Water scarcity refers to a situation in which water resources are not sufficient to satisfy long-term average requirements. Long-term imbalances may be caused by a combination of low water availability (caused by changes in precipitation and temperature) and levels of demand (caused by urbanisation and population growth) that exceed the supply capacity of a natural system. Drought and water scarcity threaten to increase competition for resources between ecosystems, agriculture, industry, energy production and household users. Without action, household users, valuable habitats, food production and energy security are at risk. Sustainable water governance is therefore a key challenge for the twenty-first century. It is a precondition for successful climate change adaptation across a number of sectors, but itself dependent on the effective governance of interconnected natural and societal systems.
Possible policy responses to water scarcity threats fall under three broad headings: additional supply infrastructure, reduced leakage, and reduced consumption. Beyond technical fixes (such as new reservoirs, pipeline infrastructures, etc.), they involve conducive regulatory and institutional frameworks, synergies with landscape management, and promoting individual behavioural responses. Improvements in knowledge and data collection are also a pre-requisite.
At European Union level, the challenge from water scarcity and droughts has been recognised in the Commission’s Communication Addressing the challenge of water scarcity and droughts, adopted in 2007 [COM(2007)414]. In project partner countries, the following issues may be highlighted.