Chapter 7 Fresh Water - Millennium Assessment...the environment. Inorganic nitrogen pollution of inland waterways, for example, has increased substantially, with nitrogen loads transported - [PDF Document] (2024)


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  • Chapter 7 Fresh Water - Millennium Assessment...the environment. Inorganic nitrogen pollution of inland waterways, for example, has increased substantially, with nitrogen loads transported


Chapter 7 Fresh Water Coordinating Lead Authors: Charles J. Vo ¨ro ¨smarty, Christian Le ´ve ˆque, Carmen Revenga Lead Authors: Robert Bos, Chris Caudill, John Chilton, Ellen M. Douglas, Michel Meybeck, Daniel Prager Contributing Authors: Patricia Balvanera, Sabrina Barker, Manuel Maas, Christer Nilsson, Taikan Oki, Cathy A. Reidy Review Editors: Frank Rijsberman, Robert Costanza, Pedro Jacobi Main Messages ............................................. 167 7.1 Introduction to Fresh Water as a Provisioning Service ........... 168 7.1.1 Fresh Water in the MA Context 7.1.2 Setting the Stage 7.2 Distribution, Magnitude, and Trends in the Provision of Fresh Water ............................................... 170 7.2.1 Available Water Supplies for Humans 7.2.2 Water Use 7.2.3 The Notion of Water Scarcity 7.2.4 Environmental Flows for Ecosystems 7.2.5 Water Quality 7.3 Drivers of Change in the Provision of Fresh Water .............. 181 7.3.1 Population Growth and Development 7.3.2 Managed Water Supplies 7.3.3 Land Use and Land Cover Change 7.3.4 Climate Change and Variability 7.3.5 Urbanization 7.3.6 Industrial Development 7.4 Consequences for Human Well-being of Changes in the Provision of Fresh Water ......................................... 190 7.4.1 Freshwater Provision: Benefits and Investment Requirements 7.4.2 Consequences of Water Scarcity 7.4.3 The Cost and Pricing of Water Delivery 7.4.4 Consequences of Too Much Water: Floods 7.4.5 Consequences of Poor Water Quality on Human Health 7.5 Trade-offs in the Contemporary Use of Freshwater Resources ...... 197 REFERENCES .............................................. 201 165

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Chapter 7 Fresh Water - Millennium Assessment...the environment. Inorganic nitrogen pollution of inland waterways, for example, has increased substantially, with nitrogen loads transported - [PDF Document] (3)

Chapter 7

Fresh Water

Coordinating Lead Authors: Charles J. Vorosmarty, Christian Leveque, Carmen RevengaLead Authors: Robert Bos, Chris Caudill, John Chilton, Ellen M. Douglas, Michel Meybeck, Daniel PragerContributing Authors: Patricia Balvanera, Sabrina Barker, Manuel Maas, Christer Nilsson, Taikan Oki, Cathy

A. ReidyReview Editors: Frank Rijsberman, Robert Costanza, Pedro Jacobi

Main Messages . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 167

7.1 Introduction to Fresh Water as a Provisioning Service . . . . . . . . . . . 1687.1.1 Fresh Water in the MA Context7.1.2 Setting the Stage

7.2 Distribution, Magnitude, and Trends in the Provision of FreshWater . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1707.2.1 Available Water Supplies for Humans7.2.2 Water Use7.2.3 The Notion of Water Scarcity7.2.4 Environmental Flows for Ecosystems7.2.5 Water Quality

7.3 Drivers of Change in the Provision of Fresh Water . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1817.3.1 Population Growth and Development7.3.2 Managed Water Supplies7.3.3 Land Use and Land Cover Change7.3.4 Climate Change and Variability7.3.5 Urbanization7.3.6 Industrial Development

7.4 Consequences for Human Well-being of Changes in the Provisionof Fresh Water . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1907.4.1 Freshwater Provision: Benefits and Investment Requirements7.4.2 Consequences of Water Scarcity7.4.3 The Cost and Pricing of Water Delivery7.4.4 Consequences of Too Much Water: Floods7.4.5 Consequences of Poor Water Quality on Human Health

7.5 Trade-offs in the Contemporary Use of Freshwater Resources . . . . . . 197

REFERENCES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 201

PAGE 165


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166 Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Current State and Trends


7.1 Operational Definitions of Key Terms on Fresh Water

7.2 Ministerial Declaration from the 2nd World Water Forum

7.3 Uncertainties in Estimates of Contemporary FreshwaterServices, Use, and Scarcity

7.4 Virtual Water Content Associated with African Food Supply

7.5 Defining Improved Water Supply and Sanitation


7.1 Global Renewable Water Supply as River Discharge andPopulations Dependent on Accessible Runoff at Point ofOrigin*

7.2 Cumulative Distribution of Population with Respect toFreshwater Services, 1995–2000

7.3 Contemporary Geography of Non-sustainable Withdrawalsfor Irrigation*

7.4 Managing for Environmental Flows: Contrasts amongNatural, Reservoir-affected, and Reconstituted RiverDischarge Regimes

7.5 Contrast between Mid-1990s and Pre-disturbance Transportsof Total Nitrogen through Inland Aquatic Systems Resultingfrom Anthropogenic Acceleration of This Nutrient Cycle*

7.6 Global Summary of Inorganic Nitrogen Transport byContemporary Rivers

7.7 Ranking of Globally Significant Water Quality Issues Affectingthe Provision of Freshwater Services for Water ResourceEnd Uses

7.8 Time Series of Intercepted Continental Runoff and LargeReservoir Storage, 1900–2000

7.9 Net Inter-regional Trade in Major Crops Expressed asEmbodied or ‘‘Virtual’’ Water Expended in Production ofThese Agricultural Commodities, 1995–99

7.10 Percentage of Cropland Area by River Basin*

7.11 Percentage Urban and Industrial Land Use by River Basin*

*This appears in Appendix A at the end of this volume.

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7.12 Time Series of Renewable Water Supply across the GlobalLandmass since 1920

7.13 Proportion of Population with Improved Drinking WaterSupply, 2002*

7.14 Proportion of Population with Improved Sanitation Coverage,2002*

7.15 Trade-off Analysis, Depicting Major Interventions andConsequences on Condition of Ecosystems andDevelopment Goals


7.1 Major Storages Associated with the Contemporary GlobalWater System

7.2 Estimates of Renewable Water Supply, Access to RenewableSupplies, and Population Served by the Provision ofFreshwater Services, Year 2000 Condition

7.3 Freshwater Services Tabulated as Withdrawals for HumanUse over MA Regions and the World, 1995–2000

7.4 Consumptive and Non-sustainable Freshwater Use over MARegions and the World, 1995–2000

7.5 Indicators of Freshwater Provisioning Services and TheirHistorical and Projected Trends, 1960–2010

7.6 Data Assessment of Existing Monitoring Programs Worldwide

7.7 Continental-scale Assessment of Major Water Quality Issues

7.8 Annual Transfer of Virtual and Real Water through GlobalTrade of Cereal and Meat Commodities, 2000

7.9 Brief Overview of Hydrologic Consequences Associated withMajor Classes of Land Cover and Use Change

7.10 Selected Water-Related Diseases

7.11 Access to Clean Water and Sanitation

7.12 Regional Progress toward the MDG Sanitation Goal

7.13 Major Objectives Optimized in Experiments to Discern theCompatibility of Development Goals and InternationalConventions

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167Fresh Water

Main Messages

Global freshwater use is estimated to expand 10% from 2000 to 2010,down from a per decade rate of about 20% between 1960 and 2000. Theserates reflect population growth, economic development, and changes inwater use efficiency. Projections that this trend will continue have a highdegree of certainty. Contemporary water withdrawal is approximately 3,600cubic kilometers per year globally or 25% of the continental runoff to which themajority of the population has access during the year. If dedicated instreamuses for navigation, waste processing, and habitat management are consid-ered, humans then use and regulate over 40% of renewable accessible sup-plies. Regional variations from differential development pressures andefficiency changes during 1960–2000 produced increases in water use of 15–32% per decade.

Four out of every five people live downstream of, and are served by,renewable freshwater services, representing 75% of the total supply. Be-cause the distribution of fresh water is uneven in space and time, more than 1billion people live under hydrologic conditions that generate no appreciablesupply of renewable fresh water. An additional 4 billion (65% of world popula-tion) is served by only 50% of total annual renewable runoff that is positionedin dry to only moderately wet conditions, with concomitant pressure on thatresource base. Only about 15% live with relative water abundance.

Forest and mountain ecosystems serve as source areas for the largestamounts of renewable freshwater supply—57% and 28% of total runoff,respectively. These ecosystems each provide renewable water supplies to atleast 4 billion people, or two thirds of the global population. Cultivated andurban ecosystems generate only 16% and 0.2%, respectively, of global runoff,but because of their close proximity to human settlements, they serve 4–5billion people. Such proximity is also associated with nutrient and industrialwater pollution.

From 5% to possibly 25% of global freshwater use exceeds long-termaccessible supply. Overuse implies delivery of freshwater servicesthrough engineered water transfers or nonrenewable groundwater sup-plies that are currently being depleted. Much of this water is used for irriga-tion with irretrievable losses in water-scarce regions. All continents recordoveruse. In the relatively dry Middle East and North Africa, non-sustainableuse is exacerbated, with current rates of freshwater use equivalent to 115% oftotal renewable runoff. In addition, possibly one third of all withdrawals comefrom nonrenewable sources, a condition driven mainly by irrigation demand.Crop production requires enormous quantities of fresh water; consequently,many countries that aim at self-sufficiency in food production have entrenchedpatterns of water scarcity. Alternatively, crops can be traded on global foodmarkets, with some countries accruing substantial benefits from importing ‘‘vir-tual water’’ that would otherwise be required domestically to irrigate crops.

The water requirements of aquatic ecosystems in the context of expand-ing human freshwater use results in competition for the same resources.Changes in flow regime, transport of sediments and chemical pollutants, modi-fication of habitat, and disruption of migration routes of aquatic biota are someof the key consequences of this competition. In many parts of the world, com-petition for fresh water has produced impacts that fully extend to the coastalzone, with effects including oxygen depletion, coastal erosion, and harmfulalgal blooms. Through consumptive use and interbasin transfers, several ofthe world’s largest rivers (the Nile, the Yellow, and the Colorado in the UnitedStates) have been transformed into highly stabilized and in some cases sea-sonally nondischarging river channels.

PAGE 167

The supply of fresh water continues to be reduced by severe pollutionfrom anthropogenic sources in many parts of the world. Over the pasthalf-century, there has been an accelerated release of artificial chemicals intothe environment. Inorganic nitrogen pollution of inland waterways, for example,has increased substantially, with nitrogen loads transported by the global sys-tem of rivers rising more than twofold over the preindustrial state. Increases ofmore than tenfold are recorded across many industrialized regions of the world.Many anthropogenic chemicals are long-lived and transformed into by-productswhose behaviors, synergies, and impacts are for the most part unknown asyet. As a consequence of pollution, the ability of ecosystems to provide cleanand reliable sources of fresh water is impaired. Severe deterioration in thequality of fresh water is magnified in cultivated and urban systems (high use,high pollution sources) and dryland systems (high demand for flow regulation,absence of dilution potential).

The demand for reliable sources of fresh water and flood control hasencouraged engineering practices that have compromised the sustain-ability of inland water systems and their provision of freshwater services.Prolific dam-building (45,000 large dams and possibly 800,000 smaller ones)has generated both positive and negative effects. Positive effects on humanwell-being have included flow stabilization for irrigation, flood control, drinkingwater, and hydroelectricity. Negative effects have included fragmentation anddestruction of habitat, loss of species, health issues associated with stagnantwater, and loss of sediments and nutrients destined to support coastal ecosys-tems and fisheries.

Water scarcity is a globally significant and accelerating condition for 1–2billion people worldwide, leading to problems with food production,human health, and economic development. A high degree of uncertaintysurrounds these estimates, and defining water scarcity merits substantial fur-ther analysis in order to support sound water policy formulation and manage-ment. Rates of increase in a key water scarcity measure—water use relativeto accessible supply—from 1960 to present averaged nearly 20% per decadeglobally, with values of 15% to more than 30% per decade for individual conti-nents. Inequalities in level of economic development, education, and gover-nance result in differences in coping capacity for water scarcity.

The annual burden of disease from inadequate water, sanitation, and hy-giene totals 1.7 million deaths and the loss of at least 50 million healthylife years. Some 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water and 2.6billion lack access to basic sanitation. Investments in drinking water supply andsanitation show a close correspondence with improvement in human healthand economic productivity. Each person needs only 20 to 50 liters of waterfree of harmful contaminants each day for drinking and personal hygiene tosurvive, yet there remain substantial challenges to providing this basic serviceto large segments of the human population. Half of the urban population inAfrica, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean suffers from one or morediseases associated with inadequate water and sanitation.

The state of freshwater resources is inadequately monitored, hinderingthe development of indicators needed by decision-makers to assessprogress toward national and international development commitments.Substantial deterioration of hydrographic networks is occurring throughout theworld, increasing the difficulty of making an accurate assessment of globalfreshwater resources. The same is true for groundwater monitoring, standardwater quality monitoring, and freshwater biological indicators. New techniquesmake it possible to identify literally thousands of chemicals, including long-livedsynthetic pharmaceuticals, in freshwater resources. But universal applicationof these techniques is lacking, and there are no systematic epidemiologicalstudies to understand their impact on long-term human well-being.

