Photos show what living in 17 countries with 'extremely high water stress' looks like on the ground

Ajit Solanki / APIndian boys on their way to play cricket walk through a dried patch of Chandola Lake in Ahmadabad, India.

  • The World Resources Institute has identified17 countries that face “extremely high” levels of water stress.
  • “Water stress” measures how much competition there is over water, meaning where demand is highest and supply is lowest.
  • The 17 countries are Qatar, Israel, Lebanon, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, United Arab Emirates, San Marino, Bahrain, India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Oman, and Botswana.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

One quarter of the world’s population faces worrying levels of water stress.

The World Resources Institute, a non-profit, released a report this month identifying 17 countries face “extremely high” levels of water stress. Twelve of the countries are in Middle East and North Africa.

“Water stress” measures how much competition there is over water, meaning where demand is highest and supply is lowest.

Since the 1960s, water withdrawals have doubled globally, with the water primarily being used for agriculture, industry, and municipalities, the report said.

Here are photos and maps showing what it’s like living with extremely high levels of water stress.


The World Resource Institute released new data showing the levels of water stress across the globe. The map shows water stress (marked in red) is often near the equator.

WRI / AqueductGlobal map of high water stress.

Qatar, a desert state without a single river, is the most water-stressed country in the world. Due to a growing economy and population, water use rose from 437 million cubic meters to 741 million cubic meters between 2006 and 2013. Households use the most water, followed by agriculture and then industry.

WikimediaA residential area in Simaisma, Qatar.

Sources: Doha News, Nations Encyclopedia, Qatar Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics


Israel, the second worst, has been dealing with droughts since 2013. In 2018, Israel’s official water authority said its lakes, rivers, and aquifers were sitting at 100-year-lows. In recent years, five desalination plants were built on the Mediterranean coast, which provide 70% of the country’s drinking water.

Caron Creighton / APIsraeli farmer Ofer Moskovitz checks soil in his field near Kfar Yuval, Israel.

Source: Times of Israel


In Lebanon, the high pressure on water use is due to poor water storage, water pollution, and misuse by people at home and in the agricultural sector.

Mohamed Azakir / ReutersA boat is seen on the dry bed of an artificial lake in Qaraoun, West Bekaa.

Source: Inter Press Service


In Iran, massive holes caused by drought and water pumping emerged in the Hamadan province in 2018. Some of the sinkholes go nearly 200 feet deep. Rapid population growth, inefficient agriculture, and mismanagement of water use are driving Iran’s water struggles, Al Jazeera reported.

ISNA / APAn aerial view of massive holes caused by drought and excessive water pumping in Kabudarahang, in Hamadan province.

Source: Al Jazeera


In Jordan, water conservation is so important that it’s now a school subject, alongside maths and science. In Amman, the capital, some neighbourhoods only get running water for 12-24 hours a week.

Sam McNeil / APAn archaeologist walks in eastern Jordan.

Source: Circle of Blue


Water supplies in Libya, which sits in a desert and doesn’t get much rain, are limited. Access to water has also been weaponised. In May 2019, gunmen forced water workers to turn off supplies to Tripoli for two days, in an effort to force the release of a detained relative.

Manu Brabo / APLibyan militia men scan the desert at the top of an old defence tower during a patrol in the Bir Doufan area, on the border between Misrata and Bani Walid, Libya.

Source: Reuters


Here’s a close-up on the Middle East and North Africa, the worst region in the world for water stress, with 12 of the top 17 countries. The red indicates “extremely high” stress.

WRI / AqueductA map of MENA or, the Middle East and North Africa.

In Kuwait, about 99% of fresh water comes from desalination. The process of converting saltwater to fresh is increasing globally as freshwater sources decrease — there are nearly 20,000 plants now operating worldwide.

WikimediaAir cavalry flies over Kuwait.

Sources: The Guardian, International Desalination Association


In Saudi Arabia, each person consumes an average of 70 gallons a day – double the global average. The country is trying to cut back water use. It also has 31 desalination plants, and prices water to incentivise conservation.

Nariman El-Mofty / APA man takes in the view from Noor Mountain on the outskirts of Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

Source: The Guardian, World Resource Institute


Eritrea struggles with water. It’s an arid nation with an average annual rainfall of just 15 inches. Because of this, and struggling infrastructure, 42% of the population does not have daily access to drinking water.

Karel Prinsloo / APA family walks through the dry land in Eritrea.

Source: Borgen Magazine


The United Arab Emirates, which consumes about 1.5 billion gallons a day, is trying to make its desalinated water more environmentally friendly. Here, glasses of desalinated water are being prepared for dignitaries.

Jon Gambrell / APA laborer and two waitresses prepare glasses of desalinated water for visiting dignitaries at a desalination test facility on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Source: Quartz


Surrounded by Italy, San Marino is only 24 square miles. It’s landlocked, without any bodies of water. It’s the only country in Europe that’s in the “extremely high” category of water stress.

WikimediaBorgo Maggiore in San Marino.

Bahrain is an arid island country in the Persian Gulf. Due to overuse, its main aquifer was contaminated with salt water in 2009, according to a United Nations report.

Hasan Jamali / APSakhir, Bahrain.

Source: Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations


India, which has had severe droughts in 2019, particularly in Chennai in the south, has nearly 1.4 billion people — three times the population of the other top 16 countries on this list combined. The country’s groundwater resources are stressed primarily due to population growth, low rainfall, and agriculture.

REUTERS/Amit DaveResidential apartments are seen next to the dried-up Ratanpura lake on the outskirts of Ahmedabad.

Sources: World Resource Institute, Business Insider, Country Meters


Here’s a map of the most stressed part of India. The country is taking steps to help with the issue, including establishing a specific ministry for water issues.

Wri.org / AqueductIndia’s groundwater decline.

Source: World Resource Institute


Pakistan has the world’s fourth-highest rate of water use, and two of the key factors for water stress are population growth and urbanisation.

B. K. Bangash / APVillagers collect clean water from a broken water supply line in the suburbs of Islamabad, Pakistan.

Source: DW


Turkmenistan is 80% desert, and government mismanagement has put stress on water use. The country entered the Guinness Book of Records for having the most fountains in a public space in 2008. Seen here, the government is opening a 6,500-square-foot Golden Age Lake, designed to encourage greenery, but which environmentalists say will simply evaporate, leaving salt and pesticides.

APTurkmen President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov, center, poses in front of the man-made Golden Age Lake.

Source: The Diplomat


This might look like Mars, but it’s Oman. The desolate desert resembles the Red Planet so much that scientists used it to field-test equipment in 2018. Oman is one country that is doing its best to harness its wastewater. It treats all of its wastewater and reuses nearly 80% of it, according to the WRI report.

Sam McNeil / APThe Dhofar desert of southern Oman in 2018.

Sources: National Geographic, World Research Institute


Botswana has been dealing with water issues and droughts for years, due to low rainfall, urban growth, and poor infrastructure. Along with South Africa and Namibia, Botswana has agreed to import water from Lesotho, using a 224-mile pipeline that will run across South Africa.

Sharon Tshipa / Thomson Reuters FoundationMaipato Kesebang pulls weeds from her fields of struggling maize and bean crops a few kilometers outside of Molepolole, Botswana.

Source: Assar, African Farming


The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2025, over half of the world’s population will be living in areas that are water-stressed. And climate change is projected to make water availability, rain, and drought more variable. If countries that are water stressed now don’t start to make changes, things could just keep getting worse.

ReutersResidents fill their empty containers with water from a municipal tap in Chennai

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