Water Surplus Countries

11 April 2011 FDI Team


The information collated by organisations such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecast grave situations for future water supply. By 2050, it is predicted that 15 per cent of the world’s countries will be experiencing water deficiency, most of which are in the Middle East and North Africa region. There are, however, still many countries with an abundance of water. Water redistribution can occur in various ways, including water shipping, water management and virtual water trade. Water availability for the future rests upon good management of the water we have now. 


A good starting point is to determine what constitutes a water surplus country. When water availability in a country exceeds the water requirements for food production and domestic use, the country can be viewed as being in water surplus. The definition held by international hydrological scientist Dr Malin Falkenmark1which will be used as the basis for this paper, suggests that a water surplus country is one which has more than 1,300 cubic metres of water available for food production and domestic use (total available renewable water resources) per capita per year.  

1Falkenmark, M., Rockström, J. & Karlberg, L., 2009, ‘Present and future water requirements for feeding humanity’, Food Security, Vol. 1, pp. 56-59.

Total available renewable water resources(TARWR) is an index used to portray the water resources that are available for development from all sources in a particular country. This includes surface water runoff, groundwater recharge from precipitation and external flow. It also takes into account the portion of water allotted to a country from water resources shared internationally. The volume is expressed in cubic kilometres per year unless it is

divided by the nation’s population, in which case it is expressed in cubic metres per capita per year.  

Although this requirement is helpful in understanding water volumes available to each country, it does not take into account water quality or water accessibility. Further, it does not take into account the fact that some countries, although technically enjoying water surplus, may be undergoing water stress due to high water usage rates. The definition also does not take into account that there could be significant differences within the one country, where some areas enjoy water surpluses while other regions experience deficits. Recognising these limitations, the definition nonetheless provides a good benchmark in determining water surplus or deficit countries. 

Water surplus countries have certain geographical, management and water usage characteristics that provide useful parameters in determining how countries can remain, or become, water surplus countries.

Water surplus regions have geographical characteristics such as good rainfall resulting in good run off, aquifers, large bodies of freshwater sources (lakes, rivers etc), and low evaporation rates (due to humidity or low flow rate of fresh air, cold water evaporates slower). 

Water surplus regions also have management characteristics such as effective water management ensuring against water pollution, premium water quality and fair treaties and agreements for shared water resources. 

In addition, these water surplus regions have water usage characteristics such as low population and effective usage of available water supplies. These geographical, management and usage characteristics are shared by most, but not all, regions of water surplus.

Water Surplus Countries at Present

Countries with water surpluses are generally located in South America, North America, Northern Europe (including Russia), South East Asia and Australasia.

Most countries with water deficits are located in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and Central Asia. 

Currently, 166 countries enjoy a water surplus. Of these, 62 countries could be viewed as having an abundance of water with 10,000 cubic metres per capita per year – more than seven times the per capita basic requirements. Seven countries have in excess of 100,000 cubic metres per capita per year: Republic of the Congo, French Guiana, Greenland, Guyana, Iceland, Papua New Guinea and Suriname. 

As the richest in TARWR, Greenland has 10,578,950 cubic metres per capita per year and far exceeds the water surplus threshold. 


Prediction for 2050: Countries Experiencing Water Surplus

A prediction from the Special Report on Emission Scenarios published in 2001 by the IPCC says that by 2050, 34 countries, or 15 per cent of the globe’s countries, will be experiencing water deficiency – five more water deficit countries than there are presently. 

On top of that, an additional five countries could be considered vulnerable or borderline because they will have 1,300 to 1,700 cubic metres per person per annum (see countries shaded yellow in the map below). Any increase in population unaccounted for in population projections, coupled with a lack of development in water productivity, would see those countries experiencing water deficiency. These water deficient countries are largely in Africa’s North, Central Asia and Southern Asia.

In 2050, the following countries will have in excess of 10,000 cubic metres per person, per annum.

Text Box: • Argentina 13;10;9;13;10;• Denmark 13;10;9;13;10;• Panama 13;10;13;10;13;10;• Australia 13;10;9;13;10;• Finland 13;10;9;13;10;• Papua New Guinea 13;10;13;10;13;10;• Bolivia 13;10;9;13;10;• French Guiana 13;10;9;13;10;• Paraguay 13;10;13;10;13;10;• Botswana 13;10;9;13;10;• Gabon 13;10;9;13;10;• Russia 13;10;13;10;13;10;• Burma 13;10;9;13;10;• Guyana 13;10;9;13;10;• Senegal 13;10;13;10;13;10;• Brazil 13;10;9;13;10;• Ivory Coast 13;10;9;13;10;• Suriname 13;10;13;10;13;10;• Canada 13;10;9;13;10;• Kazakhstan 13;10;9;13;10;• Sweden 13;10;13;10;13;10;• Central African Republic 13;10;9;13;10;• Mongolia 13;10;9;13;10;• Uruguay 13;10;13;10;13;10;• Colombia 13;10;9;13;10;• Namibia 13;10;9;13;10;• Venezuela 13;10;13;10;13;10;• Republic of the Congo 13;10;9;13;10;• New Zealand 13;10;9; 13;10;13;10;• Costa Rica 13;10;9;13;10;• Norway 13;10;9;