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168 Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Current State and Trends

Trade-offs in meeting the Millennium Development Goals and other inter-national commitments are inevitable. It is very certain that the condition ofinland waters and coastal ecosystems has been compromised by the conven-tional sectoral approach to water management, which, if continued, will jeopar-dize human well-being. In contrast, the implementation of the establishedecosystem-based approaches adopted by the Convention on Biological Diver-sity, the Convention on Wetlands, the Food and Agriculture Organization, andothers could substantially improve the future condition of water-provisioningservices by balancing economic development, ecosystem conservation, andhuman well-being objectives.

7.1 Introduction to Fresh Water as a ProvisioningServiceThis chapter provides a picture of the recent history and contem-porary state of global freshwater provisioning services. It docu-ments a growing dependence of human populations on theseservices, which has resulted in a variety of activities aimed at stabi-lizing and delivering water supplies. So effective has been the abil-ity of water management to influence the state of this resource, interms of both its physical availability and chemical character, thatanthropogenic signatures are now evident across the global watercycle. Much of this influence is negative due to overuse and poormanagement. The capacity of ecosystems to sustain freshwaterprovisioning services is thus strongly compromised throughoutmuch of the world and may continue to remain so if historicpatterns of managed use persist.

7.1.1 Fresh Water in the MA Context

Within the MA conceptual framework (see Chapter 1), water istreated as a service provided by ecosystems as well as a system(inland waters). Because the water cycle plays so many roles in theclimate, chemistry, and biology of Earth, it is difficult to defineit as a distinctly supporting, regulating, or provisioning service.Precipitation falling as rain or snow is the ultimate source of watersupporting ecosystems. Ecosystems, in turn, control the characterof renewable freshwater resources for human well-being by regu-lating how precipitation is partitioned into evaporative, recharge,and runoff processes. Together with energy and nutrients, wateris arguably the centerpiece for the delivery of ecosystem servicesto humankind (Falkenmark and Folke 2003).

While recognizing the role of water in supporting and regu-lating services, the placement of this chapter among other provi-sioning services is done from a practical point of view, in partbecause water resources are the most tangible and well-documentedaspect of this broader spectrum of freshwater services. This chap-ter assesses the condition and recent trends in global freshwaterresources, examining the amount and condition of renewable andnonrenewable surface and groundwater supplies, changes in thesesupplies over time and into the near future, and the impacts onhuman well-being of changes in the service. Chapter 20 examinesthe role of inland water ecosystems that provide a multitude ofservices, including water, fish, habitat, cultural and aesthetic val-ues, and flood prevention. Because fresh water is so essential tolife on Earth, its assessment overlaps with services and ecosystemchapters across the MA.

Throughout this chapter reference is made to summary statis-tics on the fresh water associated with specific ecosystems. Whileecosystems are strongly dependent on the water cycle for theirvery existence, at the same time these systems represent domainsover which precipitation is processed and transferred back to theatmosphere as ‘‘green water’’ (through evapotranspiration drawn

PAGE 168

from soils and plant canopies in natural ecosystems and rain-fedagriculture). The remainder runs off as ‘‘blue water’’ which con-stitutes the renewable water supply that can pass to downstreamusers—both aquatic ecosystems and humans such as farmers whoirrigate. These water flows can be tabulated across ecosystems toidentify areas that are critical to human well-being as well as thosethat require particular attention in designing strategies for envi-ronmental protection. Box 7.1 defines key terms used in this anal-ysis.

7.1.2 Setting the Stage

Prior to the twentieth century, global demand for fresh water wassmall compared with natural flows in the hydrologic cycle. Withpopulation growth, industrialization, and the expansion of irri-gated agriculture, however, demand for all water-related goodsand services has increased dramatically, putting the ecosystemsthat sustain this service, as well as the humans who depend onit, at risk. While demand increases, supplies of clean water arediminishing due to mounting pollution of inland waterways andaquifers. Increasing water use and depletion of fossil groundwateradds to the problem. These trends are leading to an escalatingcompetition over water in both rural and urban areas. Particularlyimportant will be the challenge of simultaneously meeting thefood demands of a growing human population and expectationsfor an improved standard of living that require clean water tosupport domestic and industrial uses.

Meeting even the most basic of needs for safe drinking waterand sanitation continues to be an international development pri-ority. Some 1.1 billion people lack access to clean water suppliesand more than 2.6 billion lack access to basic sanitation (WHO/UNICEF 2004). Reducing these numbers is a key developmentpriority. By adopting the initial targets of the Millennium Devel-opment Goals, governments around the world have made a com-mitment to reduce by half the proportion of people lacking accessto clean water supply and basic sanitation between 1990 and2015.

The ministerial declaration from the 2nd World Water Forumin The Hague in 2000 captured the essence of the goals and chal-lenges faced (see Box 7.2), including articulation of the impor-tance of ecosystems in sustaining freshwater services. Watercontinues to rise in importance in major policy circles, with 2003declared the International Year of Fresh Water, release of the firstWorld Water Development Report (UN/WWAP 2003) by acollaboration of 24 U.N. agencies through the World Water As-sessment Programme, and proclamation by the UN General As-sembly of the International Decade of Action ‘‘Water for Life’’ in2005–15.

Societies have benefited enormously through their use of freshwater. However, due to the central role of water in the Earthsystem, the effects of modern water use often reverberatethroughout the water cycle. Key examples of human-inducedchanges include alteration of the natural flow regimes in riversand waterways, fragmentation and loss of aquatic habitat, speciesextinction, water pollution, depletion of groundwater aquifers,and ‘‘dead zones’’ (aquatic systems deprived of oxygen) foundin many inland and coastal waters. Thus, trade-offs have beenmade—both explicitly and inadvertently—between human andnatural system requirements for freshwater services.

The challenge for the twenty-first century will be to managefresh water to balance the needs of both people and ecosystems,so that ecosystems can continue to provide other services essentialfor human well-being. Human impacts on the capacity of ecosys-tems to continue delivering freshwater services are assessed in

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169Fresh Water

BOX 7.1

Operational Definitions of Key Terms on Fresh Water

The global water cycle involves major transports that link Earth’s atmo- source (Ua). Such losses are associated predominantly with irrigation, andsphere, land mass, and oceans, though the emphasis in this chapter is emerge from both renewable and nonrenewable freshwater supplies. Ca

on the continental hydrologic cycle. The Figure here outlines the major is also referred to as irretrievable losses. While humans ‘‘consume’’ waterfluxes of fresh water, which help to define the renewable supplies on directly for drinking, this is not termed water consumption but simply awhich humans and ecosystems depend. The water cycle can be divided component of domestic water use tabulated under Ua.

into a portion that is accessible to humans and that which is not. The Non-sustainable Water Use (Uan). This is computed by comparingportion of the global water cycle that is accessible to humans is shown in total water demand or withdrawals for human use (Ua) to the availablethe diagram. The following nomenclature is used throughout this chapter. renewable water supply (Ba). Where Ua exceeds Ba at the point of extrac-

Total Precipitation (Pt). This term is equivalent to the total sustainable tion, non-sustainable use is tabulated. For most parts of the planet, thiswater supply falling as rain and snow over the terrestrial portion of Earth. will refer to the ‘‘mining’’ of groundwaters, especially in arid and semiaridPt represents the ultimate source of fresh water for recharge into soils, areas, where recharge rates to the underground aquifer are limited. Uan

evaporation, and transpiration by plants in natural and cropped ecosys- can also embody the interbasin transport of fresh water from water rich totems, recharge into groundwaters, and, eventually, runoff and discharge water poor areas.through river corridors. For the purposes of this study, Pt represents cli- Environmental Flows. These are the water requirements needed tomatic means, unless otherwise noted. Pt can be divided into precipitation sustain freshwater ecosystems.that is accessible (Pa) or inaccessible (Pi) to humans on the land mass. Water Abundance and Scarcity. The conjunction of renewable fresh-Ocean precipitation is denoted as Po. water supply, withdrawals, consumptive losses, and level of development

Total Blue Water Flow (Bt). This term represents the global renewable can be used to define quantitative measures of water abundance or scar-water supply computed as surface and sub-surface runoff. ‘‘Total’’ here city. The number of people supported on a unit of renewable freshwaterrefers to ‘‘blue water’’ that is both accessible and inaccessible to humans. flows (the ‘‘water crowding’’ index) will define thresholds of chronic waterIt is a subcomponent of Pt, representing the net fresh water remaining after scarcity, as will use-to-supply ratios (Ua /Bt or Ua / Ba).accounting for evapotranspiration (ET) losses to the atmosphere from thesoils and vegetation of natural ecosystems and rain-fed agriculture, knownas ‘‘green water’’ (Gt). Blue water represents the sustainable supply offresh water that emanates from ecosystems and is then transferredthrough rivers, lakes, and other inland aquatic systems. These down-stream ecosystems evaporate and consume water (Ciws) and reduce bluewater flows. In basins occupied by humans, accessible blue water (Ba) isfurther reduced (Ba’) through consumptive losses (Ca) from water resourcemanagement, such as irrigation.

Water Use (Ua). This represents water withdrawn or used by humans.Ua is derived from either accessible blue water flows (Ba) or nonrenewablesources, predominantly fossil groundwater mining, which constitutes anon-sustainable water use. Use is divided into domestic (Da), industrial(Ia), and agricultural (Aa) applications, a part of which can be returned toinland water systems, though sometimes degraded in its quality in suchreturn flows.

Water Consumption (Ca). The portion of water that is lost as netevapotranspiration after being withdrawn from an accessible supply

Chapter 20. Some options on balancing human and ecosystemwater requirements are discussed in Chapter 7 of the MA PolicyResponses volume.

Before describing the details of this chapter’s assessment, aword is in order on the quality of information on which it isbased. Monitoring the continental water cycle in a timely mannerat the global scale using traditional discharge gauging stations—the mainstay of water resource assessment—continues to chal-lenge the water sciences (IAHS 2001; NRC 1999; Kanciruk1997). Data collection is now highly project-oriented, yieldingoften poorly integrated time series of short duration, restrictedspatial coverage, and limited availability. In addition, there hasbeen a legal assault on the open access to basic hydrometeorologi-cal data sets, aided in large measure by commercialization andfears surrounding piracy of intellectual property. Delays in datareduction and release (up to several years in some places) are alsoprevalent. Much information has yet to be digitized, and exists indifficult-to-use book and report formats.

PAGE 169

Based on available global archives at the WMO Global Run-off Data Center, to which member states contribute voluntarily,there was arguably a better knowledge of the state of renewablesurface water supplies in 1980 than today. Such statements applyto many parts of the world, including otherwise well monitoredcountries like the United States and Canada (IAHS 2001; Shiklo-manov et al. 2002), though most marked declines are in the de-veloping world. Our understanding of groundwater resources iseven more limited, since well-log, groundwater discharge/recharge, and aquifer property data for global applications are onlybeginning to be synthesized (Foster and Chilton 2003; UNESCO-IHP 2004). Information on water use and operation of infrastruc-ture has never been assembled for global analysis (IAHS 2001;Vorosmarty and Sahagian 2000).

While remote sensing and models of the water cycle can beused to fill some data gaps, these approaches themselves producea range of outputs arising from differences in their input datastreams and detailed calculation procedures (e.g., Fekete et al.

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170 Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Current State and Trends

BOX 7.2

Ministerial Declaration from the 2nd World Water Forum

The ongoing series of World Water Forums (Marrakech 1997, Hague2000, Kyoto 2003, Mexico 2006), organized by the World Water Coun-cil and its partners, brings together a broad array of thousands ofstakeholders to discuss strategies for sustainable development withrespect to water. While there have been three such gatherings to date,outputs from the affiliated Ministerial Conference of the 2nd Forumare most relevant to the MA. This Ministerial Declaration captures theinterconnections among ecosystem integrity, human actions affectingwater supply, and human well-being. It is precisely these interactionsthat define the contemporary conditions and trends and that are sug-gestive of responses that foster water stewardship, sustainable wateruse, and progress toward development. These fundamental goals high-light the need for well-functioning ecosystems. They also reflectstrongly the Millennium Development Goals:

• meeting basic human needs—that is, access to safe and suffi-cient water and sanitation, which are essential to health andhuman well-being;

• securing the food supply to enhance food security through amore efficient mobilization and use of water for food production;

• protecting ecosystems and ensuring their integrity through sus-tainable water resources management;

• sharing water resources to promote peaceful cooperation anddevelop synergies between the different uses of water within andbetween the states concerned;

• managing risks to provide security from floods, droughts, pollu-tion, and other water-related hazards;

• valuing water to manage it in a way that reflects economic, social,environmental, and cultural values for all its uses; and

• governing water wisely to ensure good governance, includingpublic participation.

2004). Without a sustained international commitment to baselinemonitoring, global water assessments will be difficult to make andfraught with uncertainty. Box 7.3 gives the range of current esti-mates used in global water resource models, an uncertainty thatin part arises from these data problems.

7.2 Distribution, Magnitude, and Trends in theProvision of Fresh WaterWhile it is true that there is an abundance of water across blueplanet Earth, only a small portion of it exists as fresh water, andeven a smaller fraction is accessible to humans. Nearly all wateron Earth is contained in the oceans, leaving only 2.5% as freshwater. (See Table 7.1.) Of this small percentage, nearly three quar-ters is frozen, and most of the remainder is present as soil moistureor lies deep in the ground. The principal sources of fresh waterthat are available to society reside in lakes, rivers, wetlands, andshallow groundwater aquifers—all of which make up but a tinyfraction (tenths of 1%) of all water on Earth. This amount is regu-larly renewed by rainfall and snowfall and is therefore available ona sustainable basis.

