Do Water Risk, Water Scarcity, and Water Stress All Mean the Same Thing?

As we move further into the 21st century, we are going to hear three terms far more frequently.  These are:

1.   Water risk

2.   Water scarcity

3.   Water stress.

What we need to know is that while they are all related, they do not mean the same thing.

Because we have already discussed water stress in another blog posting (, let's just do a quick review. In the simplest of terms, water stress occurs when the demand for water from consumers, businesses, and industry exceeds the supply of available.

This can be a chronic situation, as it is in many parts of the world, or short term. In either case, water stress can have very significant, negative implications wherever it occurs.

Now, let us look a bit closer into the other two terms:

Water Risk

This term refers to an entity or industry experiencing a water challenge. While the term generally refers to water shortages, long- or short-term, it can also refer to times when there is too much water. For instance, heavy rainfall events can cause a water risk for farmers, damaging crops, and impacting the economy in a specific area.

Additionally, a water risk can materialize when water has not been adequately treated or contains impurities which can be detrimental to public health.  More frequently, however, this term refers to businesses and business operations. Many companies and specific industries are now working to reduce their water risk. These include companies such as Coca-Cola, Nestle, as well as industries such as foodservice and food packaging. Water - and plenty of it - is necessary before these types of organizations can even open their doors.

water shortage

Water Scarcity

As the term implies, a water scarcity occurs when there is a lack of water to meet demand.  Yes, it is similar to water stress, however, water scarcity typically refers specifically to human consumption of water. According to the Pacific Institute, water scarcity, "is typically calculated as a ratio of human water consumption of available water supply in a given area." Further, the Institute goes on to say that water scarcity falls under the umbrella of water stress, because water stress “is a more inclusive and broader concept."

Their Relationships

In most cases, these three terms all relate to the same thing: water challenges of one type or another that can be short or long-term. In the past, they most frequently referred to water shortages in countries in Africa, parts of South America, and in the Middle East.

However, all of that is changing. In coming years, we can expect areas in North and Central America as well as in Europe to be experiencing periods of water stress, scarcity, as well as risk.

The Waterless Co blog is where building owners and managers find expert, practical advice on ways to reduce water consumption and to help use water more efficiently.  Our goal is to protect our most valuable of natural resources, help facilities reduce their water consumption and water-related costs, and operate in a more environmentally responsible and sustainable manner. For more information, contact us at 1-800-244-6264