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Water crises ranked as top global risk

A survey of 900 experts for the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Risks report has found that the greatest risk in terms of impact faced by the world today is the crisis in the world’s water supply. The World Economic Forum, an annual meeting of 2,500 members of the global elite, takes place January 21-24 in Davos, Switzerland.

Their annual risks report, issued yesterday, assesses “the perceived impact and likelihood of 28 prevalent global risks over a 10-year time frame.” New Civil Engineer reports, “This year, water crises came eighth in the top 10 risks in terms of likelihood, behind interstate conflict, extreme weather events, natural disasters and failure to adapt to climate change, but for the first time the report outlined the top 10 risks in terms of impact. This second list saw water crises rise above spread of infectious diseases, interstate conflict and failure of climate change adaptation.”


  1. Water crises

  2. Spread of infectious diseases

  3. Weapons of mass destruction

  4. Interstate conflict

  5. Failure of climate-change adaptation

  6. Energy price shock

  7. Critical information infrastructure breakdown

  8. Fiscal crises

  9. Unemployment or underemployment

  10. Biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse


  1. Interstate conflict

  2. Extreme weather events

  3. Failure of national governance

  4. State collapse or crisis

  5. Unemployment or underemployment

  6. Natural catastrophes

  7. Failure of climate-change adaptation

  8. Water crises

  9. Data fraud or theft

  10. Cyber attacks

Bloomberg notes, “The top global risk as ranked by impact was water crises, then infectious diseases. …[And] with almost 2 billion of Earth’s 7 billion people lacking access to clean drinking water, about 14 percent of the population still defecating outdoors and a child dying every 20 seconds due to poor sanitation, water was also eighth on the likelihood list.”

The report itself highlights, “Global water requirements are projected to be pushed beyond sustainable water supplies by 40% by 2030. Agriculture already accounts for on average 70% of total water consumption and, according to the World Bank, food production will need to increase by 50% by 2030 as the population grows and dietary habits change. The International Energy Agency further projects water consumption to meet the needs of energy generation and production to increase by 85% by 2035.”

It adds, “Decision-makers will be forced to make tough choices about allocations of water that will impact users across the economy. The situation will worsen further if more man-made environmental catastrophes causing shocks to the system happen: more recent examples include the Fukushima power plant disaster threatening to contaminate both freshwater and seawater, or the Deepwater Horizon oil spill contaminating large sections of coast along the Gulf of Mexico.”

The concluding chapter highlights, “As water is an issue that must be managed locally, proven local initiatives that can be adapted and replicated elsewhere are needed. The initiative described here was developed in Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin and has been transferred in other regions of Asia.”

John Drzik, a global risk expert with the British risk assessment firm Marsh & McLennan, says, “Wars have been fought in the past over oil. Will we now see that start to happen with water?” He adds, “It really does require an extensive dialogue amongst the stakeholders and then I think some very carefully designed international, as well as, national regulation and governance frameworks in order to grapple with some of these risks.”

The world’s 1% will begin to grapple with the issue of water crises tomorrow.

The full report can be read here.