Global averages fail to portray a complete picture of theworld’s water resource base, however. The basic climatology ofthe planet dictates that fresh water will be distributed unevenlyaround the globe, with abundant supplies across zones like the

PAGE 170

wet tropics and absolute water scarcity across the desert belts andin the rain shadow of mountains. For this assessment, both locallyavailable runoff and water transported though river networks isconsidered (Vorosmarty et al. 2005). River corridor flows conveyessential water resources to those living on the banks of large riv-ers, such as along the lower Nile. Figure 7.1 (in Appendix A)shows the broad range of sustainable water resources (blue waterflows), which varies from essentially zero in many arid and semi-arid regions to hundreds and thousands of cubic kilometers peryear as major river corridor flow. Such regional differences in thequantity of available fresh water establish the diverse patterns ofwater supply across the globe.

The supply of fresh water is conditioned by several additionalfactors, which amplify the patterns of abundance and scarcity.These factors include the distribution of humans relative to thesupply of water (that is, access to water), patterns of demand, pres-ence of water engineering to stabilize flows, seasonal and interan-nual climate variations, and water quality. The following sectionsassess the state of global freshwater supplies, demands (withdraw-als or use), and water quality. The time domain covered here isthe last several decades and into the near future of 2010–15.

7.2.1 Available Water Supplies for Humans

Estimates of global water supply are imprecise and complicatedby several factors, including differences in data and methodologiesused, loss of hydrographic monitoring capacity, alternative timeframes considered, and distortions from land cover, climate, andhydraulic engineering that are increasingly a part of the watercycle. The renewable resource base expressed as long-term meanrunoff has been estimated to fall between 33,500 and 47,000 cubickilometers per year (Korzoun et al. 1978; L’vovich and White1990; Gleick 1993; Shiklomanov and Rodda 2003; Fekete et al.2002; Nijssen et al. 2001; Doll et al. 2002). Within-year variationsalso define the basic nature of water supply. At the continentalscale, maximum-to-minimum runoff ratios vary between 2:1 and10:1 (Shiklomanov and Rodda 2003), with individual rivers ex-periencing ratios far higher, such as in snowmelt-dominated basinsor episodically flooded arid and semiarid river systems. Thesevariations necessitate flow stabilization through hydraulic engi-neering for either protection (for example, from floods) or seasonalsupply augmentation (for example, for dry-season agriculture orhydroelectricity).

Water supply can also be assessed from the standpoint of soci-etal access to renewable runoff and river flow, from which hu-mans can secure provisioning services. By one estimate (Postel etal. 1996), one third of global renewable water supply is accessibleto humans, when taking into account both its physical proximityto population and its variation over time, such as when floodwaves pass uncaptured on their way to the ocean. Such accessibil-ity is considered as part of this assessment later in this chapter.

Groundwater plays an important role in water supply. It hasbeen estimated that between 1.5 billion (UNEP 1996) and 3 bil-lion people (UN/WWAP 2003) depend on groundwater suppliesfor drinking. It also serves as the source water for 40% of self-supplied industrial uses and 20% of irrigation (UN/WWAP2003). For certain countries this dependency is even greater; forexample, Saudi Arabia meets nearly 100% of its irrigation require-ments through groundwater (Foster et al. 2000). Two importantclasses of groundwater can be identified. The first is renewablegroundwater resources, closely linked to the cycling of freshwater, through which the ground is periodically replenishedwhen sufficient precipitation is available to recharge soils or whenfloodplains become inundated. The second, fossil groundwater, is

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171Fresh Water

BOX 7.3

Uncertainties in Estimates of Contemporary Freshwater Services, Use, and Scarcity

All entries are ranges in the units indicated and represent near-contemporary conditions.

Geographic Region


Water Supplya Total WithdrawalsMean WaterCrowding

Mean Use-to-Supply(Ua/Bt) Ratio

Population with Ua/Bt Ratio Greater

than 40%(cu. km. per year ) (people/mill.

m3/yr)(percent) (million)

Asia 7,850–9,700 1,520–1,790 320–384 16–22 712–1,200

Former Soviet Union 3,900–5,900 270–380 48–74 6–8 56–110

Latin America 11,160–18,900 200–260 25–42 1–2 84–160

North Africa/Middle East 300–367 270–370 920–1,300 74–108 91–240

Sub-Saharan Africa 3,500–4,815 60–90 115–160 2–2 16–140

OECD 7,900–12,100 920–980 114–129 8–12 164–370

World Total 38,600–42,600 3,420–3610 133–150 8–9 1,123–2,100

a For the purpose of this intercomparison, supply is total supply (Bt). See also Box 7.1 and Table 7.2.

The ranges reported here are from three global-scale water resource mod- are noted for population living under severe water scarcity (use-to-supplyels, two of which were used directly in the MA: University of New Hamp- �40%). The order-of-magnitude range apparent for sub-Saharan Africashire (Vorosmarty et al. 1998a; Fekete et al. 2002; Federer et al. 2003) can be linked in part to the distribution of sharp climatic gradients that arefor the Condition and Trends Working Group assessment and Kassel Uni- difficult to analyze geographically. The result is also a function of theversity (Alcamo et al. 2003; Doll et al. 2003) used in the Scenarios Work- assumptions made regarding access to water. Because of such uncertain-ing Group. A third model from the University of Tokyo and Global Soil ties, the current state-of-the-art in global models put 1–2 billion people atWetness Project (Oki et al. 2001, 2003b; Dirmeyer et al. 2002) was also risk worldwide arising from high levels of water use. The MA modelscompared. predict a much smaller range, from 2.0–2.1 billion.

The global-scale correspondence for total supply, withdrawals, water Large uncertainties surround current estimates of water consumptioncrowding, and demand-to-supply ratio is high, but masks continental-scale by the largest user of water, agriculture. Recent estimates vary from 900differences. Such disparities can be large, as for water supply in Latin (Postel 1998) up to 2000 cubic kilometers per year (Shiklomanov andAmerica, where large remote tropical river systems have proved difficult Rodda 2003). A value of 1200 cubic kilometers per year is reported in thisto monitor systematically. Substantial differences at the continental scale assessment (Table 7.4).

Table 7.1. Major Storages Associated with the ContemporaryGlobal Water System (Shiklomanov and Rodda 2003)

Type VolumeFraction of

Total Volume Fraction ofFresh Water

(thous. cu. km.) (percent) (percent)

World ocean 1,338,000 96.5 –

Groundwaters 23,400 1.7 –

–Fresh 10,530 0.76 30.1

Soil moisture 16.5 0.001 0.05

Glaciers/permanent ice 24,100 1.74 68.7

Ice in permafrost 300 0.022 0.86

Lakes (fresh) 91 0.007 0.26

Wetlands 11.5 0.0008 0.03

Rivers 2.12 0.0002 0.006

Biological water 1.12 0.0001 0.003

Atmosphere 12.9 0.001 0.04

Total hydrosphere 1,386,000 100 –

Total fresh water 35,029 2.53 100

PAGE 171

typically locked in deep aquifers that often have little if any long-term net recharge. Whenever this is extracted, it is functionally‘‘mined,’’ a particularly acute problem in arid regions, where re-plenishment times can be on the order of thousands of years(Margat 1990a, 1990b).

Establishing the contribution of groundwater to the globalsupply of freshwater inserts a substantial element of uncertaintyinto the overall assessment. Problems of poor data harmonization,incomplete and fragmentary inventories, and methodological dif-ficulties are well documented (Revenga et al. 2000; UN/WWAP2003; Morris et al. 2003). As a result, there is large uncertainty inestimates of fresh groundwater resources, ranging from 7 millionto 23 million cubic kilometers (UN/WWAP 2003; Morris et al.2003). While abundant, their use can be severely restricted bypollution (Foster and Chilton 2003) or by the cost of extractingwater from aquifers, which rises progressively in the face of ex-traction rates exceeding recharge (Dennehy et al. 2002).

Another important water supply is represented by the wide-spread construction of artificial impoundments that stabilize riverflow. Today, approximately 45,000 large dams (�15 meters highor between 5 and 15 meters high and a reservoir volume of morethan 3 million cubic meters) (WCD 2000) and possibly 800,000smaller dams (McCully 1996; Hoeg 2000) have been built formunicipal, industrial, hydropower, agricultural, and recreationalwater supply and for flood control. Recent estimates place thevolume of water trapped behind documented dams at 6,000–7,000 cubic kilometers (Shiklomanov and Rodda 2003; Avakyan

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172 Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Current State and Trends

and Iakovleva 1998; Vorosmarty et al. 2003). In drainage basinsregulated by large reservoirs (�0.5 cubic kilometers) alone, onethird of the mean annual flow of 20,000 cubic kilometers is stored(Vorosmarty et al. 2003). Assuming seasonal six-month low flowsconstitute roughly 40% of annual discharge (Shiklomanov andRodda 2003), this impounded water represents a global potentialto carry over an entire year’s minimum flows.

Desalinization constitutes a renewable water supply using dis-tillation and membrane techniques to withdraw salt from other-wise unusable water. While the technology continues to improve,desalinization remains the most costly means of supplying freshwater and is highly energy-intensive (Gleick 2000). Costs rangebetween $1 and $4 per cubic meter, placing it well above themost expensive traditional sources (Gleick 2000). Despite this, in2002 there were over 10,000 desalinization plants in 120 coun-tries supplying more than 5 cubic kilometers per year, with aglobal market of $35 billion per year (UN/WWAP 2003). Col-lectively, these plants provide for much less than 1% of globalfreshwater use.

More than 70% of global installed desalinization capacity is inthe oil-rich states of the Middle East and North Africa (UN/WWAP 2003). While its use may be difficult to justify for high-water-consumptive activities like irrigation, investments in desali-nization technologies are likely to improve efficiency and bringdown costs, creating a potentially important source at least fordomestic drinking water (Gleick 2000), and the annual supply ofdesalinized water could double in 15 years (UN/WWAP 2003).The unresolved issue of adequately managing brine waste fromthe desalinization process to protect nearby coastal ecosystems re-quires special attention.

Finally, rainwater harvesting through traditional methods ormodern technology is another way in which humans augmentfreshwater supply. Rainwater harvesting can directly increase thesoil water content or be stored for later application as supplemen-tal irrigation during dry periods. This is particularly important inplaces like India, which relies heavily on a short period of intenserainfall (WWC 2000). The groundwater authorities in India, forinstance, have made it mandatory for multistoried buildings inNew Delhi and several other states to have a rooftop rainwaterharvesting system (Hindustan Times, Patna, September 2002).Rainwater harvesting can also be an appropriate technology formaintaining groundwater base flow and reducing flood peaks.(See MA Policy Responses, Chapter 7, for further discussion.) Total Flows of Fresh Water

Ecosystems vary greatly in their exposure to precipitation andhence as source areas for renewable runoff that emerges as part ofthe hydrologic cycle. (See Table 7.2.) The proportional contribu-tion of each ecosystem to global runoff is generally equivalent tothe fraction of precipitation to which it is exposed. Forests there-fore are associated with slightly more than half of global precipita-tion and yield about half of global runoff, while mountainsrepresent one quarter of both global precipitation and runoff.Cultivated and island systems are the next most important sourceareas, each constituting about 15% of global runoff. All other sys-tems contribute 10% or less. Paradoxically, dryland ecosystems,due to their large aerial extent, receive a nearly identical fractionof global precipitation as mountains do, yet because of substantiallosses from the system due to evapotranspiration, they are a rela-tively minor contributor to global renewable water supply(�10%). Urban systems, because of their restricted extent (��1%of land area), receive only 0.2% of global precipitation and pro-vide the same very minor proportion of global runoff.

PAGE 172

From a regional perspective, Latin America is most water-rich, with about one third of global runoff. Asia is next, withone quarter of global runoff, followed by OECD (20%), and sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union, each with 10%. TheMiddle East and North Africa is clearly driest and most water-limited, accounting for only 1% of global runoff. Freshwater Flows Accessible to Humans

Ecosystems constitute the ultimate source areas for freshwaterprovisioning services. The accessibility of renewable water supplycan be estimated through an index measuring the proportion oftotal annual renewable runoff generated locally that eventuallyflows through river corridors and encounters downstream humanpopulations. The importance of upstream ecosystems as sourceareas for freshwater supply is demonstrated in Table 7.2. Culti-vated, coastal, and urban systems, with sizable fractions of theglobal population, have from 90% to 100% of their renewablerunoff accessible. Drylands also show high accessibility, likely re-flecting the propensity of humans to settle near scarce freshwaterresources. Mountains, forests, and inland waters each show 70–80% of total runoff as accessible to downstream populations. Theexception is polar systems, which yield less than 20% of total run-off as accessible, reflecting their remote and generally uninhabitedenvironment.

Populations served by accessible runoff emerging from indi-vidual ecosystems are typically in the billions. Cultivated systems,forests, inland waters, and mountains each serve at least 4 billionpeople. Four fifths of the world lives downstream of runoff fromcultivated lands, followed by a nearly identical fraction down-stream from forests. Inland waters and mountains provide waterto two thirds of global population and drylands to one third. Re-mote islands and polar systems serve the fewest people. Runofffrom urban systems, nearly all generated in close proximity todensely settled areas, serves nearly three quarters of the world’spopulation.

