World Economic Forum survey: water crises a top global risk

A World Economic Forum survey periodically asks experts about dozens of risks confronting the globe. In recent surveys, “water crises” have been at or near the top of global risks. The graphic below summarizes the latest findings, released in January 2016.


The World Economic Forum provides a number of infographics that summarize the survey. I’ve collected some water-related visuals in a PowerPoint that’s available for download at the bottom of this post. Here’s a video summarizing the 2016 survey:

Survey methodology

Most of the surveys covered here on gauge public opinion, but the World Economic Forum’s study focuses on experts. Here’s how they describe the 742 interviewees:

Respondents are drawn from across four sectors: public, private, civil society and academia. The sample, as in the past, shows a very even distribution across geographies. A quarter of the respondents were aged under 25, factoring in the voice of youth. About 30% of respondents are from Europe, followed by 17% from North America and the rest from the rest of world. Moreover, 55% of respondents come from advanced economies and 45% from emerging and developing economies.

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The World Economic Forum defines “water crises” as a “significant decline in the available quality and quantity of fresh water, resulting in harmful effects on human health and/or economic activity.” Although the definition focuses solely on impacts on humans and doesn’t include effects on ecosystems, the World Economic Forum notes that water crises are part of a set of “slow-burning environmental and societal risks” that have been “taking over” top spots in the survey since 2011, as shown in the graphic below.

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Water crises are deeply intertwined with other risks

One interesting feature of WEF’s analysis is the ability to see how the threats relate to one another in an interconnections map that shows how water is related to many of the other risks. As you can see in the graphic below, water is connected to a wide range of other risks, including food crises, spread of infectious diseases, extreme weather events, social instability, and more.

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The World Economic Forum’s website has a ton of great info. I’ve pulled out some of the water-related data visualizations and assembled them in this PowerPoint:

PowerPoint_2013_logo San Diego County Water Authority polling aggregates, analyzes, and visualizes public opinion data on water-related issues. Stay informed via Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, RSS, and email.