Water Surplus Countries in 2050

 The map illustrates in green the number of countries in 2050 facing water surpluses (>1,300 cubic metres per capita per year) and, in orange/red, countries facing deficits (<1,300 cubic metres per capita per year). Falkenmark et al. 2009.

Characteristics of Water Surplus Regions

South America

South America could be considered the world’s most water-rich region. The continent receives 28,584 cubic kilometres metres in precipitation annually. It holds 28.8 per cent of the world’s freshwater sources. It has 32,165 cubic metres per capita per year of internal renewable freshwater resources.2

2FAO Aquastat, 2011, ‘Freshwater Availability – Precipitation and Internal Renewable Water Resources (IRWR)’ from < https://www.fao.org/nr/aquastat>.

3Jones, J.A.A., & Scarpati, O.E., 2007, ‘Water resources issues in South America’ in GeoJournal, Vol. 70, No. 4, pp. 227-331.

South America has naturally stable river flows not prone to flooding. South America is relatively free of natural disasters such as monsoons and hurricanes due to its latitudinal positioning. South America is, however, affected by ice/snow melts and the El Niño-Southern oscillation.3

North America

North America receives 13,726 cubic kilometres of precipitation per year. It has 13,401 cubic metres per capita per year of internal renewable freshwater resources.  North America holds 14.1 per cent of the world’s freshwater resources (FAO Aquastat).

The far north-western area of North America is sparsely populated and rich in water resources with a large number of small dams, particularly in Alaska. Other areas in North America, such as the South and West, are heavily dependent on limited groundwater and surface water resources. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the agricultural region (North America’s Midwest) is dependent on rain water and irrigation.

Southern and Eastern Asia

Southern and Eastern Asia receives 24,107 cubic kilometres in precipitation per year. It has an internal renewable water resource of 3,155 cubic metres per capita per year. It holds 27.1 per cent of the world’s freshwater resources (FAO Aquastat).

Indonesia constitutes six per cent of the world water resources. Indonesia experiences a humid tropical climate and therefore receives high rainfall. The country is very large and so there is much variation between islands (FAO Aquastat).


Australasia receives 4,598 cubic kilometres in precipitation per year. It holds 32,366 cubic metres per capita per year. Australasia has 1.9 percent of the world’s freshwater resources (FAO Aquastat). 


Northern Europe and Russia

Northern Europe receives 1,150 cubic kilometres in precipitation per year. It has an internal renewable water resource of 3,999 cubic metres per capita per year. It holds 4.9 per cent of the world’s freshwater resources (FAO Aquastat).

Russia receives 7,865 cubic kilometres in precipitation per year. It has an internal renewable water resource of 30,503 cubic metres per capita per year. It holds ten per cent of the world’s freshwater resources (FAO Aquastat).

Water Surplus and its Possible Uses 


Water surplus countries could consider exporting water to water deficit countries as a possible solution in utilising the surplus water. This, of course, is dependent on the wealth of the water deficit country as to whether it is monetarily possible.This could increase the ease in which water may be traded with countries experiencing water deficit. Water shipping is currently being tried by companies in the United States, such as S2C Global Systems and Natural Resources Corporation. 

Water shipping companies are able to modify crude oil vessels and associated infrastructure (such as loading/unloading offshore systems, moorings, sub-sea pipelines etc). Through using existing infrastructure to ship water, water shipping companies drastically cut costs. 

Water shipping is dependent on a number of factors. Appropriate ports are necessary for shipping. Further, the shipping needs to be economically viable. In 2008 Turkey had plans to ship water to Israel, Tunisia and Libya but it was postponed due to high oil prices, rendering the expedition economically unviable. At present, water shipping remains a small-scale enterprise with large class vessels holding 189 million litres of water. The volume of water that can be shipped is usually curtailed by supply constraints. For example, S2C Global is restricted in the volume of water it ships to less than one per cent of California’s yearly allotment.

Virtual Water Trade

Countries with insufficient water to support domestic agricultural development could invest in virtual water imports. Virtual water is a measure of how much water was involved in the production of a particular product or service. For example, 1,000 litres of water is used to produce one kilogram of wheat. Virtual water is also known as embedded water, hidden water or embodied water. The term is used in conjunction with trade.