The large fractions of total runoff expressed as accessible run-off indicate that, by and large, human society has positioned itselfinto areas with identifiable local sustainable water supplies or rivercorridor flows. A geographic distribution of human settlementthus is linked to the availability of fresh water (see also Meybecket al. 2001). The global geography of accessible runoff, expressedin units of dependent population per unit of delivered flow, wasshown in Figure 7.1. Mountains serve 3 times, forests 4 times, andinland waters 12 times as many people downstream through rivercorridors as they do through locally derived runoff. Urban areasnearly double the total service when tabulating downstream pop-ulations. Remaining ecosystems show more-limited importancein transferring precipitation as accessible runoff to downstreampopulations. For drylands, this is due to a lack of substantial quan-tities of runoff, while for coastal or island systems it is a conse-quence of short flow pathways to the ocean. Each of these systemsstill supplies 15–30% of global population with renewable andaccessible runoff.

From a regional perspective, Latin America and Asia consti-tute the largest proportion (together nearly 60%) of global accessi-ble runoff. And while the OECD, sub-Saharan Africa, and theformer Soviet Union generate a large portion of the global runoff,substantial quantities are remote and inaccessible particularly inthe former Soviet states (see also Postel et al. 1996). The MiddleEast and North Africa generates less than 1% of renewable accessi-ble runoff.

Overall, the global fraction of total annual runoff that is acces-sible to humans is 75%, with slightly more than 80% of world

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173Fresh Water

Table 7.2. Estimates of Renewable Water Supply, Access to Renewable Supplies, and Population Served by the Provision ofFreshwater Services, Year 2000 Condition (computed based on methods in Vorosmarty et al. 2005; renewable water supply estimates fromFekete et al. 2002 from simulated water budgets using climatology data from 1950–96)

Systema or Region AreaTotal Precipitation


Total Renewable WaterSupply, Blue Water Flows


Renewable WaterSupply, Blue Water

Flows, Accessible toHumansb (Ba)

Population Served byRenewable Resourcec

MA System

(mill. thousand cubic kilometers per year (billion)

[percent of global runoff] [percent of Bt] [percent of world population]

Forests 41.6 49.7 22.4 [57] 16.0 [71] 4.62 [76]

Mountains 32.9 25.0 11.0 [28] 8.6 [78] 3.95 [65]

Drylands 61.6 24.7 3.2 [8] 2.8 [88] 1.90 [31]

Cultivatedd 22.1 20.9 6.3 [16] 6.1 [97] 4.83 [80]

Islands 8.6 12.2 5.9 [15] 5.2 [87] 0.79 [13]

Coastal 7.4 8.4 3.3 [8] 3.0 [91] 1.53 [25]

Inland Water 9.7 8.5 3.8 [10] 2.7 [71] 3.98 [66]

Polar 9.3 3.6 1.8 [5] 0.3 [17] 0.01 [0.2]

Urban 0.3 0.22 0.062 [0.2] 0.062 [100] 4.30 [71]

RegionAsia 20.9 21.6 9.8 [25] 9.3 [95] 2.56 [42]

Former Soviet Union 21.9 9.2 4.0 [10] 1.8 [45] 0.27 [4]

Latin America 20.7 30.6 13.2 [33] 8.7 [66] 0.43 [7]

North Africa/Middle East 11.8 1.8 0.25 [1] 0.24 [96] 0.22 [4]

Sub-Saharan Africa 24.3 19.9 4.4 [11] 4.1 [93] 0.57 [9]

OECD 33.8 22.4 8.1 [20] 5.6 [69] 0.87 [14]

World Total 133 106 39.6 [100] 29.7 [75] 4.92 [81]a Note double-counting for ecosystems under the MA definitions.b Potentially available supply without downstream loss.c Population from Vörösmarty et al. 2000.d For cultivated systems, estimates are based on cropland extent from Ramankutty and Foley 1999 within this MA reporting unit.

population (4.9 billion people) being served by these renewableand accessible water flows. However, while providing an estimateof long-term water supply, these figures overstate the effectiveavailability of fresh water. Given that approximately 30% of an-nual runoff is uncaptured flood flow (Shiklomanov and Rodda2003), the world’s population has its access reduced from 75% to53% of total runoff.

Globally, renewable freshwater services reflect the geographicdistributions of both water supply and human populations. Fourout of every five people live downstream of and are served byrenewable freshwater services. (See Figure 7.2.) Thus, while thehuman population is generally well organized with respect to theavailability of fresh water, 20% of humanity remains without anyappreciable quantities of sustainable supply or must gain access tosuch resources through costly interbasin transfers from morewater-rich areas. (See also Table 7.2.) These people are highlyreliant on unsustainable water resources. For those with access torenewable supplies, a total of 65% of the world’s population isserved by the 50% of total annual renewable runoff that is posi-tioned in dry to moderately wet conditions, with concomitantpressure on that resource base. Only 15% live with relative waterabundance—that is, in conjunction with the remaining 50% oftotal runoff (represented by the high runoff-producing regionsshown in the upper part of the curve in Figure 7.2). If uncapturedflood flow is incorporated into these calculations, for the 80% of

PAGE 173

Figure 7.2. Cumulative Distribution of Population with Respectto Freshwater Services, 1995–2000. Fraction of runoff is rankedfrom low to high based on mean annual conditions. This distributionis also affected by seasonal variations in available runoff.

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174 Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Current State and Trends

world population who reside in the lower half of the water avail-ability spectrum in Figure 7.2 (65% plus 15% with no appreciablerenewable freshwater flows), the effective supply is reduced from50% to 35% of total runoff.

7.2.2 Water Use

Over the last few centuries, global water use has shown roughlyan exponential growth and been linked closely to both populationgrowth and economic development. There was a fifteenfold in-crease in global water withdrawals between 1800 and 1980(L’vovich and White 1990), when population increased by a fac-tor of four (Haub 1994). Since the 1900s, the overall increasehas been sixfold (WMO 1997). Global consumptive water losses,primarily from evapotranspiration through irrigation, increasedthirteenfold during this same period. A major, recent feature ofhuman water use is the reduction in per capita use rates, droppingas of around 1980 from about 700 to 600 cubic meters per year,though the aggregate global withdrawal continues to increase(Gleick 1998; Shiklomanov and Rodda 2003).

While the general features of a historical rise in freshwaterdemands are clear, there are substantial uncertainties surroundingwater use estimates, reflecting the current state of knowledge, as-sumptions (or lack thereof ) on potential efficiency changes andreuse potential, number of years projected into the future, andinteractions with market forces (Gleick 2000; Shiklomanov andRodda 2003). The summary statistics from three global tabula-tions provided earlier, in Box 7.3, demonstrate the current degreeof uncertainty.

Global water withdrawals today total about 3,600 cubic ki-lometers per year, with a wide range of use over individual conti-nents. (See Table 7.3.) The largest user is Asia, accounting fornearly half of the world total, with OECD next, using about onethird. The remaining continents each represent less than 10% ofglobal use. Water use today is dominated by agricultural with-drawals (70% of all use), followed by industrial and then domesticapplications. Withdrawals in agriculture are fundamentally de-fined by irrigation. In Asia, the Middle East and North Africa,and sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture accounts for 85–90% of allwithdrawals. Driven by irrigation demand, overall withdrawalsacross MENA constitute 120% of renewable accessible supplies,

Table 7.3. Freshwater Services Tabulated as Withdrawals forHuman Use over MA Regions and the World, 1995–2000 (WRI etal., 1998, updated using Shiklomanov and Rodda 2003, as inVorosmarty et al. 2000; resampled to MA reporting units)


DomesticWater Use


IndustrialWater Use


AgriculturalWater Use


Total Use(Withdrawals)


(cu. km. per year)

Asia 80 99 1,373 1,550

Former SovietUnion

34 115 188 337

Latin America 33 31 205 269

North Africa/ Middle East

22 15 247 284

Sub-Saharan Africa

10 4 83 97

OECD 149 489 384 1,020

Global Total 328 753 2,480 3,560

PAGE 174

meaning that this region relies on nonrenewable supplies for foodproduction. Agricultural water use in the former Soviet Unionand the OECD is proportionally much lower, reflecting the waterneeds of other sectors in these industrial economies. In contrast,industrial water use is only 4% in sub-Saharan Africa, reflecting alow level of economic development.

Water lost from groundwater and surface water sources to theatmosphere through net evaporation (such as from irrigation,cooling towers, or reservoirs) is termed water consumption orirretrievable losses, which today represent a substantial fraction ofwater use. Contemporary irretrievable losses through irrigation,computed as the evapotranspiration component of agriculturalwithdrawals, are assessed here. (See Table 7.4.) Irretrievable lossesfrom irrigation represent one third of all water use globally. Theefficiency computed for irrigated agriculture (the ratio of waterwithdrawn to water consumed or lost through evapotranspirationon irrigated cropland) is on average 50% globally and varies from25% (in Latin America) to 60% (in Asia). Additional losses fromevaporation from reservoirs, irrigation ditches, and so on are dif-ficult to estimate accurately but could total over 500 cubic kilome-ters per year (Postel 1998), thus indicating the conservative natureof the consumption estimates in Table 7.4. (See Box 7.3 earlier inthis chapter for the range in current estimates of consumptive lossfrom irrigation.)

Non-sustainable water use could be a substantial componentof total withdrawals. Earlier work based on documentary evi-dence showed approximately 200 cubic kilometers per year ofglobal aquifer overdraft (Postel 1999; WWC 2000), though theestimate is regarded as highly uncertain (Foster 2000). This assess-ment of water supply and use (based on Vorosmarty et al. 2000,2005; Fekete et al. 2002) using a geospatial framework (about 50-kilometer resolution) enables calculations to be made of the de-gree to which water withdrawal exceeds locally accessible supplies—in other words, non-sustainable water use (Uan). Worldwide, non-sustainable withdrawals can be computed using two endpoints:crop evaporative demands or water use statistics, which includeboth consumption and transport losses, some unknown fractionof which reenters the surface-groundwater system for potentialreuse (Molden 2003). These endpoints give a calculated non-sustainable use of about 400–800 cubic kilometers per year. Interms of total freshwater withdrawals, 10–25% could representnonrenewable use. When the earlier estimate of 200 cubic kilome-ters per year is also included, a large degree of uncertainty results,and from 5% to 25% of freshwater withdrawals could representnonrenewable use.

Nevertheless, each of these estimates reflects a high depen-dence on existing water services, especially in areas where in-duced, chronic water stress necessitates costly water engineeringremedies, groundwater depletion, or curtailment of water-usingactivities. Each continent shows a heavy reliance on such nonre-newable extraction, ranging up to one third of total use based onthe high estimates. Asia and MENA show the greatest level ofsuch dependence; OECD, the least. In MENA, 30% of all wateruse is from non-sustainable sources, and this use is equivalent toover one third of accessible renewable supplies.

Figure 7.3 (in Appendix A) shows the contemporary geogra-phy of such non-sustainable use and demonstrates the much largerimpacts that arise at subcontinental scales. The summary in Table7.4 may thus understate the true degree of this overconsumptionlocally. The spatial pattern of overuse is broadly consistent withpreviously reported regions of use exceeding supply, major watertransfer schemes, or groundwater overdraft: Australia, westernAsia, northern China, India, North Africa, Pakistan, Spain, Tur-key, and the western United States (Muller 2000; Shah et al. 2000;

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175Fresh Water

Table 7.4. Consumptive and Non-sustainable Freshwater Use over MA Regions and the World, 1995–2000. Renewable suppliescalculated as for Table 7.2. Irrigated water consumption was computed over irrigation-equipped land (Doll and Siebert 2000) within thecropland domain depicted by Ramankutty and Foley (1999). Evapotranspiration losses from irrigated cropland (Vorosmarty et al. 1998;Federer et al. 2003) relative to available local runoff or, when available, river corridor flows determine non-sustainable use. See Figure 7.3for geography of non-sustainable use.


ConsumptiveLosses from

IrrigatedAgriculture (Ca)

ConsumptiveLosses from


Non-sustainableWater Usea (Uan)

Non-sustainableWater Use

Non-sustainableWater Use as Share

of AgriculturalWater Use

Non-sustainableWater Use asShare of Total

Water Use(cu. km./ year) (percent of agricul-

tural use/total use)(cu. km./year) (percent of accessible

renewable supplies)(percent) (percent)

Asia 811 59 / 52 295–543 3–6 21–40 19–35

Former Soviet Union

78 41 / 23 20–58 1–3 11–31 6–17

Latin America 49 24 / 18 8–37 <0.1–0.4 4–18 3–14

North Africa/ Middle East

94 38 / 33 25–86 10–36 10–35 9–30

Sub-Saharan Africa

33 39 / 34 10–18 0.2–0.4 12–22 10–19

OECD 141 37 / 14 31–88 0.5–2 8–23 3–9

World Total 1,210 49 / 34 391–830 1–3 16–33 11–23

a Range represents crop demand alone (low estimate) versus reported withdrawals (high estimate, which includes delivery loss; Table 7.3). Recyclingwithin river basins of irrigation withdrawals that are not consumed by crops reduces, to some unknown degree, the high estimate (see Molden 2003).Calculations assume a maximum 75-kilometer buffer around river corridors from which irrigation areas can secure fresh water.

Vorosmarty and Sahagian 2000; Dennehy et al.2002; EEA 2003;MDBC 2003; NLWRA 2004).

Non-sustainable use expressed as a proportion of irrigated ag-ricultural withdrawals shows an even higher degree of depen-dency on nonrenewable supplies. Globally, about 15–35% ofirrigation withdrawals are computed to be non-sustainable. Indi-vidual continental areas show percentages ranging from less than10% to 40%, as in the case of Asia. Such high rates indicate anincreasing degree of food insecurity. Given projections showingno major expansion in global cropland area (Bruinsma 2003), in-creasing pressure will be placed on irrigated cropland, whichtoday provides nearly 40% of crop production (Shiklomanov andRodda 2003; UN/WWAP 2003). By its very nature, this wateruse cannot persist indefinitely, and many regions of the worldhave well-documented cases of aquifer depletion and abandon-ment of irrigation, adding constraints to irrigated crop productionarising from rising development costs, soil salinization, and com-petition for water required by sensitive ecosystems and commer-cial fisheries (Postel and Carpenter 1997; Postel 1998; Foster andChilton 2003).

