Water scarcity in South Africa: a result of physical or economic factors? (2023)


"Water scarcity" refers to the abundance or non-abundance of volumetric water supplies. It is expressed as the ratio of human water use to the available water supply in a given area. It is a physical reality that can be measured consistently across regions and over time.[1]Water scarcity is driven by two factors (i) physical (physical or absolute water scarcity) or economic (economic water scarcity).

South Africa is considered a water scarce country.[2];[3];[4]This is based primarily on physical descriptors such as weather conditions and increased demand for water. This brief report examines whether the observed water shortages in South Africa can be attributed to physical or economic factors, or both.

physical scarcity of water

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO),[5]Physical water scarcity occurs when there is not enough water to meet all needs or when natural water resources are insufficient to meet the needs of a region. According to Falkenmark[6]There are four causes of physical water scarcity: (i) demand-related water shortages, (ii) population-related water shortages, (iii) climate-related water shortages, and (iv) contamination-related water shortages.

Need-based water scarcityOccurs when the demand for water is greater than the capacity of available water sources. In cases where demand is driven by population, large populations put pressure on the amount of water that is physically available, leading to per capita water shortages. this is denotedPopulation-related water scarcity🇧🇷 According to UN Water, physical water scarcity is exacerbated by rapidly growing urban areas that place severe pressure on adjacent water resources.[7]

According to FAO (2007), areas where high population densities coincide with low freshwater availability are more vulnerable to severe physical water stress. Typical examples in South Africa are the provinces of Gauteng and the Western Cape. Gauteng is estimated to receive a net immigration of 1.02 million people between 2016 and 2021.[8]According to Stats SA (2018), the province remains the main hub for international (cross-border) migrants and domestic migrants (from rural Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape).

The Western Cape is the second largest center of immigration in South Africa (ibid.). For example, Cape Town's population grew by 79% between 1995 and 2018, a growth that has not been matched by a sufficient increase in dam storage capacity (an increase of only around +15% over the same period). Population growth has led to increased demand for water at the residential level.[9]

(Video) IB Geography: Physical and economic water scarcity, droughts, water quantity and water quality

Local population growth, combined with wasteful water consumption, is putting pressure on available resources, leading to serious imbalances between demand and supply of water. For example, it is estimated that South Africans use around 237 liters of water per person per day. This is well above the world average of 173 liters per day.[10]

Climate-related water scarcityOccurs when insufficient precipitation and high evaporation create little available runoff. This leads to limited water availability. Climate-related water scarcity is exacerbated by global climate change, climate variability and recurrent droughts. As already mentioned, South Africa is considered a water scarce country. The average annual rainfall in the country is 450 mm. This is well below the world average of 860 mm per year.[11]🇧🇷 In the sense of a commonly used definition, i.e. the average of the "Total Renewable Renewable Water Resources" (DRUMS) per person per year, South Africa is already ranked 29tha193 driest country.[12]According to the Department of Communication and Information Systems, South Africa is the 30thadriest country in the world.[13]

Furthermore, it was observed that the concentration of precipitation in South Africa is spatially and temporally variable (space-time variability).spatial variability: South Africa experiences rainfall that varies significantly between its western and eastern regions. Annual rainfall in the northwest region generally remains below 200 mm, while much of the eastern Highveld receives between 500 and 900 mm (occasionally over 2000 mm) per year (Botaiand others., 2016).

Temporal variability.According to Schulze (2007), the average amount of precipitation need not necessarily be an obstacle to successful water management. In fact, you can get by with little rain and adjust your operating practices and rules accordingly once you are confident that rain will fall when needed or as expected.[14]While the amount of rainfall received may be of concern, the temporal variability of rainfall appears to be a critical dimension of water scarcity in South Africa. In addition, there are frequent droughts and the weather is unpredictable. On an annual time scale, the concentration of rainfall in South Africa has been observed to be very erratic over most of the country.

Water scarcity related to pollution: Water quality may deteriorate to the point of being unusable. In that case, water may be available but not suitable for useful purposes, leading to water scarcity. Water scarcity is not only a volumetric (quantity) problem, but also a quality problem. Hence the Rand water[quince]recognized that freshwater scarcity in South Africa is exacerbated by a sharp increase in pollutant flows into river systems from river basins. These are caused by urbanization, deforestation, wetland destruction, industry, mining, agriculture, energy use and accidental water pollution. These factors lead to a significant reduction in available water resources.

