From abundance to scarcity, how to navigate the looming water crisis

As freshwater dwindles and the urgency for action increases, innovation and responsible practices are key to meeting this growing challenge and unlocking opportunities in a water-stressed world. 

Water, the essence of life, once considered limitless, is facing an unprecedented crisis. Although it covers most of the Earth's surface, only 3% is freshwater, which is vital for human survival amid increasing global challenges such as droughts and fires. Alarming projections indicate a staggering deficit by 2050, when only 60% of humanity's needs could be met, underscoring the urgency of sustainable water management. The United Nations underlines the imperative of addressing this issue, not only for human health and livelihoods, but also for global economic stability.

The acceleration of freshwater depletion is driven by population growth, climate change and unsustainable practices, including water-intensive meat production methods and significant losses in agriculture - where up to 60% of freshwater is wasted through evaporation and poor management. Urgent action is needed to address the consequences of this growing water divide. But in the midst of the crisis, opportunities are emerging for sustainable solutions in agriculture as well as in industrial practices and wastewater treatment.



Efficiency in addressing the water gap

As the world faces a growing challenge of water scarcity, challenging changes in water use are needed across all sectors:

  • Agriculture: Responsible for 72% of global water use[1], this sector can improve efficiency through smart irrigation (35-70% water savings[2]) and water-efficient cropping practices. The smart irrigation market is expected to grow by 12% per year until 2032[3].
  • Industry: Accounting for 20% of water demand[4], industry can significantly reduce consumption through water reuse and recycling. Recycled metals, for example, use 40% less water and produce 76% less pollution than virgin materials[5]. Closed-loop water systems, which are expected to grow by 5% per year to 2030, offer another solution.
  • Cities: Reducing water losses in urban areas is critical. Fixing leaks could save 1 trillion litres a year in Europe alone[6], and the market for smart water meters is expected to grow by 11.6% a year to 2027[7]. Water smart cities (infrastructure monitoring, urban water conservation, and smart leak detection), a $540 billion market expected to grow 15% annually to 2030, offer integrated solutions for monitoring, conservation, and leak detection[8].

Beyond technological advances, improving water management requires strong corporate governance, disclosure and risk assessment. As regulations evolve to address water scarcity and pollution, companies must adapt to meet both challenges and opportunities.


Improving water resource management: a solution to the crisis

Effective water resource management is the key to tackling the water crisis. This includes several key strategies:

  • Wastewater treatment: Globally, 70% of industrial wastewater remains untreated[9], posing environmental risks. Advanced technologies can clean wastewater effectively, but regulations need to be adapted to encourage re-use (currently only 11%).
  • Desalination: Desalination offers an alternative source of water by converting seawater into freshwater, especially in water-scarce regions. However, progress is needed to address its environmental concerns, such as high energy consumption and brine discharge.
  • Biodiversity conservation: Protecting ecosystems is critical to maintaining freshwater availability. Deforestation, urbanisation and rising salinity levels threaten water resources. Restoration projects focusing on rivers and wetlands can improve water availability.

Collaboration between different stakeholders, including governments, companies, investors and individuals, is essential to achieve these goals and ensure sustainable water management for the future.


Unlocking the blue economy

While a complete replacement for water remains elusive, recent research underscores the immense potential for improving its efficiency and circularity. The Carbon Disclosure Project report shows that conventional economic models have overlooked inherent operational risks and underestimated the true cost of water, leading to underinvestment in efficiency and alternative solutions. 

However, the transition to sustainable water practices offers significant investment opportunities. The CDP report identifies a staggering $2.3 trillion in potential economic gains for the private sector from investing in water security[10].

In the face of adversity, the call is clear: unite, innovate and act decisively. Only a concerted effort can help navigate the turbulent waters ahead and protect the precious resource on which all life depends. Embracing the transition does not mean depleting water resources, but rather successfully solving water-related challenges. Achieving this vision will require sustained commitment and long-term investment, highlighting the potential for this issue to span decades.



[1] United Nations World Water Development Report 2023
[2]International Water Association (2020)
[3] Global Market Insights, 2023
[4] United Nations World Water Development Report 2023
[5] European Recycling Industries Confederation (2023) and EPA (2010)
[6] According to Eurostat: the median daily water use from public supply is 40-50 cubic meters per inhabitant in Europe - Water statistics - Statistics Explained (
[7] MarketsandMarkets
[8] MarketsandMarkets
[9] United Nations, Progress on Wastewater Treatment, 2021
[10] Global Water Report 2022. Carbon Disclosure Project (2023). Available at:

  • Bastien Dublanc
    Bastien Dublanc
    Senior Portfolio Manager
  • David Czupryna
    David Czupryna, CFA 
    Senior Portfolio Manager