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Ranking the World’s Most Water-Stressed Countries in 2040

The world’s demand for water is likely to surge in the next few decades. Rapidly growing populations will drive increased consumption by people, farms and companies. More people will move to cities, further straining supplies. An emerging middle class could clamor for more water-intensive food production and electricity generation.

But it’s not clear where all that water will come from. Climate change is expected to make some areas drier and others wetter. As precipitation extremes increase in some regions, affected communities face greater threats from droughts and floods.

While changing water supply and demand is inevitable, exactly what that change will look like around the world is far from certain. A first-of-its-kind analysis by WRI sheds new light on the issue.

Using an ensemble of climate models and socioeconomic scenarios, WRI scored and ranked future water stress—a measure of competition and depletion of surface water—in 167 countries by 2020, 2030, and 2040. We found that 33 countries face extremely high water stress in 2040 (see the full list). We also found that Chile, Estonia, Namibia, and Botswana could face an especially significant increase in water stress by 2040. This means that businesses, farms, and communities in these countries in particular may be more vulnerable to scarcity than they are today.

Challenging Future for a Volatile Region

Fourteen of the 33 likely most water stressed countries in 2040 are in the Middle East, including nine considered extremely highly stressed with a score of 5.0 out of 5.0: Bahrain, Kuwait, Palestine, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Lebanon. The region, already arguably the least water-secure in the world, draws heavily upon groundwater and desalinated sea water, and faces exceptional water-related challenges for the foreseeable future.

With regional violence and political turmoil commanding global attention, water may seem tangential. However, drought and water shortages in Syria likely contributed to the unrest that stoked the country’s 2011 civil war. Dwindling water resources and chronic mismanagement forced 1.5 million people, primarily farmers and herders, to lose their livelihoods and leave their land, move to urban areas, and magnify Syria’s general destabilization.

The problem extends to other countries. Water is a significant dimension of the decades-old conflict between Palestine and Israel. Saudi Arabia’s government said its people will depend entirely on grain imports by 2016, a change from decades of growing all they need, due to fear of water-resource depletion. The U.S. National Intelligence Council wrote that water problems will put key North African and Middle Eastern countries at greater risk of instability and state failure and distract them from foreign policy engagements with the U.S.

Water Stress for the World’s Largest Economies

While they will probably not face the extreme water stress blanketing the Middle East in 2040, global superpowers such as the United States, China and India face water risks of their own. High water stress in all three countries are projected to remain roughly constant through 2040. However, specific areas of each, such as the southwestern U.S. and China’s Ningxia province, could see water stress increase by up to 40 to 70 percent.

This pattern reflects a limitation of national-level datasets. Averaging future water stress across an entire country into a single score can disguise local-level risks, even using WRI’s weighting algorithm to count water stress where water is used the most. WRI generally recommends that most Aqueduct users operate at the tool’s standard sub-river basin level with more granular information. However, certain users, such as international commercial banks with national portfolios, depend on national indicators to assess risk, so rankings and aggregated scores are valuable.

Uncertainty permeates these forward-looking models because future climate conditions and development patterns are impossible to predict. Instead of focusing on a best or more likely scenario for future climate conditions, these rankings illustrate one possible future of water supply and demand.

We chose this future in consultation with leading experts because it is simplified yet useful information to help international, organizations, businesses, and financial institutions take steps to mitigate risks. This set of rankings and scores can also help users more effectively adapt to a plausible future climate change and water demand scenario.

What’s Driving the Change?

Every water-stressed country is affected by a different combination of factors. Chile, for example, projected to move from medium water stress in 2010 to extremely high stress in 2040, is among the countries more likely to face a water supply decrease from the combined effects of rising temperatures in critical regions and shifting precipitation patterns.

Botswana and Namibia sit squarely within a region that is already vulnerable to climate change. Water supplies are limited, and risk from floods and droughts is high. Projected temperature increases in southern Africa are likely to exceed the global average, along with overall drying and increased rainfall variability. On the water demand side, according to Aqueduct projections, a 40 to 70 percent—or greater—increase is expected, further exacerbating the region’s concerns.