Economic scarcity of water

Economic water scarcity or social water scarcity (second order water scarcity) is caused by a lack of investment in water or a lack of human capacity to meet water needs, even in places where water is abundant. It is induced by political power, politics and/or socioeconomic relations. Symptoms include inadequate infrastructure development.

In 2006, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) The Human Development Report concluded that water scarcity is not just due to the physical availability of water, but to power imbalances, poverty and inequality.[sixteen]As a result, the FAO[17]He firmly positions water scarcity as a poverty problem, with dirty water and poor sanitation being the lot of the poor across the world.

The water scarcity observed in South Africa is not just due to physical factors. There are also economic reasons. Economic water scarcity is caused by lack of investment in infrastructure or technology to extract water from rivers, aquifers or other water sources. Furthermore, insufficient human capacity to meet water needs can exacerbate scarcity (Schulte, 2014).

Geospatial aspects of economic water scarcity

The history of apartheid geoplanning in South Africa left many rural areas without access to basic water and sanitation (Masindi & Duncker, 2016).[18]Numerous programs have been initiated since 1994 to eliminate historical spatial inequalities and socioeconomic differences.

(Video) Water Scarcity in Africa: Reasons, ways to fight it and limitations

Despite these programs, there are still large inequalities in the provision of water infrastructure between rural and urban areas. Predominantly rural provinces and small towns are characterized by a relatively high backlog of water infrastructure and low reliability of water supply. For example, Stats South Africa (2016) found that communities with the highest percentage of backwardness were generally found in the predominantly rural areas along the east coast in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, and to a lesser extent in Limpopo (See attached infrastructure backlog map🇧🇷 The highest residues are observed at Ngquza Hill (81.7%), Port St. Johns (81.3%) and Mbizana (77.8%). Municipalities like Cape Town (0.2%), Drakenstein and Saldanha Bay (both 0.5%), as well as Witzenberg and Sol Plaatjie (both 0.7%), have almost nothing to do to catch up.

In 2019, investment spreads have not changed as most rural provinces are still lagging behind.

This exposes rural households to disproportionate economic water scarcity. Likewise, the parliamentary monitoring group,[19]points out that there are great inequalities in access to drinking water and sanitation. People in rural areas, ie demographically poor African residents of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo, are particularly disadvantaged.


It turns out that the water scarcity observed in South Africa is largely due to physical causes. These are exacerbated by the impacts of global climate change, climate variability and increasing demand on available water resources.

However, the causes are not limited exclusively to physical conditions. The water scarcity observed in some parts of the country can be explained by uneven investments in water infrastructure, where geospatial differences are evident. Rural communities, small towns and rural provinces continue to be underserved. This exposes rural communities to the effects of observed national physical water stress and local economic water stress.

good luck sir

Appendix:Infrastructure Portfolio Map

Water scarcity in South Africa: a result of physical or economic factors? (1)

Waste water infrastructure data obtained from: Water Services Knowledge System (URL:www.dwa.gov.za/wsks)

(Video) Water Crisis - A short introduction

[1]Schulte, 2014. URL: https://pacinst.org/water-definitions/

[2]Müllerand others. (2009), URL: https://www.dbsa.org/EN/About-Us/Publications/Documents/DPD%20No12.%20Water%20security%20in%20South%20Africa.pdf

[3]URL: https://www.environment.gov.za/sites/default/files/docs/water.pdf

[4]URL: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2018/03/world-water-day-water-crisis-explained/


[6]Falkenmark (2007), URL: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/42765865_On_the_Verge_of_a_New_Water_Scarcity_A_Call_for_Good_Governance_and_Human_Ingenuity


[8]Stas SA (2018), URL: http://www.statssa.gov.za/?p=11331

[9]Institute of Environmental and Energy Studies. URL: https://www.eesi.org/articles/view/cape-towns-water-crisis-how-did-it-happen

(Video) Water Scarcity in Africa [Challenges in Africa - 003]

[10]South African Minister for Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation (2019), URL: http://www.dhs.gov.za/sites/default/files/speeches/budapest.pdf

[11]botaiand others. (2017).

