Water Scarcity


This page provides a comprehensive introduction to water scarcity. It provides detailed worksheets, reading material and interactive activities on water scarcity. It begins with a map from memory activity on global patterns, leading to a comprehensive explanation of the causes of droughts. Students complete the lesson by exploring the social, economic and environmental impacts of drought.

Enquiry Question

What are the geographical and human causes (power) of water stress, water scarcity and drought?

Lesson Time: 1 hour

Lesson Objectives:

  • To describe water stress and water scarcity including physical and economic water scarcity
  • To explain the causes of water scarcity, both natural and human-made
  • To describe the consequences of drought

Teacher Notes:

1. Starter- Map from Memory - Spatial Interaction _Give  a pair of students a blank world map and in turn ask them to come up to see the following map (30 seconds). They need to return and describe its pattern to their partner. Then switch over

2. Water in the Anthropocene - Students can watch the  video and make notes on the ways humans are impacting access to water

3. Defining key terms_ Processes_ students can then read the text and complete the definitions of key terms on their worksheet

4. Spatial Interaction and Place _Mapping and GIS - Students can click on the interactive map called, The growing Blue Tool and identify different reasons for water stress and scarcity. They should make notes of these in the table provided.

It's best that students click on the flagged countries shown to have water scarcity. More specific regional information is layered within the countries

5. FAO video resource_ Spatial Interactions_Students can then answer the questions on their worksheet based on the video

6. Classifying_ Spatial interactions, scale and processes_ Students can then work with the card sort to connect the image with the text and then classify into physical and economic water scarcity

7. Reading Comprehension_Processes_Student can the read through the handout on causes of drought

8. Possibilities_Synthesis - Students can then work in pairs or small groups to outline the social, economic and environmental impacts of droughts.

Starter Activity_ Spatial Interaction_Map from Memory

Map from memory the following water scarcity map with a partner

World Outline Map

Source: World Development Report 4

Student Activity_Processes_ Defining Water Scarcity

Water Scarcity Worksheet

Read the following text and complete the gap-fill on your worksheetWater stress: When the demand for water exceeds the supply of water and shortages exist.

Physical Water Scarcity: When the supply of rainfall is lower than the demand of water.

Economic Water Scarcity: When water supplies exist, but the local population can not access them because of pollution, lack of technology, etc.

Water scarcity is both a natural and a human-made phenomenon. There is enough freshwater on the planet for the human population but it is distributed unevenly and too much of it is wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed.

Hydrologists typically assess scarcity by looking at the population-water equation. An area is experiencing water stress when annual water supplies drop below 1,700 m3 per person. When annual water supplies drop below 1,000 m3 per person, the population faces water scarcity, and below 500 cubic metres "absolute scarcity"

Student Activity - Water in the Anthropocene - Processes and Spatial Interactions

Watch the folllowing video and make notes on the ways humans are impacting access to water

Student Activity _Spatial Interactions and Place_ The Causes of Water scarcity

Click on the map to go to 'Interactive growing Blue Tool'. Navigate the map to identify different reason for water scarcity. Complete your table with 5 different places

This link is unfortunately temporarily unavailable

Use the following link for example locations

Source: Growing Blue

Water Scarcity _Spatial Interactions_FAO Video on Water Scarcity

Watch the following video and answer the question on your worksheet

Student Activity_Processes_ Water Scarcity Card Sort

Work with the card sort to

  1. Match the image with the text
  2. Classify into physical scarcity and economic scarcity

Water Scarcity Card Sort

Student Activity_Spatial interactions, scale and processes_ Major Causes of Droughts

Read the following text and answer following questions:

  1. Sort the the different causes of drought into global and regional/continental scale
  2. How does sinking air create dry conditions?
  3. Can you think of any human causes of drought?

Drought can affect nearly every place on the planet, even places like the British Isles, which has a Temperate Maritime climate experiences droughts as part of anticyclonic weather systems. These systems are caused by the slow sinking of cooler air creating areas of high pressure. As air sinks it warms and relative humidity falls. This process in turn, locks moisture in, creating dry calm conditions. It is possible for these condition to be prolonged when these high pressure systems get anchored to one place for an extended period of time.

High pressure

This process of sinking cool air follows a distinct spatial pattern at the global scale. This can be seen in the global atmospheric circulation presented in the tricellular model. High pressure is experienced at 30 degrees and at the poles creating the warm and cold desert belts. In places like the Sahel in Africa, droughts are a natural part of their Tropical Dry/Wet climate. However with climate change droughts seems to be increasing in both frequency and extremity. Another global system that causes drought is El Nino. This several of Pacific Ocean currents, which brings drought to South East Asia seems to be increasing in frequency.

Other places experience drought conditions as part of their geographical positioning in relation to rain shadows of mountain ranges. As air sinks downwards on the leeward side of ranges, the air warms and relative humidity falls locking moisture in. A good example of this is found in the Atacama Desert region of South America.

Continentality is also a factor that causes droughts. Air movement over large land masses such as Asia and Australia becomes moderated by the dry conditions of the land. This distance from large bodies of water means the air id dry and little rain forms. This can be seen in the image below of Australia.

Student Activity_ Possibilities_The Impacts of Drought

Complete the worksheet by identifying the social, economic and environmental impacts of droughts

Impacts of Droughts

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