EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Global water scarcity reduction requires water quality solutions

Michelle T.H. van Vliet1,2, Edward R. Jones1,2, Martina Flörke3, Wietse H.P. Franssen2, Naota Hanasaki4, Yoshihide Wada5, and John R. Yearsley6
Michelle T.H. van Vliet et al.
  • 1Department of Physical Geography, Utrecht University, Utrecht , Netherlands (
  • 2Water Systems and Global Change group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, Netherlands
  • 3Institute of Engineering Hydrology and Water Resources Management, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Bochum, Germany
  • 4National Institute for Environmental Studies, Tsukuba, Japan
  • 5International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Laxenburg, Austria
  • 6Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, USA

Water scarcity threatens people in various regions, and has predominantly been studied from a water quantity perspective. However, the provision of water for human uses and environmental health is dependent on both sufficient water availability but also appropriate water quality for the intended use.

Our study presents the first estimates of global water scarcity driven by both water quantity and water quality issues and including impacts of desalination and treated waste-water reuse. We have developed a new water scarcity framework combining model simulations of multiple global hydrological models and global surface water quality models (water temperature, salinity, organic pollution, nutrients) and spatially-explicit datasets of desalination and treated wastewater reuse capacities globally.

Our results show that 40% of the world’s population currently lives in regions with severe water scarcity, which is driven by a combination of water quantity and quality issues. Impacts of water quality are in particular high in river basins in eastern China. Here, excessive water withdrawals and polluted return flows degrade water quality, exacerbating water scarcity. Our results show that expanding desalination and treated wastewater reuse capacities can strongly reduce water scarcity in most river basins, although the side-effects (e.g. brine production, high energy demands and costs) must be considered. We conclude that effective water scarcity reduction requires that we expand our focus from conventional measures, which mainly focus on improving water supply for sectoral uses, to solutions that also promote water quality improvements.



How to cite: van Vliet, M. T. H., Jones, E. R., Flörke, M., Franssen, W. H. P., Hanasaki, N., Wada, Y., and Yearsley, J. R.: Global water scarcity reduction requires water quality solutions, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-2718,, 2020

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