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Water scarcity and droughts

Preventing and mitigating water scarcity and droughts in the EU


Most of Europe has adequate water resources, but water scarcity and droughts are increasingly frequent and widespread in the EU. In some regions, the severity and frequency of droughts can lead to water scarcity situations. Overexploitation of available water resources can exacerbate the consequences of droughts. Further deterioration of the water resources in Europe is expected, if temperatures continue to rise as a result of climate change.

Water scarcity is a seasonal, annual or multi-annual water stress condition. It occurs when water demand frequently exceeds the sustainable supply capacity of the natural system in river basins. It can be measured as the ratio between renewable freshwater resources and water abstraction or water use. Beyond water quantity, a situation of water scarcity can also emerge from acute water quality issues, when pollution (diffuse or point source pollutions) lead to reduced clean water availability.

Droughts are a temporary decrease of the average water availability due for example to insufficient rainfall, and are considered natural phenomena. Droughts can occur anywhere in Europe, in both high and low rainfall areas, and in any season. The impact of droughts can be exacerbated when they occur in a region with low water resources or where water resources are not being properly managed. This results in imbalances between water demands and the supply capacity of the natural system.


The overall objective of EU water policy is to ensure access to good quality water in sufficient quantity for all Europeans, economic sectors and the environment, and to ensure the good status of all water bodies across Europe. Therefore, policies and actions are set up to prevent and to mitigate water scarcity and drought situations. The priority is to move towards a water-efficient and water-saving economy.

In the EU

38 %
of the EU population was affected by water scarcity in 2019
29 %
of EU territory was affected by water scarcity in 2019
€2 to 9 billion
cost of droughts each year

Laws and actions

The Water Framework Directive, adopted in 2000, provides a suitable framework to address water scarcity and drought. The directive promotes sustainable water use via the long-term protection of available water resources and the mitigation of the effects of droughts, contributing to guaranteeing a sufficient supply of good quality surface water and groundwater and protecting territorial and marine waters. EU countries implement integrated river basin management through River Basin Management Plans required by the Directive, and some have adopted Drought Management Plans for vulnerable river basins. Given that in the longer term, almost all river basins could be exposed to water scarcity and droughts, organizational and technical adaptation solutions are required.

Water quantity management is also addressed through other EU regulations

Further supporting water quantity management are the Commission proposals to revise the Urban wastewater treatment directive (UWWTD) and the Industrial Emissions Directive.

EU Member States Water Directors introduced several climate adaptation activities in the 2022-2024 Work Programme for the Common Implementation Strategy (CIS) for the Water Framework Directive and the Floods Directive. An Ad-hoc Task Group on Water Scarcity and Droughts was established, leading to technical discussions on how to improve water management in the changing climate, particularly addressing increasing droughts and water scarcity. CIS guidance and thematic documents support water quantity management

Water scarcity and droughts are recognised as a priority in the European Green Deal and are reflected as such in several major European strategies

The first EU policy on water scarcity and droughts was defined by the 2007 Communication Addressing the challenge of water scarcity and droughts in the European Union, reviewed in 2012 as part of the Blueprint for Safeguarding European Waters.

The EU also provides financial support to the Member States and other authorities to address water scarcity and droughts; more than 300 projects have been funded by the European Research and Innovation funding under Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe.




For questions about EU environmental policy, please contact Europe Direct.