[12]Müllerand others. (2009), URL: https://www.dbsa.org/EN/About-Us/Publications/Documents/DPD%20No12.%20Water%20security%20in%20South%20Africa.pdf

[13]Department of Communications and Information Systems (2020), URL: https://www.gov.za/about-government/government-programmes/national-water-security-2015

[14]Schulze (2007), URL: http://sarva2.dirisa.org/resources/documents/beeh/Section%2006.3%20CV%20of%20Precip.pdf

[quince]Randwasser (2017). URL: http://www.randwater.co.za/corporateresponsibility/wwe/pages/waterverschmutzung.as px

[sixteen]PNUD (2006), URL: https://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/corporate/HDR/2006%20Global%20HDR/HDR-2006-Beyond%20scarcity-Power-poverty-and-the -global-watercrisis.pdf

[17]FAO, URL: http://fao.org/3/a-aq444e.pdf

[18]Masindi & Duncker (2016), URL: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311451788_State_of_Water_and_Sanitation_in_South_Africa

(Video) South Africa's Water

[19]Parliamentary Advisory Group (2017), URL: https://pmg.org.za/committee-meeting/23868/)


What factors contribute to water scarcity in South Africa? ›

These are caused by urbanisation, deforestation, destruction of wetlands, industry, mining, agriculture, energy use, and accidental water pollution. These factors lead to the major reduction of available water resources.

What is the economic effect of water scarcity in South Africa? ›

On the social side, water scarcity adversely impacts job opportunities, farm incomes, credibility and reliability of agricultural exports, and the ability of the vulnerable to meet the cost of domestic water.

What is physical and economic water scarcity? ›

Physical scarcity occurs when the demand of the population exceeds the available water resources of a region. Economic water scarcity occurs when water is adequate, but is unavailable due to a lack of significant investment in water infrastructure (IWMI, 2000; Rijsberman, 2006).

How does Africa experience physical water scarcity? ›

Causes of Water Scarcity in Africa

Overexploitation is the main contributor to physical water scarcity. A 2018 report published by the Institute for Security Studies stated that more than 60% of South Africa's rivers are being overexploited and only one-third of the country's main rivers are in good condition.

What are the two major factors responsible for scarcity of water? ›

Major Causes of Water Scarcity

Natural calamities such as droughts and floods. Increased human consumption. Overuse and wastage of water.

What are the factors affecting water scarcity? ›

Some areas are permanently dry whereas some areas suffer dryness occasionally. Global warming is one of the major reasons behind water scarcity, it is a condition where average air temperature becomes warmer, water from rivers and lakes evaporates faster, which may lead to the drying up of water bodies.

What are the social and economic impacts of water scarcity? ›

These include high prices for water, poor sanitation and hygiene, unsafe and unclean water and inconvenient payment systems. Poor sanitation is related to stagnant water around the bore-holes and shallow wells.

What is the economic impact of scarcity? ›

Scarcity is one of the key concepts of economics. It means that the demand for a good or service is greater than the availability of the good or service. Therefore, scarcity can limit the choices available to the consumers who ultimately make up the economy.

What are the causes of economic water scarcity? ›

Economic water scarcity is due to a lack of water infrastructure in general or to the poor management of water resources where infrastructure is in place. The FAO estimates that more than 1.6 billion people face economic water shortage. In areas with economic water scarcity,…

What is the difference between physical and economic scarcity? ›

What is the difference between physical and economical resource scarcity? In the case of demand exceeding availability the term 'physical scarcity' is used, whereas 'economical scarcity' means that a resource is available in a sufficient quantity, but access is limited.

What is an example of physical water scarcity? ›

A classic example of this is the Aral Sea, which was once the world's fourth largest body of inland water but has shrunk to a fraction of its former size because of the diversion of its inflowing rivers for agricultural irrigation.

What is an example of economic water scarcity? ›

In a 2020 study led by Lorenzo Roza at the University of California, Berkeley, researchers estimated that 15% of global croplands also lack water for this reason. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan from 2014 to 2019 is one of the clearest examples of economic water scarcity.

