Flanders faced with extreme water scarcity, says global study


Belgium is in the top 25 when it comes to water scarcity, meaning it doesn’t produce enough water to meet demand

Management is key

Of 167 countries, Belgium falls 23rd in water scarcity, the third highest in Europe outside of Cyprus and San Marino. The figure comes from a new report released by the World Resources Institute.

Water scarcity, also known as water stress, is calculated using the ratio between natural water resources and demand. Belgium falls in the High Baseline Water Stress category, the second highest of the five categories.

All of the countries in the highest category are in Africa and Asia, with the exception of San Marino, a landlocked country within Italy. Qatar tops the list.

Regional differences make things even worse for Brussels, with the entire region falling into the highest category of Extremely High Baseline Water Stress. More than half of Flanders also falls into that category, including all of Flemish Brabant and most of Limburg.

According to the report, global water use has doubled since the 1960s because of overpopulation, leading to increased personal, agricultural and industrial use. Climate change is making the issue ever more serious.

We must replenish groundwater reserves, limit building projects and introduce more wells

- Professor Patrick Willems

This finding for Flanders is nothing new, according to Patrick Willems, a hydraulic engineering professor at KU Leuven. “But with climate change and the extreme drought of the past summers, we’re now only seeing its real impact.”

While Flanders’ aging population will not see the situation becoming more acute in the future, Willems still emphasises that action is needed to ensure the water supply. “We have to retain rainwater by letting it infiltrate into the soil,” he said. “That means replenishing groundwater reserves, limiting building projects and introducing more wells. Farmers also must drain less water.”

That means reusing water, which Willems also says needs to happen on a larger scale. “And we have to of course conserve water – in agriculture, industry and in households.”

The World Resource Institute also points to water management as a way to turn the situation around. “Water stress is just one dimension of water security,” reads the institute’s article based on the report. “Like any challenge, its outlook depends on management. Even countries with relatively high water stress have effectively secured their water supplies through proper management.”

Photo: James Arthur Gekiere/BELGA