7.2.3 The Notion of Water Scarcity

The assessment thus far has shown a growing dependence ofhuman society on accessible freshwater resources. To assess thestate of these provisioning services more comprehensively, thesupply of renewable water must be placed into the context ofinteractions with people and their use of water. A set of relativemeasures can be used in this regard.

One measure of dependence on fresh water is the populationserved per million cubic meters per year of accessible runoff (re-newable supply). This is known as the ‘‘water crowding’’ index,with levels on the order of 600–1,000 people per million cubic

PAGE 175

meters per year (that is, 1,000–1,700 cubic meters per year supplyper person) showing water stress, and above 1,000 people (that is,less than 1000 cubic meters per year per person) indicating ex-treme water scarcity (Falkenmark 1997). Another measure is therelative water use or water stress index (WMO 1997; UN/WWAP 2003), expressed as the ratio of water withdrawals to sup-ply. More sophisticated indicators are available that incorporatesocial and economic dimensions of water use (Raskin 1997; Sulli-van et al. 2003), and these will be described in the section onwater and human well-being. A major water scarcity indicatoreffort is under way through the World Water Assessment Pro-gramme (UN/WWAP 2003).

Worldwide, a substantial quantity of renewable freshwatersupply—nearly 30,000 cubic kilometers per year—is accessible tohumans. Thus contemporary use represents slightly more than10% of annual supply. However, there is a substantial range in theshare of accessible runoff used by humans across different conti-nents as well as a rapidly changing picture over the last few dec-ades. Time series of use indicate increasing pressures on thefreshwater resource base.

Between 1960 and 2000, world water use doubled from about1,800 to 3,600 cubic kilometers per year, a rate of about 17% perdecade, with a slower (10%) increase projected to 2010. (SeeTable 7.5.) Individual continents show increases over the 1960–2000 timeframe from 15% up to 32% per decade. MENA hashistorically shown a great dependence on its freshwater supply,using well over half as early as 1960 and exceeding all renewablesupplies shortly after 1980. Today its withdrawals represent 120%of accessible sustainable supply, and these are projected to riseto �130% by 2010. Asia, the former Soviet Union, and OECDcountries show intermediate levels of use relative to supply overthis period. In sub-Saharan Africa, substantial contributions offresh water from river basins in the wet tropics coupled with rela-

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176 Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Current State and Trends

Table 7.5. Indicators of Freshwater Provisioning Services and Their Historical and Projected Trends, 1960–2010. Water use, ‘‘watercrowding’’ (population supplied per unit accessible renewable supply), and use relative to accessible supply, by region, are shown. Thesefigures are based on mean annual conditions. The values for the relative use statistics shown rise when the sub-regional spatial and temporaldistributions of renewable water supply and use are considered. (Population from Vorosmarty et al. 2000; demand estimates from WRI et al.1998, updated using Shiklomanov and Rodda 2003, as in Vorosmarty et al. 2000; resampled to MA reporting units)

MA Geographic Region Population Water Use Ua

Water Crowding onAccessible Renewable


Use Relative to AccessibleRenewable Supply1 (Ua/Ba)

(million) (km3/yr) (people/mill. m3/yr) (percent)

Asia 1960: 1,4902000: 3,2302010: 3,630

1960: 8602000: 1,5532010: 1,717

1960: 1612000: 3482010: 391

1960: 92000: 172010: 19

Former Soviet Union 1960: 2092000: 2882010: 290

1960: 1312000: 3372010: 359

1960: 1162000: 1602010: 161

1960: 72000: 192010: 20

Latin America 1960: 2152000: 5102010: 584

1960: 1002000: 2692010: 312

1960: 252000: 592010: 67

1960: 12000: 32010: 4

North Africa/Middle East 1960: 1352000: 3952010: 486

1960: 1542000: 2842010: 323

1960: 5612000: 1,6502010: 2,020

1960: 632000: 1172010: 133

Sub-Saharan Africa 1960: 2252000: 6702010: 871

1960: 272000: 972010: 117

1960: 552000: 1632010: 213

1960: <12000: 22010: 3

OECD 1960: 7352000: 9682010: 994

1960: 5522000: 1,0212010: 1,107

1960: 1312000: 1732010: 178

1960: 102000: 182010: 20

World Total 1960: 3,0102000: 6,0602010: 6,860

1960: 1,8242000: 3,5612010: 3,935

1960: 1012000: 2042010: 231

1960: 62000: 122010: 13

a Renewable supply calculated as for Table 7.2, and refers to accessible blue water flows (Ba). Index uses full regional population.

tively poor water delivery infrastructure and restricted develop-ment mean that only 2% of renewable supply is tapped. In water-rich Latin America, relative use rates also remain low, at less than5%.

The contemporary water crowding index is modest in almostall regions. Only MENA shows a value reflective of its well-known position as a highly water-scarce region. Over the last fourdecades there has been a sustained and substantial increase in thewater crowding index with respect to accessible runoff, reflectingdirectly the impact of population growth. Worldwide, the num-ber of people served per unit of supply has doubled during thisperiod, at an average rate of 20% per decade. Several regions showeven greater rates of increase—a tripling for MENA and sub-Saharan Africa and a more than doubling for Asia and LatinAmerica. Globally, an additional 13% crowding in renewable sup-ply is predicted between 2000 and 2010, with greatest regionalincreases expected in sub-Saharan Africa (30%) and MENA(20%). A slight slowing in rate of increase is noted globally, withnear stability in the index for OECD and the former Soviet states.

Several cautionary notes are needed in interpreting thesetrends. The statistics are based on mean annual flows and accesscomputed for 100% of individual continental and global popula-tions. In the context of the 50% of continental runoff generated

PAGE 176

in dry to moderately wet climate zones (19,800 cubic kilometersper year) that serves the majority of global population, contempo-rary use represents nearly 20% of the mean annual supply. Whenseasonal variations in runoff are considered (reducing supplies to13,900 cubic kilometers per year), withdrawals exceed 25% of therenewable resource. In addition, if dedicated instream uses ofabout 2,000 cubic kilometers per year for navigation, waste proc-essing, and habitat management are considered (based on Postelet al. 1996), humans then use and regulate 40% or more of renew-able accessible supplies.

Further, the crowding index does not take into account differ-ent countries’ abilities to deal with water shortages. For example,high-income countries that are water-scarce may be able to copeto some degree with water shortages by investing in desalinationor reclaimed wastewater. The study also discounts the use of fossilwater sources because such use is unsustainable in the long term.

In addition, while the global numbers are well below the ex-treme scarcity threshold of 1,000 people per million cubic metersper year of renewable supply, they mask important local and re-gional differences and thus understate the true degree of stress(Vorosmarty et al. 2000, 2005). Prior assessments (Revenga et al.2000) show that as of 1995 some 41% of the world’s population,or 2.3 billion people, were living in river basins under water

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177Fresh Water

stress, with some 1.7 billion of these people residing in river basinsunder conditions of extreme water scarcity. From a river basinperspective, the Volta, Nile, Tigris and Euphrates, Narmada, andColorado in the United States will show ongoing pressurethrough 2025 (Revenga et al. 2000). Another 29 basins will de-scend further into scarcity by 2025, including the Jubba, Goda-vari, Indus, Tapti, Syr Darya, Orange, Limpopo, Yellow, Seine,Balsas, and Rio Grande. Indicators based on mean annual condi-tions also mask important supply limits imposed by seasonal andinter-annual variability. For example, in India most of the annualwater supply is generated as a result of the monsoons, which inmany cases means both flooding downstream as well as seasonaldrought.

Another measure of adequacy of the freshwater supply is themean use-to-supply ratio. A set of thresholds for water stress wasgiven by the United Nations in a recent global analysis that usedthis ratio based on mean annual conditions (WMO 1997): low(�10%), moderate (10–20%), medium/high (20–40%), and high(�40%). Using this classification and a grid-based approach nec-essary to capture the high degree of spatial heterogeneity (see Voro-smarty et al. 2000), the contemporary global-scale ratio is fromlow-to-moderate, as seen in Table 7.5, although entire continentsare under a moderate (Asia, former Soviet Union, and OECD) tohigh (MENA) state of scarcity. This is in stark contrast to thesituation in 1960, when uniformly low levels of scarcity werenoted (with the exception of MENA). Globally, it has beenshown that 2.5 billion people suffer from at least moderate levelsof chronic water stress (Vorosmarty et al. 2000) and from 1–2billion people suffer high levels of scarcity even when tabulationsare made conservatively on total renewable supplies. Calculatingthe population at risk through a ratio based on accessible supplieswould increase the overall exposure to stress.

Water scarcity as a globally significant problem is a relativelyrecent phenomenon, evolving only over the last four decades.Rates of increase in the relative use ratio from 1960 to the presentaveraged about 20% per decade globally, with values from 15% tomore than 30% for individual regions. A slowing in the rate ofincrease in use is projected between 2000 and 2010, to 10% perdecade globally. With anticipated population growth, economicdevelopment, and urbanization, a further increase in the relativeuse ratio for some continents is likely to remain high (MENA at14% per decade, Latin America at 16%, and sub-Saharan Africa at20%).

7.2.4 Environmental Flows for Ecosystems

In light of the expanding use of fresh water by humans and severalindicators of growing water stress, an important issue emergeswith respect to the sustainability of water provisioning services—that is, being able to continue providing water for human usewhile also meeting the water requirements of aquatic ecosystemsso as to maintain their capacity to provide other services. ‘‘Envi-ronmental flows’’ refers to the water considered sufficient for pro-tecting the structure and function of an ecosystem and itsdependent species. These flow requirements are defined by boththe long-term availability of water and its variability and are estab-lished through environmental, social, and economic assessment(King et al. 2000; IUCN 2003).

Determining how much water can be allocated to human usesor distorted through flow stabilization (such as dam construction)without loss of ecosystem integrity is central to an understandingof how freshwater ecosystems support human well-being throughthe range of provisioning, supporting and regulating services. As-sessment of water availability, water use, and water stress at the

PAGE 177

global scale has been the subject of on-going research. However,water requirements of aquatic ecosystems are only now being es-timated globally and considered explicitly in these assessments(Smakhtin et al. 2003). Flow requirements can range globallyfrom 20% up to 80% of mean annual flow, depending on theriver type, its species composition, and the river health conditionobjectives sought (for instance, pristine, moderate modificationfrom natural conditions, minimum flows), indicating the high de-gree of potential conflict with river regulation and human usesshould the environment be preserved.

If human systems are viewed as being embedded within natu-ral systems, human water use can expand to a ‘‘sustainabilityboundary’’ beyond which a substantial degradation of ecosystemservices results (King et al. 2000; Postel and Richter 2003). Deter-mining the location of the sustainability boundary is critical tosuccessful management and rests on clearly defining what consti-tutes a degraded ecosystem. Environmental flows should considerboth the quantity and timing of flow to maintain ‘‘naturally vari-able flow regimes’’ (Poff et al. 1997), whereby seasonal flow pat-terns are maintained with the aim of retaining the benefitsprovided by low and high flows. (See Figure 7.4.) Naturally lowflows, for example, help exclude invasive species while highflows, especially floods, shape channels and allow the delivery ofnutrients, sediments, seeds, and aquatic animals to seasonally in-undated floodplains. High flows may also provide suitable migra-tion and spawning cues for fish (Poff et al. 1997; Baron et al.2002). Global Trends in Water Diversion and Flow DistortionWhile global trends in altered water regime are difficult to assem-ble with certainty due to incomplete information, they reflect anoverall increase in regulation of the world’s inland river systems(Revenga et al. 2000; Vorosmarty and Sahagian 2000). Tables 7.4and 7.5 provided an indication of the scope of such changes.Water withdrawals show a doubling between 1960 and 2000, bywhich time irretrievable losses from irrigation alone totaled 34%of all global use.

One third of all rivers for which contemporary and pre-disturbed discharges could be compared in a compendium(Meybeck and Ragu 1997) showed substantial declines in dis-charges to the ocean. Long-term trend analysis (more than 25years) of 145 major world rivers indicated more than one fifthwith declines in discharge (Walling and Fang 2003). From 1960to 2000 there was a near quadrupling of reservoir storage capacityand more than a doubling of installed hydroelectric capacity (Re-venga et al. 2000). Worldwide, large artificial impoundments(storing each 0.5 cubic kilometers or more) now hold two tothree months of runoff, capable of significant hydrograph distor-tion, with several major basins showing storage potentials ofgreater than a year’s runoff (Vorosmarty et al. 2003). Much of thisregulation occurred over the last 40 years.