Does Africa face physical water scarcity? ›

With one in three people facing water scarcity, the continent is contending with dangerous levels of water stress. But it also has important untapped resource potential. Well-managed water resources, both surface and underground, can help respond to Africa's existing and future needs.

What country has physical water scarcity? ›

There are 17 countries listed in the category of suffering from extremely high baseline water stress – Qatar, Israel, Lebanon, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, United Arab Emirates, San Marino, Bahrain, India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Oman and Botswana. 12 of the aforementioned countries are located ...

What are the problems of water scarcity in Africa? ›

Water scarcity is killing livestock, drying up crops and driving families from their homes in search of water. Coupled with ongoing conflict and displacement, the children and families in the Horn of Africa are at serious risk of disease, starvation and death.

What are the main drivers of water scarcity? ›

Poor Water Management and Growing Demand

Urbanisation and an exponential increase in freshwater demand for households are both driving factors behind water shortages, especially in regions with a precarious water supply.

What are the two causes of scarcity in economics? ›

Causes of Economic Scarcity

Growing demand and inadequate supply and corresponding economic shortage. Decline in supply due to economic or environmental reasons. Unequal distribution of natural resources creates a scarcity of specific resources in certain places.

Who does water scarcity impact the most? ›

Women and children are worst affected - children because they are more vulnerable to diseases of dirty water and women and girls because they often bear the burden of carrying water for their families for an estimated 200 million hours each day.

What physical factors affect water quality? ›

Disturbances such as fires, windthrow, or even debris torrents can influence stream temperature, turbidity, and other water quality parameters. Geology, geomorphology, and climate also influence water quality.

What is one physical factor affecting the supply of water? ›

Low levels of rainfall and high temperatures lead to water deficits . When rainfall is low, there is less water available.

How can water shortage be managed in South Africa? ›

Practice integrated water planning and management that ensure sustainable and equitable water access. Build water-smart cities that are connected with real-time relevant data and information that is shared widely. Ensure a collaborative and supportive governance environment to unlock synergies.

What economic activities that are associated with water? ›

Introduction. Water is a scarce natural resource. It is not only used as an input to economic activity such as irrigation, household and industrial water use, and hydropower generation, but also provides ecosystem services such as the maintenance of wetlands, wildlife support, and river flows for aquatic ecosystems.

How does water impact economic development? ›

Economic growth is a "thirsty business." Water is a vital factor of production, so diminishing water supplies translates into slower growth. Some regions could see their growth rates decline by as much as 6 percent of GDP by 2050 as a result of water-related losses in agriculture, health, income and prosperity.

Is lack of water an economic problem? ›

Severe water scarcity is already having a negative impact on the country's public health and the economy. Over 80 percent of water supplied is considered unsafe, and water scarcity and water-borne diseases are resulting in a loss of up to 1.44 percent of GDP.

What are examples of economic scarcity? ›

What are examples of scarcity?
  • Land. You can have a land scarcity when there is a shortage of land area for populations to grow food, raise livestock or develop housing and infrastructure. ...
  • Housing. ...
  • Overuse. ...
  • Commodities. ...
  • Water. ...
  • Labor. ...
  • Healthcare. ...
  • World health issues.
Apr 13, 2021

What are four economic problems under scarcity? ›

Answer: The four basic problems of an economy, which arise from the central problem of scarcity of resources are: What to produce? How to produce? For whom to produce?

What is the economic problem why does scarcity affect everyone? ›

Scarcity is the basic economic problem. It arises from the insufficiency of resources to satisfy people's wants. Scarcity is ubiquitous. Rich people face scarcity when they want more than they can buy, when they can't be in two places at once, and when, accordingly, they must choose among alternatives.

What are 3 effects of economic water scarcity? ›

The lack of water will have a domino effect on communities: local commerce declines, incomes go down, tax revenues decrease, population declines due to lack of employment opportunities, cities and the surrounding communities shrink dangerously.

How is physical water scarcity different from economic water scarcity? ›

Water scarcity occurs when there is not enough water to meet the needs of the population. Water scarcity can be physical (where there is just not enough water) or economic (where the water available isn't safe for use). Water scarcity can be caused by over-abstraction, pollution, dam construction and climate change.

