WASHINGTON - The world's demand for water is likely to surge in the next few decades against the backdrop of climate change and a rapidly growing population.
Thirty-three countries, including Singapore, have been singled out as those likely to face extremely high water stress in 2040 in a report by the World Resources Institute (WRI), a think-tank in Washington.
Singapore was ranked first among the countries at the highest risk of high water stress in 2040, alongside Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, San Marino, the United Arab Emirates and the Palestinian Territories, according to the report, which evaluated 167 nations.
The ranking was based on an index measuring competition for and depletion of surface water, such as lakes and rivers, each decade from 2020 to 2040. Singapore was ranked as one of the highest risk countries in each decade.
"The good news... is countries can take actions to reduce that stress and the risk associated with how they manage water resources," said Ms Betsy Otto, director of the WRI's Global Water Programme, citing Singapore as an example of a state that uses innovative methods to manage water resources.
Singapore relies heavily on imports from neighbouring Malaysia, but has well-founded plans for enhancing future supply and self-sufficiency. Large reservoirs are found even in the country's most built-up areas and the recently built US$226 million (S$317 million) Marine Barrage is among the highlights of the nation's water management plan.
In the WRI rankings, the Middle East was identified as the least water-secure region in the world, with limited surface water and high demand. It draws heavily on groundwater and desalinated sea water, and faces "exceptional water-related challenges for the foreseeable future", the WRI report said.
One measure likely to become more common in the Middle East and elsewhere is water reuse systems that recycle waste water.
"It doesn't make a lot of sense to treat water to a potable standard, allow it to be used by households and then essentially throw it away," Ms Otto said.
Singapore has a system in place for water recycling as part of its Newater programme.
Some Middle Eastern countries already rely on desalination, a technique to remove salt from sea and groundwater. These and other highly water-stressed nations may also need to move away from producing their own food because agriculture gobbles water, Ms Otto noted.
Saudi Arabia, for example, has said its people will depend entirely on grain imports by next year.
Large economies such as the US, China and India face risks of their own, with water stress projected to remain roughly constant through 2040. However, parts of the countries - such as the south-western US and China's Ningxia province - could see water stress increase by 40 per cent to 70 per cent.
The report also highlighted water resources as a potential source of conflict, citing Syria as an example.
"With regional violence and political turmoil commanding global attention, water may seem tangential. However, drought and water shortages in Syria likely contributed to the unrest that stoked the country's 2011 civil war.
"Dwindling water resources and chronic mismanagement forced 1.5 million people, primarily farmers and herders, to lose their livelihoods and leave their land, move to urban areas, and magnify Syria's general destabilisation," the report said.
"The problem extends to other countries. Water is a significant dimension of the decades-old conflict between Palestine and Israel," it added.