Through consumptive use and interbasin transfers, several ofthe world’s largest rivers (Nile, Yellow, Colorado) have beentransformed into highly stabilized and in some cases seasonallynondischarging river channels (Meybeck and Ragu 1997; Kowa-lewski et al. 2000). In the case of the Yellow River, improvedwater management since 2000 has helped to restore flows (MWR2004). Recent History of Governance and Management forEnvironmental FlowsOver the last decade, policy solutions to developing environmen-tal flows have taken several forms, depending on social and histor-ical context, degree of scientific knowledge, water infrastructure,

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178 Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Current State and Trends

Figure 7.4. Managing for Environmental Flows: Contrasts among Natural, Reservoir-affected, and Reconstituted River DischargeRegimes. Observed alteration of natural flow regimes (left) arises from the provision of freshwater services, as through impoundment on theNile River and interbasin transfer to optimize hydropower on the Burntwood River (Vorosmarty 2002). Environmental flow managementattempts (right) to preserve key facets of the (a) natural flow regime in light of (b) typical 20th century flow distortion after damming. Condition(c) represents a partially ‘‘re-naturalized’’ flow regime, which retains important hydrologic characteristics: 1) peak wet season flood, 2) baseflowduring the dry season, and 3) a ‘‘flushing’’ flow at the start of the wet season to cue life cycles, and 4) variable flows during the early wetseason. Flow regime (b) shows many more negative effects than (c), even though both regulate similar volumes of water annually. (Rightpanel adapted from Tharme and King 1998)

and local ecosystem conditions. These approaches include manag-ing the quantity and temporal pattern of water withdrawals orreleases (Poff 2003; Postel and Richter 2003), developing watermarkets, and preemptively managing land use to protect water-sheds.

Water allocation for environmental flows to sustain function-ing freshwater ecosystems is practiced in parts of Australia, Eu-rope, New Zealand, North America, and South Africa. However,there appears to be very little consideration of this matter any-where in Asia, despite aggressive water extraction from many riv-ers during the dry season across the continent. But there is causefor cautious optimism. The calculation, adoption, and implemen-tation of environmental flows are under consideration in otherparts of the world. In addition, more than 2,000 river, lake, andfloodplain restoration projects in at least 20 countries, particularlyin Europe but also in Africa and Asia, are being carried out(DRRC 1998; UKRRC 2004; Richter et al. in prep.). Some keyexamples include the restoration of the Diawling delta in Mauri-tania (Hamerlynck and Duvail 2003), the Waza Logone flood-plain in Cameroon (Loth 2004), the Danube and Rhine Rivers,and the South Florida Everglades—one of the largest ecosystemrestoration projects ever attempted (Baron et al. 2002).

The shift toward management for natural flow regimes is alsoreflected by parallel shifts in public policy from laws favoring pri-vate interests and prior appropriations (as in much of the Ameri-can West) to protecting water rights and environmental flows aspart of the ‘‘public trust.’’ In 1998, South Africa passed landmarklegislation to aid decision-making on all or part of any significant

PAGE 178

water resource (National Water Act 1998). One of the most pro-gressive aspects of this act was establishment of a Reserve to sup-port both essential human needs (water for drinking, foodpreparation, personal hygiene) and aquatic ecosystem integrity.Notably, this two-part Reserve—with human and environmentalcomponents—takes priority over other uses such as irrigation andindustrial withdrawal. In Burkina Faso, a new water frameworklaw (Loi d’Orientation sur L’eau), adopted in 2001, establishes thelegal and institutional framework for promoting integrated basinmanagement, equitable access, water for nature, and internationalcooperation. The legislation recognizes that ‘‘infrastructureswhich are built on a water course must maintain a minimal flowthat guaranties aquatic life’’ (MEE 2001).

For many highly regulated river systems in North America(e.g., Colorado, Columbia, Missouri, Savannah), recent changesin dam operations and adaptive management plans are now foster-ing conditions that improve fish habitat, river-floodplain connec-tivity, and estuarine ecosystems, often at the cost of hydroelectricgeneration or navigability to barges (Postel and Richter 2003;Richter et al. in prep.). In addition, the decommissioning andremoval of some dams has begun in the United States (Hart et al.2002). In Australia, water allocation reforms have led to limits onfuture withdrawal (that is, a ‘‘water cap’’) in the Murray-DarlingRiver basin, subsequent development of a water market whereallocations are traded, and creation of incentives to increase waterproductivity and efficiency (Blackmore 1999; MDBC 2004).Similarly, water markets developed in Mexico, Chile, and somewestern states in the United States have been used to secure flowsfor ecosystems (Thobani 1997).

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179Fresh Water

Watershed management strategies that integrate ecologicalprinciples have been used to prevent water supply crises fromdeveloping. An often-cited example is the New York City watersupply management strategy, which includes protection of ripar-ian habitat in the nearby source area of the Catskills Mountains,thus eliminating the need to construct a water filtration plant atan estimated cost of $6 billion. The �400,000-hectare PinelandsNational Reserve in nearby New Jersey is regulated under aComprehensive Management Plan developed at the local, state,and federal level in 1978–79 (Good and Good 1984). The planpermits a wide spectrum of land use development categories,ranging from intensive development to full protection, and it suc-cessfully redirected human activities to areas deemed appropriatewhile protecting a large core area, which is ecologically sensitive,drought-prone, and nutrient-poor and which harbors a uniquecommunity of wildlife with a large number of endemic species(Walker and Solecki 1999; Bunnell et al. 2003). The benefits ofmaintaining high water quality are recognized outside the reservethrough the delivery of relatively high-quality fresh water to anestimated 9 million people in New York City for less than if awater filtration plant were built. In addition, water dischargedinto Delaware Bay helps to support populations of anadromousfish and spawning horseshoe crabs, which in turn support largenumbers of migrating shorebirds and local industries.

7.2.5 Water Quality

Summarizing patterns and trends in water quality, particularly at aglobal scale, encompasses an array of challenges that include basicdefinitional problems, a lack of worldwide monitoring capacity,and an inherent complexity in the chemistry of both natural andanthropogenic pollutants. From a management perspective, waterquality is defined by its desired end use. Water for recreation,fishing, drinking, and habitat for aquatic organisms thus requirehigher levels of purity, whereas for hydropower, quality standardsare much less important. For this reason, water quality takes on abroad definition as the ‘‘physical, chemical, and biological charac-teristics of water necessary to sustain desired water uses’’ (UN/ECE 1995).

Natural water chemistry is inherently highly variable overspace and time (Meybeck and Helmer 1989; Meybeck 2003), andaquatic biota are adapted to this variability. With added pressurefrom human activities, the biogeophysical state of inland watersplus their variability is altered, often to the detriment of aquaticspecies (see Chapter 20), thereby compromising the sustainabilityof aquatic ecosystems. Many chemical, physical, biological, andsocietal factors affect water quality: organic loading (such as sew-age); pathogens, including viruses in waste streams from humansand domesticated animals; agricultural runoff and human wastesladen with nutrients (such as nitrates and phosphates) that giverise to eutrophication and oxygen stress in waterways; salinizationfrom irrigation and water diversions; heavy metals; oil pollution;literally thousands of synthetic and persistent engineered chemi-cals, such as plastics and pesticides, medical drug residues, andhormone mimetics and their by-products; radioactive pollution;and even thermal pollution from industrial cooling and reservoiroperations.

Furthermore, despite important improvements in analyticalmethodologies (UN/ECE 1995; Meybeck 2002), the capacity tooperationally monitor contemporary trends in water quality iseven more limited than monitoring the physical quantity of water.In terms of the spatial coverage, frequency, and duration of moni-toring, data currently available for global and regional-scale assess-

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ments are patchy at best, leading to oversimplified and sometimesmisleading information. (See Table 7.6.)

Data abundance is generally associated with level of economicdevelopment: industrial countries show a higher level of dataavailability, while water quality in developing countries is less wellmonitored. Even when data from monitoring stations are avail-able, they only provide a fragmented view of water quality issuesfor very local sections of rivers, necessitating potentially unreliableextrapolation to the rest of the basin (Meybeck 2002). For thisreason, water quality assessments or trajectories are usually river-or station-specific. Even for the best-represented regions of theglobe, a coherent time series of data is available for only the last30 years or less, constraining the ability to clearly quantify trendsin water quality.

Data comparability problems are yet another constraint on theutility of water quality data. Standardized protocols, in terms ofsampling frequency, spatial distribution of sampling networks, andchemical analyses, are still not in place to ensure the productionof comparable data sets collected in disparate parts of the world.The monitoring of groundwater supplies is even more problem-atic (Meybeck 2003; Foster and Chilton 2003); because ground-

Table 7.6. Data Assessment of Existing Monitoring ProgramsWorldwide. The entries relate to the quantity of available data,indicated by the number of � symbols. For the purposes of thisassessment, data quantity is an aggregate measure of stationnetwork density, spatial coverage, frequency of data collection, andduration of monitoring programs. (Updated from Vorosmarty et al.1997b)





Bedload (+) 0 0 0

Total suspended (TSS) +++ ++ +

Carbon +++ ++ +

Dissolved Inorganic (DIC) +++ ++ +

Dissolved Organic (DOC) ++ + 0

Particulate Organic (POC) + 0 0


Ammonium (NH4) +++ ++ +

Nitrate (NO3) +++ ++ +

Dissolved Organic (DON) + 0 0

Particulate Organic (PON) 0 0 0


Phosphate (PO4) +++ ++ +

Dissolved Organic (DOP) 0 0 0

Total (TP) ++ + 0


Dissolved ++ + 0

Total + 0 0

Particulate + 0 0

Major dissolved constituentsa +++ ++ +

Discharge +++ ++ +

aSO4, Cl, Ca, Mg, K, Na, SiO4, CO3.

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180 Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Current State and Trends

water is hidden from view, many pollution and contaminationproblems that affect supplies have been more difficult to detectand have only recently been discovered.

These many factors make it difficult to estimate the impactof changing water quality on global water supply. The followingsections provide an overview assessment of trends in water qualitythat have bearing on the capacity of the contemporary water cycleto provide provisioning services for fresh water and on the sus-tainability of inland water systems. Other assessments specificallytarget water quality issues over selected regional-to-continentaldomains (e.g., AMAP 2002; Hamilton et al. 2004). General Trends in Water Quality

The state of inland water quality illustrates the long-term andcomplex nature of human interactions with their environment.The earliest changes attributable to humans likely occurred in tan-dem with land use change in small to medium-sized catchmentssome 5,000 or 6,000 years ago in the Middle East and Asia, wherewater and sediment budgets were substantially altered (Wasson1996; Vorosmarty et al. 1998b; Alverson et al. 2003; Meybeck etal. 2004). Water also has been considered since ancient times tobe the preferred medium for cleaning, transporting, and disposingof wastes—establishing a tradition that today has substantiallytransformed the physical, biological, and chemical properties ofglobal runoff.

A set of syndromes depicting riverine changes arising fromanthropogenic pressures has been proposed (GACGC 2000;Meybeck 2003) through which society transforms inland freshwaters from a pristine state fully controlled by the natural Earthsystem to a modern condition in which humans provide many ofthe predominant controls. In most of the densely populated areasof the world, river engineering, waste production, and otherhuman impacts have significantly changed the water and materialtransfers through river systems (Vorosmarty and Meybeck 1999,2004) to the extent that this now likely exceeds the influence ofnatural drivers. This is true today in many parts of the Americas,Africa, Australasia, and Europe (Vorosmarty and Meybeck 1999,2004).

The contrast between pristine and contemporary states can bedramatic and potentially global in scope. Changes to the globalnitrogen cycle are emblematic of those in water quality more gen-erally, through which high concentrations of people or majorlandscape disturbances (such as industrial agriculture) translate intoa disruption of the basic character of natural water systems. Inaddition, modern changes often ‘‘reverberate’’ far downstream ofthe original point of origin. Compared with the preindustrial con-dition, loading of reactive nitrogen to the landmass has doubledfrom 111 million to 223 million tons per year (Green et al. 2004)or possibly 268 million tons (Galloway et al. 2004). (See alsoChapter 12.) Model results show these accelerated loadings trans-formed into elevated freshwater transports through inland water-ways to the coastal zone, doubling pre-disturbance rates from 21million to 40 million tons per year (Green et al. 2004; Seitzingeret al. 2002). North America, continental Europe, and South, Eastand Southeast Asia show the greatest change. (See Figure 7.5 inAppendix A.)

Riverine transport of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (immediateprecursors to nutrient pollution, algal blooms, and eutrophica-tion) have increased substantially from about 2–3 million tons peryear from the preindustrial level to 15 million tons today, withorder-of-magnitude increases in drainage basins that are heavilypopulated or supporting extensive industrial agriculture. Riverswith high concentrations of inorganic nitrogen constitute a major

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global source for inorganic nitrogen, despite relatively modestcontributions to aggregate water runoff. (See Figure 7.6.) Whileit is noteworthy that aquatic ecosystems ‘‘cleanse’’ on average80% of their global incident nitrogen loading (Green et al. 2004;Howarth et al. 1996; Seitzinger et al. 2002; Galloway et al. 2004),the intrinsic self-purification capacity of aquatic ecosystems varieswidely and is not unlimited (Alexander et al. 2000; Wollheim etal. 2001). As a result, sustained increases in loading from land-based activities are already reflected in the deterioration of waterquality over much of the inhabited portions of the globe, theyextend their impacts to major coastal receiving waters (e.g., Raba-lais et al. 2002), and they are likely to continue well into thefuture (Seitzinger and Kroeze 1998).

While the stark contrast between pristine and contemporarystates demonstrates the overall impact of anthropogenic influenceson water quality, much of the contamination of fresh water hasoccurred over the last century. The main contamination problems100 years ago were fecal and organic pollution from untreatedhuman wastewater. Even though this type of pollution has de-creased in the surface waters of many industrial countries over thelast 20 years, it is still a problem in much of the developing world,especially in rapidly expanding cities (WMO 1997; UN/WWAP2003). (See also Chapter 27.)

