A Pilot Global Assessment of Environmental Water Requirements and Scarcity uri icon

abstract

  • This paper presents a first attempt to estimate the volume of water required for the maintenance of freshwater-dependent ecosystems at the global scale. This total environmental water requirement consists of ecologically relevant low-flow and high-flow components and depends upon the objective of environmental water management. Both components are related to river flow variability and estimated by conceptual rules from discharge time series simulated by the global hydrology model. A water stress indicator is further defined, which shows what proportion of the utilizable water in world river basins is currently withdrawn for direct human use and where this use is in. conflict with environmental water requirements. The paper presents an estimate of environmental water requirements for 128 major river basins and drainage regions of the world. It is shown that approximately 20 to 50 percent Of the mean annual river flow in different basins needs to be allocated to fresh water-dependent ecosystems to maintain them in fair conditions. This is unlikely to be possible in many developing countries in Asia and North Africa, in parts of Australia, North America, and Europe, where current total direct water withdrawals (primarily for irrigation) already tap into the estimated environmental water requirements. Over 1.4 billion people currently live in river basins with high environmental water stress. This number will increase as water withdrawals grow and if environmental water allocations remain beyond the common practice in river basin management. This paper suggests that estimates of environmental water requirements should be the integral part of global water assessments and projections of global food production.

publication date

  • 2004
  • 2004
  • 2004