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Water map shows billions at risk of ‘water insecurity’

September 30, 2010

From the BBC

About 80% of the world’s population lives in areas where the fresh water supply is not secure, according to a new global analysis.

Researchers compiled a composite index of “water threats” that includes issues such as scarcity and pollution.

The most severe threat category encompasses 3.4 billion people.

Writing in the journal Nature, they say that in western countries, conserving water for people through reservoirs and dams works for people, but not nature.

They urge developing countries not to follow the same path.

Instead, they say governments should to invest in water management strategies that combine infrastructure with “natural” options such as safeguarding watersheds, wetlands and flood plains.

The analysis is a global snapshot, and the research team suggests more people are likely to encounter more severe stress on their water supply in the coming decades, as the climate changes and the human population continues to grow.

They have taken data on a variety of different threats, used models of threats where data is scarce, and used expert assessment to combine the various individual threats into a composite index.

The result is a map that plots the composite threat to human water security and to biodiversity in squares 50km by 50km (30 miles by 30 miles) across the world.

Changing pictures

“What we’ve done is to take a very dispassionate look at the facts on the ground – what is going on with respect to humanity’s water security and what the infrastructure that’s been thrown at this problem does to the natural world,” said study leader Charles Vorosmarty from the City College of New York.

“What we’re able to outline is a planet-wide pattern of threat, despite the trillions of dollars worth of engineering palliatives that have totally reconfigured the threat landscape.”

Those “trillions of dollars” are represented by the dams, canals, aqueducts, and pipelines that have been used throughout the developed world to safeguard drinking water supplies.

Their impact on the global picture is striking.

From the BBC

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