The UN has urged world leaders to rethink water policies or face a 40 per cent shortfall in just 15 years.
A combination of low underwater reserves and erratic rainfall patterns caused by climate change, has brought the problem to the fore according to a report which stresses how water resources are essential to achieving global sustainability.
These factors are compounded by the fact that the world's population is growing, and expected to reach 9 billion in 2050.
The UN's annual World Water Development report predicts that as reserves dwindle, global water demand will increase 55 per cent by 2050. If current usage does not change, the world will have only 60% of the water it needs in 2030, it said.
If this became a reality, the consequences would be catastrophic. Crops could fail, ecosystems could break down, industries could collapse, disease and poverty could worsen, and violent conflicts over access to water could become more frequent.
"Unless the balance between demand and finite supplies is restored, the world will face an increasingly severe global water deficit,” the document released two days before World Water Day reads.
It goes on to note that more efficient use could guarantee enough supply in the future.
The report urges politicians and communities to rethink water policies, and consider making a greater effort to conserve water.
A wastewater system similar to that used in Singapore – developed due to the fact the small island is densely populated -could be adopted, the report suggested.
In many nations water use is unregulated and often wasteful, while the pollution of water can be ignored and unpunished.
In India, for example, at least 80 per cent of the country's population drinks groundwater to avoid bacteria-infested surface waters.
The report went on the caution leaders not to reply on economic growth to solve the problem that around 748 million people worldwide have poor access to clean drinking water.