The Water Scarcity Atlas seeks to share knowledge about water scarcity to a wider audience. This information, often available only through journal articles, has been used to develop a user friendly interface which allows users to explore how water scarcity has developed in the past and also explore how it might develop in the future. 

WASCO © Water Scarcity Atlas

It aims to share the findings of cutting edge research on water scarcity with a broader public and private sector audience.

The Atlas explores water scarcity through four key issues of concern: 

  • water stress
  • water shortage
  • altered flows
  • water sharing 

How has water scarcity developed in the past?

  • The Global Water Scarcity Atlas has a variety of functions that illustrate the situation in different regions. The app contains a full world map with data from the years 1900−2010.
  • With the app, users can explore how population and water scarcity have evolved over the years, or where water scarcity, water overconsumption, excess population or various combinations of these problems are found. The app also features detailed maps of the regions suffering from water scarcity, showing, for example, the locations of irrigation systems. 

What levels of water scarcity can we expect in the future?

  • An interactive tool explores opportunities in the food system that could alleviate water scarcity under population growth and climate change, and incorporates scenarios for domestic and industrial water use from the IIASA Water Futures and Solutions (WFaS) Initiative. Opportunities explored include promoting diets with less animal food stuffs, management of food losses, and investment in resource use efficiency by closing yield gaps.

Data and information

The app also features detailed explanations of the various concepts employed in the processing of the data and helps to see how the concepts are linked to each other. The data can be explored at the level of months or years, and all data are freely available for downloading.

About the project team

The project is led by researchers Matti Kummu and Joseph Guillaume of Aalto Unviersty, Finland. The two scientists work in close cooperation with IIASA's Water Program, who provides the data from global models for the app’s future scenarios, and a Helsinki-based startup company Lucify who is responsible for the visualization and technical implementation of the Atlas.

In their own research, Kummu and Guillaume have mostly focused on the past and on how we have ended up in the current situation. IIASA, on the other hand, has models on the future of the global water situation. “In this project, our aim is to combine the past with the future and create something that has never been done before”, Kummu explains.

The initial development of Water Scarcity Atlas website was funded by the Academy of Finland (Grant #305471) in the project “Global Water Scarcity Atlas: understanding resource pressure, causes, consequences, and opportunities (WASCO)”, 01.10.2016 – 30.09.2018. Interactive visualisations were developed with Lucify, and WordPress design and development with Mediapool.

The site is developed and maintained by the Water & Development Research Group at Aalto University, in collaboration with the Water Program at IIASA.

Text for this article was taken from: the water scarcity atlas webpage and a press release by the Academy of Finland