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GCSE Geography | Causes of Water Insecurity (Resource Management - Water 2)

AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas

Last updated 17 May 2024

Access to water is unequal across the globe - with many regions suffering from water insecurity.

Sources of water across the globe

Our water comes from three main sources:

  • Aquifers -this is groundwater that is stored in porous rocks below the earth's surface and is extracted by drilling boreholes of wells which bring the water to the surface (usually by a pump)
  • Reservoirs -these are artificial lakes that form when a dam has been constructed and the valley behind it flooded. They are used to store water which is then transferred to settlements nearby, both domestic, agricultural and industrial use (see image of Craig Goch Dam and Reservoir in the Elan Valley mid-Wales below, which supplies cities such as Manchester and Birmingham)
  • Rivers and lakes - water can be transferred using a network of pipelines of canals to where it is needed, or can be extracted directly by local people for domestic use, or by farmers to irrigate their land

But there are factors that affect the effectiveness of these water sources across the globe...


This is the main factor affects the availability of water across the world. Areas that are hot and dry will struggle to meet the demand for water, such as those semi-arid regions in Africa like the Sahel, where millions of people live and depend on the land for their livelihoods, and find it hard to meet their basis needs. These areas frequently suffer from drought, leading to desertification (see image below). Click here and here for more information on the causes and impacts of desertification.

But there are also hot and dry areas in HICs where the climate means that the demand for water increases, for example Las Vegas in Nevada in the USA. This city is surrounded by desert but needs huge amount of water in its many luxury hotels, as well as to keep its golf courses lush and green. In addition, states like Texas and Arizona are dominated by farming but receive little rain, so use huge amounts of water for irrigation. Finally, those living in mountainous regions tend to have plenty of water due to the high levels of rainfall that occur.

Other factors


The type of rock in an area is an important factor in regards to water security - aquifers need porous rock (water that can absorb water) - if rock is non-porous it will not be able to be a groundwater store.


There are many reasons that water becomes contaminated, including raw sewage dumped into waterways, agricultural run-off from chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and toxic chemicals from industry that haven't been disposed of properly. Water contaminated with chemicals and bacteria is unsafe for human consumption, increasing the risk of waterborne diseases, such as cholera and typhoid. In LICs many people still have to use polluted rivers for their water needs, and as a result many die premature deaths linked to a lack of access to safe water.


Over-abstraction means taking water from rivers, lakes or underground sources, at such as rate that they cannot replenish, which leads to the water table sinking, wells becoming empty and rivers and lakes drying up, such as Lake Chad in Africa which has lost 90% of its water in recent decades due to over-abstraction for irrigation.

Limited infrastructure

Many LICs have very little money invested into the infrastructure needed to provide and maintain a decent water supply, which makes collecting and delivering water difficult. Even in HICs huge amounts of water are lost, in the UK 1/5 of all water is wasted through leakage - the second biggest use of water after households. Dams and reservoirs are far too expensive so communities in LICs are often reliant on small-scale projects, such as hand pumps (such as the one in the image below), to provide them with safe water, and whilst these are really effective, they only serve a small number of people.

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