In developing countries, sewage treatment is still not com-monplace, with 85–95% of sewage discharged directly into rivers,lakes, and coastal areas (UNFPA 2001; Bouwman et al. 2005),some of which are also used for water supply. Consequently,water-related diseases, such as cholera and amoebic dysentery,among others, claim millions of lives annually (WHO/UNICEF2000). In Europe, organic pollution and contamination by toxicmetals are probably now less than the levels observed betweenthe 1950s and1980s, due to improved environmental regulation(Meybeck 2003). In the developing world, the riverine evolutionis likely to be similar to that found in Europe, with a major lagcorresponding to their different stages of industrialization, urban-ization, and intensification of agriculture (Meybeck 2003).

New pollution problems from agricultural and industrialsources have emerged in industrial and developing countries andhave become one of the biggest challenges facing water resourcesin many parts of the world (WMO 1997). In Western Europe andNorth America, on the one hand phosphorus contamination inwaterways has been reduced considerably with the introduction

Figure 7.6. Global Summary of Inorganic Nitrogen Transport byContemporary Rivers. Modern patterns of pollution from anthropo-genic sources have created characteristically high-impact regions or‘‘hotspots’’ that represent highly polluted river systems that todaycarry much greater quantities of nitrogen than their collective dis-charge would indicate. (Meybeck and Ragu 1997; Vorosmarty andMeybeck 2004)

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181Fresh Water

of phosphate-free household detergents, investments in waste-water treatment plants, and to some degree modified agroecosys-tem management. On the other hand, residues of syntheticpharmaceuticals for humans and livestock are increasingly beingdiscovered at low doses in rivers and lakes (Schiermeier 2003).There are indications that these residues can disturb the physiol-ogy of invertebrates, and it is still a matter of debate whether and,if so, to what degree these newly discovered pollutants may affecthuman physiology (Daughton and Ternes 1999; Jones et al. 2003).

Water contamination by pesticides has grown rapidly since the1970s. In a medium-sized river basin like the Seine, over 100different types of active molecules from pesticides can be found(Chevreuil et al 1998). Even if the use of xenobiotic substances isincreasingly being regulated in Western Europe and NorthAmerica, bans—when they exist—occur generally two to threedecades after the first commercial use of the products. For exam-ple, DDT, atrazine (a common pesticide), and PCBs were in usefor a long time before they were banned in parts of the industrialworld. In general these bans take longer to implement in the de-veloping world, so these products are still commercialized andused in some countries.

In the United States, PCB and DDT records in estuarine sedi-mentary archives peaked in the 1970s and are now markedlydecreasing (Valette-Silver 1993). At the same time, persistent xe-nobiotics are widespread, with a recent study (Kolpin et al. 2002)finding traces of at least one drug, endocrine-disrupting com-pound, insecticide, or other synthetic chemical in 80% of samplesfrom 139 streams in 30 states of the United States. The persistenceof these products in continental aquatic systems can be high, andtheir degradation products can be more toxic than the parentmolecules (Daughton and Ternes 1999). Because of the poormonitoring of the long-term effects of xenobiotics, the global andlong-term implications of their use cannot be fully assessed. Global Ranking of Water Quality Issues Based onRegional Assessment

A global water quality assessment, originally as part of the DublinInternational Conference on Water and the Environment and inpreparation for the Rio Summit (Meybeck et al. 1991) is summa-rized here. The original report determined a global ranking ofkey water quality issues based on U.N. Global EnvironmentalMonitoring System data, the perceptions of local/regional scien-tists and managers, published reports and papers, and expertknowledge. Lakes, groundwater, and reservoir issues were consid-ered, although as Siberia and northern Canada were not expresslycovered in the 1991 report, these have been considered separatelyusing the same approach (Meybeck 2003). Eleven variables wereconsidered and ranked, the scoring of which ultimately reflectsthe aggregate impact of human pressures, natural rates of self-purification, and pollution control measures.

The results show that pathogens and organic matter pollution(from sewage outfalls, for example) are the two most pressingglobal issues (see Figure 7.7), reflecting the widespread lack ofwaste treatment. As water is often used and reused in a drainagebasin context, a suite of attendant public health problems arises,thus directly affecting human well-being. At the other extreme,acidification is ranked 10 and fluoride pollution 11. The im-portance of the various issues varies between regions, however,and some of these globally low-ranked issues are particularly im-portant in certain areas, such as acidification in Northern Europe,salinization in the Arabic peninsula, and fluoride in the Sahel andAfrican Great Lakes (see maximum scores on Figure 7.7). Fluo-

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ride and salinization issues are mostly due to natural conditions(rock types and climate), but mining-related salinization can alsobe found (for instance, in Western Europe). All other concernsdirectly arise through human influences. An annotated continen-tal summary is given in Table 7.7.

Although these updated results correspond well to the state ofwater quality in the 1980–90s (Meybeck 2003), since the 1990sthe situation in most developing countries and countries in transi-tion is likely worse in terms of overall water quality. In EasternEurope, Central and South populated Americas, China, India,and populated Africa, it is probably worse for metals, pathogens,acidification, and organic matter, while for the same issues West-ern Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and North Americahave shown slight improvements. Nitrate is still generally increas-ing everywhere, as it has since the 1950s. In the former SovietUnion there has been a slight improvement in water quality dueto the economic decline and associated decrease in industrial ac-tivities. Eastern Europe has also seen some improvements, such asthose in the Danube and the Elbe basins. A few rivers, such as theRhine, have seen a stabilization of nitrate loads after 1995.

7.3 Drivers of Change in the Provision of FreshWaterThe drivers of change in the global water cycle and the system’scapacity to generate freshwater provisioning services act on a vari-ety of spatial and time scales. Throughout history, humans havepursued a very direct and growing role in shaping the character ofinland water systems, often applied at local scales, but sometimesreflecting provincial or national policies on water. The collectivesignificance of human influences on the hydrologic cycle maytoday be of global significance, but this has only recently begunto be articulated (Vorosmarty and Meybeck 2004).

Humans today control and use a significant proportion of therunoff—from 40% to 50% (Postel et al. 1996)—to which the vastmajority has access. Given high numbers of people dependenton water provisioning services derived from ecosystems and thegrowing degree of water crowding, urbanization, and industrial-ization, the global water cycle is and will continue to be affectedstrongly by humans.

Water engineering to facilitate use by humans has fragmentedaquatic habitats, interfered with migration patterns of economi-cally important fisheries, polluted receiving waters, and compro-mised the capacity of inland water ecosystems to provide reliable,high-quality sources of water. Land cover changes have also alteredthe patterns of runoff and created sources of pollution, negativelyaffecting human health, aquatic ecosystems, and biodiversity. (SeeChapter 20.) Due to a growing reliance on irrigated agriculturefor domestic food production and international trade, freshwaterservices—in decline in many parts of the world through non-sustainable resource use practices—are directly linked to theglobal food security issue. (See Chapters 8 and 26.) Finally, naturalclimate variability and anticipated changes associated with green-house warming convey additional, major constraints on the pro-vision of renewable freshwater services.

7.3.1 Population Growth and Development

Population growth is a major indirect driver of change in theprovision of fresh water. Although freshwater supplies are re-newed through a more or less stable global water cycle that pro-duces precipitation in excess of evapotranspiration over thecontinents, the mean quantity of water supply available per capitais ever-decreasing due to population growth and expanding con-

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182 Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Current State and Trends

Figure 7.7. Ranking of Globally Significant Water Quality Issues Affecting the Provision of Freshwater Services for Water ResourceEnd Uses. Averages show the general tendencies for specific pollutants, but a wide range is noted, with minima in all cases ranked zero andmaxima often several times more severe than the mean condition. Although this ranking shows organic matter pollution and pathogens to berelatively more important at the global scale, information to quantify the degree to which water supplies are compromised by pollution iscurrently insufficient. Scores are as follows: 0: No problem or irrelevant; 1: Some pollution, water can be used if appropriate measures aretaken; 2: Major pollution with impacts on human health and/or economic use, or aquatic biota; 3: Severe pollution—impacts are very high,losses involve human health and/or economy and/or biological integrity. (Based on expert opinion; Meybeck et al. 1991, updated by Meybeck2003)

sumptive use (Shiklomanov and Rodda 2003). Human popula-tion doubled from 1960 until the present (Cohen 2003), andnearly 20 contemporary cities are home to 10 million people ormore (Cohen 2003). Substantial flow stabilization and increasedwithdrawals have occurred across all regions, supporting an in-crease in the number of people sustained by the accessible, renew-able water supply.

Continued growth in population will fuel increases in food pro-duction, which in the context of a stable cropland base (Bruinsma2003) will require greater diversions of fresh water for irriga-tion or considerably more efficient use of water supplies. Thesame applies to industry and municipalities, amplifying currentpressures on the global water supply. Economic development,technology, and lifestyle changes (such as increasing meat con-sumption) further define the functional availability of water inthe context of declining per capita supplies. Over the twentiethcentury, water withdrawals increased by a factor greater thansix—more than twice the rate of population growth (WMO1997).

In addition to increased water demands, as mentioned in sec-tion 7.2.5, pollution from industry, urban centers, and agriculturalrunoff limits the amount of surface and groundwater available fordomestic use and food production. Threats of water quality deg-radation are most severe in areas where water is scarce becausethe dilution effect is inversely related to the amount of water incirculation.

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7.3.2 Managed Water Supplies

A broad array of water engineering schemes has enabled variabil-ity in the hydrologic cycle to be controlled and increasingamounts of water to be stored and withdrawn for human use.This technology refers to any sort of engineering used in the stor-age, management, and distribution of water, such as dams, canals,water transfers, irrigation ditches, levees, and so on. It also in-cludes both traditional water harvesting techniques as well asmodern production and treatment facilities like desalinizationplants.

Global patterns of water management are not driven solely byinvestments in technology and large-scale engineering. Water isalso managed through international trade, by way of the embod-ied or ‘‘virtual’’ water content of commodities exchanged. Theagricultural sector, in particular, requires huge amounts of rainfallor irrigation water, much of which is lost to evapotranspiration,and in the case of irrigation there are also transit losses. Waterinput-to-crop output ratios, expressed on a weight-to-weightbasis, vary from the hundreds to the thousands. Given enormouscontrasts in local availability of fresh water, there is a potentiallyenormous comparative advantage in virtual water trade strategiesthat transport products from water-rich to water-poor areas.

This section first assesses the role of major engineering worksin the provision of water and then considers the significance ofvirtual water trade of agricultural products in the global economy.

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183Fresh Water

Table 7.7. Continental-scale Assessment of Major Water QualityIssues. The purpose of this table is to present a general overview. Itdoes not capture fully large sub-regional differences that are knownto occur. (Updated from Meybeck et al. 1991)

ContinentalDomain Summary of Key FindingsAfrica Major sources of pollution in Africa, according to the

1992 assessment, are fecal contamination; toxic pollu-tion downstream of major cities, industrial centers,and/or mining; and vector-borne diseases. The NileBasin and Northern Africa show more contaminationproblems than other regions, but this also may bebecause of more information and monitoring stationsin these regions, or more altered water flows thataffect dilution potential in rivers.

Americas In the United States and Canada, the major pollutionproblem is eutrophication from agricultural runoff andacidification from atmospheric deposition. Major prob-lems also include persistent toxic water pollution frompoint and non-point sources. In South and CentralAmerica the major contaminant problems, except inthe Amazon and Orinoco basins, where ecosystemsare more intact and high flows foster dilution, arepathogens and organic matter, as well as industrialand mining discharges of heavy metals and pesticideand nutrient runoff.

Asia and the Pacific

Arid and semiarid regions tend to have different pollu-tion problems than areas in the monsoon belt. In theIndian subcontinent the major problems arepathogens and contamination from organic matter.While these are prevalent in Southeast Asia as well,heavy metals, eutrophication, and sediment loadsfrom deforestation are also critical in this sub-region.The Pacific Islands have higher levels of salinizationthan other regions in Asia, while still having problemswith pathogens and organic matter, like much of thedeveloping world. China has a combination of all pol-lution problems in its major watersheds. In the drynorth, eutrophication, organic matter, and pathogensare major problems, while in the south in additionthere is a large sedimentation problem. Finally, Japan,New Zealand, and Australia present similar pollutionproblems as other industrial nations, like the UnitedStates and Europe. Australia has particular problemswith salinization due to agricultural practices, espe-cially in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Europe In the Nordic countries the major problem is acidifica-tion, while other contaminant levels are relatively low.In Western Europe eutrophication and nitrates posethe greatest challenge, while in Southern and EasternEurope the major contaminants are organic matterand pathogens, nitrates, increasingly pesticides, andeutrophication.

EasternMediterraneanand Middle East

Characterized by its arid climate, this area showsgreat demands and pressure on its scarce waterresources. Industrial pollution and toxics are a prob-lem in some locales, but overall salinization from over-abstraction is the key concern in this region.

PAGE 183 The Role of Engineering on Water Supply Dams and reservoirs

Humans have altered waterways around the world since historicaltimes to harness more water for irrigation, industry, and domesticand recreational use. Dams have been a particularly significantdriver of change, buffering against both spatial and temporal scar-city of water supplies and increasing the security of water andfood supply over the past half-century. However, large engineer-ing works that impound and divert fresh water have caused dam-age to key habitats and migratory routes of important commercialand subsistence fisheries (Revenga et al. 2000), as well as serioussocietal disruptions, including public health problems (as de-scribed later; see also Chapter 14) and forced displacements(WCD 2000).

