The global shortage of fresh water is more severe than previously thought, according to a recent study. The study, published on Feb. 12 in Science Advances, claims that 66 percent of the world’s population, or 4 billion people, lack fresh water access for at least one month per year.
This new estimate is significantly higher than what past studies have suggested, reports Huffington Post. Past reports had found that between 1.7 and 3.1 billion people worldwide experienced at least moderate scarcity of fresh water for one month per year.
“Up to now, this type of research concentrated solely on the scarcity of water on an annual basis, and had only been carried out in the largest river basins,” said lead researcher Dr. Arjen Hoekstra of the Netherlands’ University of Twente.
“That paints a more rosy and misleading picture, because water scarcity occurs during the dry period of the year.”
The new research also reveals that a significant portion of the world’s population lives in regions where water consumption far outpaces rain, reported The Guardian. 500 million people reportedly live in areas where water is consumed at twice the rate of rainfall replenishment, which makes them vulnerable to shortages.
The regions most affected by water shortages include China, India, the western United States, Australia, north Africa and the Middle East.
Hoekstra noted that while the effects of water scarcity are more pronounced in certain areas than others, it has a global impact.
“Freshwater scarcity is a major risk to the global economy, affecting four billion people directly. But since the remaining people in the world receive part of their food from the affected areas, it involves us all,” Hoekstra told The New York Times.
Water-related crises were named as one of the top three global risks in the coming decade at the World Economic Forum in January.
Hoekstra said that to mitigate the risks that come with water shortages going forward, caps should be placed on water use in river basins, and more efforts are needed by companies to reduce unnecessary water use.