of fresh water usage in Israel.

Predict which part of the diagram corresponds to each purpose below. For each

purpose, write the appropriate percentage.

Laundry and cleaning
Toilet flushing
Shower and bath
Drinking, cooking and dishwashing

4.Water Saving Tips

Every person can take part in the effort to protect and conserve water sources, thus preventing the deterioration of this important natural resource.

Read the water conservation tips in the table below and match each tip with its explanation.

____ 1. Put water saving devices on all faucets. / a. This can be done by using irrigation computers or switching to water saving plants.
____ 2. Use "smart" hot water
faucets. / b. We may lose large amounts of water from water leaking from damaged pipes.
____ 3. Use a dual flow toilet. / c. This will prevent liters of cold water from coming out of the faucet before the hot water begins flowing.
____ 4. Conserve water in the garden. / d. We can gain a free fresh water resource if we redirect rainwater from urban areas like streets and sidewalks (where it is wasted) to home gardens and public parks (where it can be effectively used).
____ 5. Use rainwater. / e.. These substances may pollute the ground and groundwater.
____ 6. Report water pipeline leaks to city officials. / f. This will help to reduce water flow from the faucet.
____ 7. Report fuel and dangerous material leaks. / g. This will save water in flushing.

What additional water saving tips can you think of?




5. Additional Reading

Read the article about water conservation in Israel and answer the questions that follow.

How Grandma Rachel Conserved Water

By Amiram Cohen, From Haaretz, February 13, 2011

Today, it is clear that attempts at scare-mongering and preaching to the public have not helped in conserving water. Perhaps this is because our society does not resemble the one that Grandma Rachel lived in.

1. Grandma Rachel, may she rest in peace, once had a solar water boiler on the roof of her home. Before showering in the morning, she would place a bucket underneath the hot water faucet. While waiting for the hot water to emerge from the faucet, she would fill up the bucket with the cold-lukewarm water that was available for the time being. She would then use that water to rinse the toilet, wash the floor, clean the dishes that piled up in the sink, and water the plants on the porch.

2. "Nobody is going to tell me how to conserve water," she would angrily say when watching a television broadcast about the decreasing water levels of the Kinneret. If everyone would simply use the cold water that comes out before hot water began flowing from the faucets, the country would save a million of buckets worth every year. "I would completely forbid the use of Jacuzzis," she said.

3. Grandma Rachel was wrong. Before the water in the shower heats up, some two to six liters of cold and lukewarm water go down the drain, depending on the floor one lives on. It is possible to conserve between 300-400 million buckets of water nationwide, the equivalent amount of water consumed by a city with a population of 250,000.

4. According to statistics published by the Knesset's research division, nothing has been done in the last decade to save water in either the municipal or household sectors, despite the fact that the growing problem of decreasing water supplies was known to all the relevant decision makers, as well as to the public. Today, it is clear that attempts at scare-mongering and preaching to the public have not helped in conserving water. Perhaps this is because our society does not resemble the one that Grandma Rachel lived in. She could scold her neighbors if she saw them washing their cars with a hose, and would call city hall if she saw a leaky fire hydrant down the block.

5. But we do not need to adopt the methods of Grandma Rachel in order to save water, not only because these methods are no longer suited to modern Israelis' way of thinking, but also because they entirely depend on the goodwill of the average citizen.

6. There are two ways to save water: Hit people in the wallet, or take administrative steps against them. By hitting in the wallet, we mean raising the costs of water consumption, which is customary even in European countries with plenty of water. Household water usage in these countries costs the equivalent of NIS 10-15 per cubic meter, beginning with the first cubic meter. An increase in water rates would certainly make it necessary to help those of low income. Administrative steps involve formulating a list of rules requiring the public to use conservation-friendly faucets and devices. It may be even necessary to have inspectors visit homes unannounced in order to make sure that these devices have indeed been installed.