Whatever the drivers, extremely high water stress creates an environment in which companies, farms and residents are highly dependent on limited amounts of water and vulnerable to the slightest change in supply. Such situations severely threaten national water security and economic growth. National and local governments must bring forward strong national climate action plans and support a strong international climate agreement in Paris this November. Governments must also respond with management and conservation practices that will help protect essential sustainable water resources for years to come.

Top 33 Water-Stressed Countries: 2040

RankNameAll Sectors
1San Marino5.00
1United Arab Emirates5.00
9Saudi Arabia4.99

Read the technical note and explore the data set.


why Ethiopia not added by these above list of worlds water stress country s list when by reason of climate change and by another factor water stress challenge formed which country remain ....

You mean San Marino California or the ancient repubblic of San Marino in Italy?

San Marino, near Italy. It's a country list.

The world's oldest republic is an enclave within Italy, not near it.

SURROUNDED by Italy. Not IN Italy

If politicians keep stopping actions to REALLY combat climate change, in 2040 the WHOLE WORLD will be in deep red!

How com Israel and Palestine are ranked the same?????

Please look at a map. They are the same ecosystem. BTW, per Hebrew University geneticists, siblings, too.

Where do the Pacific Island Countries fall?

Why Estonia? I mean what are the factor that brings Estonia (and not Latvia F.E. )into this list? thanks. Bruno

Hello Bruno,

Thank you for your comment and question. The models we used (the same ones selected by the internationally recognized Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) show a sharp increase in demand for water in Estonia by 2040. That is driving the change in stress -- competition for water supply among users -- between 2010 and 2040. Our focus is on primarily global analyses, so we are limited in our capacity to research specific country cases, but that is the beginning of the story.

It's also worth noting that, according to the UN, Estonia is located in the humid zone where precipitation usually exceeds evaporation. However, due to very high variability of precipitation drought periods as well as excessive wet periods occur. Water resources are sensitive to climate changes and studies on this topic are of great importance. Possible climate warming can cause significant changes in the hydrological regime and water resources.


Overpopulation has been the base cause - there are too many of us: Takes courage - China continues to control its population. Religions still compete to encourage breeding - its a basic cause of the state we find ourselves in.

The analysis seems to accept a largely static response. As i demonstrate in my book "Let There Be Water" (coming from St. Martin's Press, September 15, 2015), proactive efforts by governments and civil society can blunt or eliminate the worst of the water threats.

I agree. Singapore is surprisingly ranked in #1. But it is in many ways a showcase for water conservation and sustainability. Water is viewed as a strategic national agenda by the government, who has spared no effort in in building a holistic national water management system that includes desalination, recycling, etc.
While I accept that Singapore is vulnerable but I just find it odd that we are listed at the TOP of the list, even with all the fine work that is being done to become sustainable in water.

Why Alaska ahs the red colour from the US and not the yellow of Canada?
Same thing for Northern Ireland that has the orange colour of the UK and not the yellow colour of the Republic Of Ireland. That doesn't make any sense.

It does make sense. Alaska is a part of the US and because the US is supposed to have regions that are going to have water shortages, it is labeled red.

I am also curious about Estonia.
I am from Latvia (close to Estonian border actually) and to my knowledge the climate and water availability are very similar in both. These are very small countries too. I find it hard to see why there should be such drastic difference. Both countries have very low populations (declining in both) and rich groundwater availability - around 50/50 surface and groundwater in Latvia, and i believe something like 2/3 rds groundwater supply in Estonia).
I am eager to know what are the main reasons behind such difference?There are many complex factors that already make it VERY difficult for Baltic states to attract foreign investment. I would be very careful about adding another one without good reason. Looking forward to your reply. Thanks!