What are the 3 types of scarcity in economics? ›

Scarcity falls into three distinctive categories: demand-induced, supply-induced, and structural.

What are the differences of physical water scarcity and economic water scarcity in a few short sentences? ›

Water scarcity is often divided into two categories: physical scarcity, when there is a shortage of water because of local ecological conditions; and economic scarcity, when there is inadequate water infrastructure. The two frequently come together to cause water stress.

What are examples of physical scarcity? ›

Physical Scarcity

Physical access to water is limited. When the demand outstrips the lands ability to provide the needed water you have physical scarcity. For the most part, dry parts of the world or arid regions are most often associated with physical scarcity.

Is South Africa running out of water? ›

South Africa's water scarcity still persists

Cape Town may have been able to come back from severe water shortages, but there are still parts of South Africa that are struggling with access to water. According to Times Live, dam levels in several parts of the country are continuing to decrease by about 1% each week.

How many people in Africa have water scarcity? ›

1 in 3 African citizens are impacted by water scarcity. 400 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to basic drinking water. Citizens in sub-Saharan Africa travel 30 minutes on average daily to access water.

What is the water disease in South Africa? ›

Abstract. Schistosomiasis is a serious water-borne disease of public health importance in southern Africa and is characterised by high morbidity and negative socio-economic repercussions.

How many people live in areas of physical water scarcity? ›

Half a billion people in the world face severe water scarcity all year round. Half of the world's largest cities experience water scarcity. There are 2.3 billion people who reside in nations with water scarcities, which means that each individual receives less than 1 700 m3 of water annually.

Which African countries have water scarcity? ›

Somalia, Chad and Niger appear to be the least water-secure countries in Africa. There has been little progress in national water security of most African states over the past three to five years, the report finds.

What are the causes of scarcity? ›

The causes of scarcity can be due to a number of different reasons, but there are four primary ones. Poor distribution of resources, personal perspective on resources, a rapid increase in demand, and a rapid decrease in supply are all potential scarcity causes.

What are the social impacts of water scarcity in South Africa? ›

On the social side, water scarcity adversely impacts job opportunities, farm incomes, credibility and reliability of agricultural exports, and the ability of the vulnerable to meet the cost of domestic water.

What are 3 economic impacts of drought? ›

Here are just a few different examples of economic impacts: Farmers may lose money if a drought destroys their crops. If a farmer's water supply is too low, the farmer may have to spend more money on irrigation or to drill new wells. Ranchers may have to spend more money on feed and water for their animals.

What are the consequences of water scarcity in Africa? ›

Water scarcity is killing livestock, drying up crops and driving families from their homes in search of water. Coupled with ongoing conflict and displacement, the children and families in the Horn of Africa are at serious risk of disease, starvation and death.

What are three economic effects? ›

It also discusses the following factors that affect productivity: (1) the rate of capital formation and technological changes, (2) labor resources, and (3) the cost of energy.

What are two economic impacts of floods? ›

Loss of livelihoods, reduction in purchasing power and loss of land value in the floodplains can leave communities economically vulnerable. Floods can also traumatise victims and their families for long periods of time.


1. Water Scarcity Explained
(Alex Johnson)
2. Challenges Africa faces with regards to eradicate water scarcity - NWU Business School Bon Bons
(NWU Business School)
3. Explained | World's Water Crisis | FULL EPISODE | Netflix
4. Water Crisis In Africa
(CES Graphic Media)
5. Factors affecting Settlement Patterns- Geoecologist-UPSC
6. Coping with Global Water Scarcity
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Ray Christiansen

Last Updated: 05/31/2023

Views: 5967

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (49 voted)

Reviews: 80% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Ray Christiansen

Birthday: 1998-05-04

Address: Apt. 814 34339 Sauer Islands, Hirtheville, GA 02446-8771

Phone: +337636892828

Job: Lead Hospitality Designer

Hobby: Urban exploration, Tai chi, Lockpicking, Fashion, Gunsmithing, Pottery, Geocaching

Introduction: My name is Ray Christiansen, I am a fair, good, cute, gentle, vast, glamorous, excited person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.