Interesting facts come to the fore when comparing the map below with the projected water surpluses and deficits of 2050. Countries such as China, India, and Tunisia are currently major virtual water exporters. However, this may not be possible in 2050 due to projected water deficits. Countries such as Finland, Sweden, Indonesia and the United Kingdom are currently importing virtual water. These countries, however, are projected to have water surpluses in 2050. 

A readjustment of the virtual water trade would be beneficial so that countries facing water deficits imported virtual water, while countries facing water surpluses made use of their surplus by increasing their agricultural production and exporting virtual water. What the virtual trade statistics demonstrate is that virtual imports are lower in countries already experiencing deficits. By increasing food imports, these countries could be turned into water surplus countries. Agriculture represents 70 per cent of global freshwater. In the developing world, approximately 95 percent of freshwater is used for agriculture.4

4World Water Assessment Programme, 2009, Third United Nations World Water Development Report: Water in a Changing World. <www.unesco.org/water/wwap>.


Net Global Virtual Water Trade



National virtual water balances related to the international trade of products. Period 1997-2001. Net exporters are shown in green and net importers in red. Source: Water Footprint Network.


Efforts could be applied to further increase water surpluses so that there might be more to share and utilise. This can be done by an increase in water productivity and efficiency through technological advancement. Irrigation of agriculture, for instance, has been made more efficient by minimising water use through technological advancements such as drip irrigation. There are other agricultural advancements that could be made more widespread, such as the vertical gardens currently being used in the Netherlands.  



Water Management


Water management would be very effective if a water surplus country were located near a water deficit country. Possibilities for water management include diversion, damming, transfer of water among basins, and pipelines.


The damming of transnational rivers can be used to provide water deficit countries with water resources. The International Rivers lobby group claims that over 50,000 dams are in use in more than half of the earth’s major rivers.

Major rivers such as the Nile, Mekong, Yangtze, Ganges and Brahmaputra already have extensive dam networks in place that can be used for the benefit of water deficit countries.

The River Nile and its Riparian States

The River Nile has ten riparian states5including: Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda. The Nile Basin Initiative is a partnership of these states to monitor the water’s uses and distribution. The Nile is sourced mainly by the two tributaries, White Nile (Lake Victoria) and Blue Nile (Lake Tana in Ethiopia).

5Riparian states are states which have a portion of a shared river located within their boundaries. 


Egypt uses 75 per cent of the Nile water (55.5 billion cubic metres of water per annum), compared with 11 per cent for Sudan and one per cent for Ethiopia, and the remaining 13 per cent amongst Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, DR Congo, and Uganda.

The Nile has a number of dams. Sudan’s Roseires Dam stores 3.7 billion cubic metres and provides irrigation water for the Gezira Plain. The Sennar Dam, also in Sudan, is 3,025 metres long, with a height of 40 metres. It provides water for crop irrigation in the Al Jazirah region. 

Pipelines and Canals

Pipelines and canals provide opportunities for water management that can be used to redirect surplus water into areas experiencing water deficit.

Source: Nile Basin Initiative, 2011.

Also in Egypt, the Toshka Project, which is due to be completed in 2020, involves redirecting water from the River Nile to create a second Nile Valley in Egypt’s south through irrigation. It will increase the habitable land of Egypt from five per cent to 25 per cent and create new jobs and a new urban centre.

A vast system of canals and pipelines is being developed to transport water from Lake Nasser into the Western Desert of Egypt. To pump the water through these canals and pipelines, the Mubarak Pumping Station was built. Its innovative design enables it to have a discharge capacity of 1.2 million cubic metres per hour. The Toshka Project uses ten per cent of Egypt’s River Nile water allotment.

Water Diversion

Water diversion is also referred to as artificial storage and recovery. It involves diverting surface waters into percolation basins, infiltration lagoons, ditches, or recharge pits to revive aquifers. It makes use of water that would otherwise evaporate as surface water or be drained into the salt oceans. 


By 2050, according to Dr Falkenmark, 83 per cent of the world’s countries will still be enjoying a surplus in water. There are options available to countries to readjust how they are currently managing and using the water resources available to them. There may be, however, many difficulties in implementing those possibilities. For instance, management of transnational river flows requires the co-operation and fairness of all countries involved. In shipping, there are ethical issues that need to be considered regarding the commodification of water. Given the significant amount of water consumed by the agricultural sector, any readjustments to agricultural trade policy could have a significant impact on countries’ domestic situations. 

Despite these difficulties, it is encouraging to note that the Earth holds an adequate amount of freshwater. Good management of today’s available water resources is vital for future global water availability. 




Nicole Bosveld


Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme

Any opinions or views expressed in this paper are those of the individual author, unless stated to be those of Future Directions International.


Any opinions or views expressed in this paper are those of the individual author, unless stated to be those of Future Directions International.

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