Thank you for your question! This is a question we’re still researching. First, we’re saying Estonia will experience the one of the greatest overall changes in water stress between now and 2040. It’s an important distinction, because that means it’s moving from a score of 1.59 (low stress) in 2010 to 3.9 (high stress) in 2040 – it will not reach the 5.0 level of the top countries in our ranking by 2040.

It’s next worth noting first of all that of our water supply and demand data are based on global models, all of which were also selected by the internationally recognized IPCC. So, we’re confident in the data, but it’s coarse, coming from satellite-based models covering the entire planet. Our results also do not include groundwater supplies, a significant water source in Estonia. But, there is no comprehensive global dataset on groundwater at the resolution we need, so we are not able to include groundwater supplies in our baseline water stress scores. Our rankings speak to surface water stress, which is based upon a comprehensive global dataset.

Our country ranking methodology is designed, as we say in the blog, to drive conversations around these results, and provide very high-level guidance to anyone working at the global level. Our results should drive conversations with on-the-ground experts. We don’t intend for this information to directly drive country-level water management, policy, or local investment decisions. We also want to make the limitations as clear as possible, and keep broad dialogues going that pull on multiple information sources.

All that said, our models show a sharp increase in demand for water in Estonia by 2040, roughly 1.7X the current demand. Where exactly that demand increase could come from is a topic we’re looking into further, but is also outside our core area of expertise, as it’s a more local-level issue.

The UN has also flagged water supply related concerns for Estonia, which, while not necessarily address in our rankings, are worth being aware of: “Estonia is located in the humid zone where precipitation usually exceeds evaporation. However, due to very high variability of precipitation drought periods as well as excessive wet periods occur. Water resources are sensitive to climate changes and studies on this topic are of great importance. Possible climate warming can cause significant changes in the hydrological regime and water resources.”


Thank you!

May I speculate regarding assessments on Estonia?
It does not seem to be the climate, because if anything, Latvia should be hit sooner by a fall in precipitation (even though even that would manifest itself at the end of the century). According to the report, the Estonian population uses up relatively modest share of water use. That leaves more leaks from ageing water distribution pipes and the possible rising use in industry. And the third option might be booming population of Estonia's capital Tallinn, which needs to draw more surface water from further away. Options 2 and 3 also might work in tandem, if the circulating plans for phosphorite mining near Tallinn take shape then that would further increase surface water stress near Estonia's capital. So, what do you think? Is the impact of possible phosphorite mining already factored in?

Why US isn't on the chart? If It is in Red = Extremely High :S.

No it's not in the "extremely high"...there's a darker red which is the extremely high category, we are just high..i thought the same thing at first till i looked more closely at the list and realized the color scheme/legend is kinda strange but when you look at the entire map you can tell there are 2 reds, one is darker. the darker red areas are mostly over in the middle east/north africa :)

Estonia? Water stressed?
What are the factors that could indicate towards such conclusion?

They have the same climate as all other countries around the Baltic Sea.
No water stress in Finland and Sweden.

Same question about Estonia. In Estonia it is raining every day, except few months in summer, sizeable ground water reserves + 1.3 mio people on a territory bigger than Belgium of Denmark, not much water-consuming industries. Cleanest air according to the latest WHO report. Would be interested.

Indeed I'm surprised too about Estonia. Latest climate projections foresee a considerable increase of annual precipitation in the entire northern Europe. See
Also surprising to see San Marino in the list, which is in the relatively wet northern Italy

Seem that there is no response about Estonia which make me thinking about the value of this ranking.. If you cannot answer to this simple question how you can make such an important ranking ? No factor explained, no answer .. mmm

Water amount is constant if you take the whole world as 1 entity. It will just keep moving from place A to B. There would be natural reasons which will make it move from one place to another. That would be difficult and unwise to try and control. Those who engineer to store and use it smartly will be the ultimate winner. However, war over water isn't too far away.

Why do Israel and Palestine have different ranks when their All-sectors-score is the same?

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