Water exploitation index

Indicator Fact Sheet (Deprecated)
Prod-ID: IND-11-en
Also known as: WQ 01c
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Topics: ,

Assessment made on  01 Oct 2003

Generic metadata



DPSIR: Pressure


Indicator codes
  • WQ 01c

Policy issue:  Are abstractions of water sustainable over the long term?

Key messages

  • Total water abstraction has decreased over the last decade in most regions of Europe with the exception of western southern Europe where it has been constant.

  • 18 % of Europe's population live in countries that are water stressed.


Key assessment

Abstractions for different uses exert the most significant pressure on the quantity of freshwater resources. The total water abstraction in Europe is about 353 km3;/year, which means that 10% of Europe's total freshwater resources is abstracted. The water exploitation index (WEI) in a country is the mean annual total demand for freshwater divided by the long-term average freshwater resources. It gives an indication of how the total water demand puts pressure on the water resource. It also identifies those countries that have high demand in relation to their resources and therefore are prone to suffer problems of water stress.

For this assessment, the following threshold values/ranges for the water exploitation index have been used to indicate levels of water stress: (a) non-stressed countries < 10%; (b) low stress 10 to < 20%; (c) stressed 20% to < 40%; and (d) severe water stress ≥ 40%. The threshold values/ranges above are averages and it would be expected that areas for which the water exploitation index is above 20% would also be expected to experience severe water stress during drought or low river-flow periods.

A total of 20 countries (50% of Europe's population) can be considered as nonstressed (Figure 5.3), lying mainly in central and northern Europe. Nine countries can be considered as having low water stress (32% of Europe's population). These include, Belgium, Denmark and Romania and southern countries (Greece, Portugal and Turkey). Finally, there are four countries (Cyprus, Italy, Malta and Spain) which are considered to be water stressed (18% of Europe's population). Water stressed countries can face the problem of groundwater over-abstractions and the consequent water table depletion and salt-water intrusion in coastal aquifers.

Total water abstraction decreased during the 1990s by 30% in the central accession countries and by 14% in the western central countries while in the western southern European countries it has been constant.

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
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1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100