Difference Between Water Scarcity and Drought

Posted on 09/8/13
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Tanda dam in the outskirts of Kohat City in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province. The small dam serves as lifeline for many downstream rural communities. (Photo by Raza Khan)
Tanda dam in the outskirts of Kohat City in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province. The small dam serves as lifeline for many downstream rural communities. (Photo by Raza Khan)

Water scarcity and drought are two interrelated but distinct concepts. Despite widespread recognition of the important differences between the two concepts, there is no scientific agreement about the precise definitions of the terms water scarcity and drought;1 and due to the very similar effects of both events, water managers, the public, and the media often use the terms in an indistinct manner, says a report Global Water Forum. This lack of clarity hampers the implementation of policies and measures which can adequately deal with the drivers and pressures of the two phenomena.2,3 The definitions commonly used are also often too lengthy, have contradictions and overlaps, and do not properly explain the interrelationships between the two events (see Understanding water scarcity: Definitions and measurements).

A screening exercise of 123 River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) showed that both water scarcity and droughts are recognized as relevant issues by RBMPs across the EU. However, the exercise also showed that the analysis of water quantity aspects in many RBMPs lacks adequate foundation; the quantity data used are often insufficient; and the concepts of water scarcity and drought are not clearly distinguished.4

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