Large dams are today the fundamental feature of water man-agement across the globe (FC/GWSP 2004). Approximately45,000 large dams (�15 meters in height) (WCD 2000) and pos-sibly 800,000 smaller dams (McCully 1996; Hoeg 2000) are inplace and an estimated $2 trillion has been invested in them overthe last century. These facilities have served as important instru-ments for development, with 80% of the global expenditure of$32–46 billion per year focused on the developing world (WCD2000).

Major stabilization of global river runoff from major engineer-ing works expanded greatly between 1950 and 1990. (See Figure7.8.) Currently the largest reservoirs—those with more than 0.5cubic kilometers of storage capacity—intercept locally 40% of thewater that flows off the continents and into oceans or inland seas(Vorosmarty et al. 2003). The volumetric storage behind all largedams represents from three to six times the standing stock of waterheld by natural river channels (Vorosmarty et al. 1997a, 2003;Shiklomanov and Rodda 2003). In addition, large reservoir con-struction has doubled or tripled the residence time of riverwater—that is, the average time that a drop of water takes toreach the sea, with the mouths of several large rivers showingdelays on the order of many months to years (Vorosmarty et al.1997a).

Such regulation has enormous impacts on the water cycle andhence aquatic habitats, suspended sediment, carbon fluxes, andwaste processing (Dynesius and Nilsson 1994; Vorosmarty et al.2003; Stallard 1998; Syvitski et al. 2005). Large dams, in particu-lar, have been a controversial component of the freshwater de-bate. While contributing to economic development and foodsecurity, they also produce environmental, social, and humanhealth impacts. A World Bank review (1996a) of the impacts andeconomic benefits of 50 large dams concluded that these projectsshowed proven economic and development benefits but had amixed record in terms of their treatment of displaced people andenvironmental impacts. A further review by the World Commissionon Dams on the performance of large dams showed considerableshortfalls in their technical, financial, and economic performancerelative to proposed expectations, particularly irrigation dams,which often have not met physical targets, failed to recover cost,and have been less profitable than expected (WCD 2000).

In Pakistan, for example, the direct benefits from irrigationmade possible by the Tarbela and Mangla dams are estimated atabout $260 million annually, with the farmers who own irrigatedland clearly benefiting from increased incomes (World Bank1996a). However, the increased use of irrigation water has led towaterlogging and increased soil salinity in the Punjab area, with a

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184 Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Current State and Trends

Figure 7.8. Time Series of Intercepted Continental Runoff and Large Reservoir Storage, 1900–2000. The series is taken from a subsetof large reservoirs (�0.5 km3 maximum storage each), geographically referenced to global river networks and discharge. The years 1960–2000 have shown a rapid move toward flow stabilization, which has slowed recently in some parts of the world, due to the changing social,economic, and environmental concerns surrounding large hydraulic engineering works. (Vorosmarty and Sahagian 2000)

direct link to a decline in crop productivity, and an increase inmalaria transmission (World Bank 1996b).

Hydroelectricity is another important benefit from dams.Total production of hydropower reached 2,740 terawatt-hours in2001 or 19% of global electrical production, and many industrial(such as Norway and Iceland) and developing countries (Demo-cratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Brazil, Honduras, Taji-kistan, and Laos) rely on dams for more than 90% of their powerproduction (UN/WWAP 2003). As with irrigation dams, inmany circ*mstances the effectiveness of large dams for hydroelec-tricity generation has not been sufficient to meet the predictedbenefits (WCD 2000), and they have caused loss of habitats andspecies as well as the displacement of millions of people (WCD2000).

Flood control continues to be another major objective forbuilding large dams. In Japan, for example, 50% of the populationlives in flood-prone areas, and in the last 10 years floods haveaffected 80% of municipalities in the country. Japan is one of thetop five dam-building countries in the world. Matsubara and Shi-mouke Dams on the Chikugo River in the Kyushu District insouthern Japan, for instance, were built for flood control after aflood in 1953 inundated one fifth of the entire catchment, killing147 people and destroying 74,000 households. These two damssuccessfully reduced peak flows in the river years later during a1982 flood, saving lives and property (Green et al. 2000).

However, the effectiveness of large dams to replace the role ofnatural wetlands for flood mitigation is not well supported byscientific evidence. Wetlands and floodplains act as naturalsponges; they expand by absorbing excess water in time of heavyrain and they contract as they release water slowly throughout thedry season to maintain streamflow. (See Chapter 20.) The large-scale conversion of floodplains and wetlands (some of it throughdams) has resulted in declines in the natural mechanism for floodregulation. And while a handful of dams are being decommis-sioned in some countries (268 out of 80,000 in the United States,for example), an estimated 1,500 dams are under constructionworldwide and many more are planned, particularly in the devel-oping world (WWF and WRI 2004). River basins with thelargest number of dams over 60 meters high planned or underconstruction include the Yangtze Basin in China with 46 largedams, the La Plata Basin in South America with 27, and the Tigrisand Euphrates River Basin in the Middle East with 26 (WWFand WRI 2004).

PAGE 184

The debate on cost, benefits, and performance of large damscontinues, but given recent reviews (see WCD 2000), the tradi-tional reliance on constructing such large operations for watersupply is being called into question on environmental, political,and socioeconomic grounds (Gleick 1998; WCD 2000). Interbasin transfers

Interbasin water transfers represent yet another form of securingwater supplies that can greatly alleviate water scarcity. They in-clude any canals, ditches, tunnels or pipelines that divert waterfrom one river or groundwater system to another, typically fromdammed reservoirs, and often represent massive engineeringworks involving both ground and surface waters. Changes to nat-ural surface water hydrographs can be enormous and virtually in-stantaneous. The Great Man-Made River Project in Libya, forexample, transports over 2 cubic kilometers of fossil groundwatera year through 3,500 kilometers of desert to huge coastal storagereservoirs that support 135,000 hectares of irrigable cropland, onethird of the country’s total (UN/WWAP 2003).

Two of the world’s largest interbasin transfers are the 93% lossof flow (27 cubic kilometers per year) from the Eastmain Riverand a 97% gain of flow (53 cubic kilometers per year) in the LaGrande River (Dynesius and Nilsson 1994), both in Canada. Intotal, the flow being diverted without return to its stream of ori-gin in Canada alone totaled 140 cubic kilometers a year in the1980s (Day and Quinn 1987), more than the mean annual dis-charge of the Nile River and twice the mean annual flow of Eu-rope’s Rhine River. The Farraka Barrage alone diverts over 9%of the Ganges River’s historical mean annual flow and over 5%of the flow for the entire Ganges-Brahmaputra basin (Nilsson etal. 2005).

A gigantic diversion project is also under way in China, whichproposes to move 40 cubic kilometers per year (MWR 2004) ofwater from southern China to the parched parts of northernChina, thus connecting the Yangtze River with the Hai, Huaiand Yellow Rivers. Three channels, two of which are over 1,000kilometers long, will be needed for this transfer, which corre-sponds to 4% of the average flow of the Yangtze River (U.S.Embassy in China 2003). Developers plan to bring enough waterto replenish groundwater aquifers in the north. This withdrawalfrom the Yangtze, even though it represents only a small fractionof the river’s annual flow, will likely still have some effect on

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185Fresh Water

downstream ecosystems: sediment loads needed to maintain ripar-ian and coastal wetlands will be reduced, and pollutants will bemarginally less diluted, raising their concentration in the YangtzeRiver’s lower reaches (U.S. Embassy in China 2003). In addition,as water flows north from one basin to another, the introductionof non-native species and the transfer of contaminants could affectnative fauna in the receiving basins (Snaddon and Davies 1998;Snaddon et al. 1998; U.S. Embassy in China 2003).

Social effects of interbasin water transfers are complex. Popu-lations in the recipient basin of water transfers gain water forirrigation, industry, and human consumption, all leading to indis-putable economic and social benefits. However, those living inthe basin of origin (and particularly those downstream of the di-version point) often lose precisely those same benefits (Boyer2001), and many times they are displaced to other parts of thecountry, losing their homes and cultural heritage. While some-times economic compensation is offered to people displaced bydams, the amounts usually do not cover the potential losses interms of livelihoods, economic productivity, and cultural and his-torical heritage (WCD 2000).

Resettlement is an issue for water transfers as well as for dams,with many resettled communities suffering from a marginalizedstatus, and cultural and economic conflicts with the populationinto which they are resettled. The central route of the Yangtze-to-Yellow water transfer in China, for example, will require theresettlement of 320,000 people, each of whom is supposed toreceive the equivalent of $5,000 in compensation (U.S. Embassyin China 2003).

The trade-offs involved in interbasin transfer schemes includeboth direct societal costs and benefits, as well as those involvingecosystems services and biodiversity. Yet given increasing de-mands for water in the future, such transfers are likely to remainan important mechanism for alleviating regional water shortages(Nilsson et al. 2005). Virtual Water in TradeVirtual water, or VW, refers to the amount of fresh water usedduring the production process and thus ‘‘embodied’’ in a good orservice (Allan 1993). While tabulations could be made for anyproduct, VW has been explored mainly from the perspective ofcrop and livestock production and trade, given the predominanceof agriculture in water use globally.

Operationally, VW in agriculture can be defined as the quan-tity of water used to support evapotranspiration in crops, whichare then consumed domestically (as human food or animal feeds)or traded internationally. Additional water to process food prod-ucts and to care for livestock can also be tabulated (Oki et al.2003a), but VW estimates are fundamentally determined by irre-trievable water losses through crops. There is a vast mismatchbetween the weight of agricultural commodities produced andthe VW embodied in their production. For example, 1 kilogramof grain requires 1,000–2,000 kilograms (liters) of water, evenunder the most favorable of climatic conditions (Hoekstra andHung 2002), producing 1 kilogram of cheese requires �5,000kilograms of water, and 1 kilogram of beef requires an average of16,000 kilograms of water (Hoekstra 2003).

Water has been transported in internationally traded productsfor hundreds of years, but the concept of trading VW has onlyrecently begun to be considered as a mechanism to alleviate re-gional or global water security by exploiting the comparative ad-vantage of water-rich or water-efficient countries (Allan 1996;Jaeger 2001). However, VW does not take into account the na-ture of food production systems and other factors, such as soilerosion, biodiversity impacts, or pollution. Moreover, for political

PAGE 185

and social reasons, countries may elect to be self-sufficient andindependent in food production. For example, India, which isfood self-sufficient in aggregate, serves as a net exporter of foodand virtual water despite being water-stressed.

A substantial volume of VW trade in food commodities hasnonetheless been taking place. (See Figure 7.9.) Worldwide, in-ternational VW trade in crops has been estimated at between 500and 900 cubic kilometers per year, depending on tabulationsmade from the exporting or importing country perspective andthe number of commodities considered (Oki et al. 2003a; Hoeks-tra and Hung 2002; Hoekstra 2003). (See Table 7.8.) An addi-tional 130–150 cubic kilometers per year is traded in livestockand livestock products. For comparison, current rates of waterconsumption for irrigation total 1,200 cubic kilometers per year,and taking into account the use of precipitation in rain-fed agri-culture as well, the total water use by crops has been estimated torange from 3,200 to 7,500 cubic kilometers per year, dependingon whether allied agroecosystem evapotranspiration is included(Postel 1998; Rockstrom and Gordon 2001). The most importantexporters of crop-related VW are the OECD and Latin America,though individual sub-regions, such as Western Europe, are netimporters of VW. Asia (Central and South) is the largest importerof VW.

Of the top 10 virtual water exporters, 7 countries are in water-rich regions, while of the 10 largest importers of VW, 7 are highlywater-short, indicating a general redistribution of VW from rela-tively wet to dry regions. However, the notable absence of clear-cut relationships linking the degree of domestic water scarcity todependence on external VW supplies (Hoekstra and Hung 2002)suggests that an optimal redistribution of water through crop pro-duction and trade is yet to emerge. The consequences of foodself-sufficiency thus entrench present-day patterns of water scar-city, as can decisions to pursue an aggressive export marketingstrategy in the face of unsustainable water use. Future increases inwater stress over the coming decades (Vorosmarty et al. 2000;Alcamo et al. 2000) and further integration of a global economyare likely to be powerful forces in adopting the notion of VWinto food production and trade policies. An analysis of interna-tional trade in VW for Africa is provided in Box 7.4.

7.3.3 Land Use and Land Cover Change

Among the major processes influencing water quantity and qual-ity at the river basin scale are changes in land use intensity andland cover change. (See Table 7.9.) Land use changes affectevapotranspiration, infiltration rates, and runoff quantity and tim-ing. Particularly important for human well-being are contrastingreductions in the overall quantity of available runoff with sometypes of land cover change versus concentrated peaks of runoffassociated with flooding under other land cover changes that canoften be translocated far downstream through river networks(Douglas et al. 2005).

For example, expanding impervious areas due to urban expan-sion greatly increases the volume and rate of stormflow into re-ceiving streams. Such changes also affect the water quality andbiodiversity of freshwater ecosystems (Jones et al. 1997). Land usechanges that compact soils and reduce infiltration are associatedwith deficiencies in groundwater recharge and dry period base-flow, the long-term global consequences of which are yet to bedocumented. Reduced infiltration can also lead to longer lifespansof pools with stagnant water, thus providing increased breedingopportunities for mosquitoes and other vectors of human disease.

The impact on local water budgets of changes from forestcover to pasture, agricultural, or urban land cover are well docu-

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186 Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Current State and Trends

Figure 7.9. Net Inter-regional Trade in Major Crops Expressed as Embodied or ‘‘Virtual’’ Water Expended in Production of TheseAgricultural Commodities, 1995–99. The regions used differ from those used in the MA. Virtual water flows �100 km3 for the full periodare not shown. Rain-fed and irrigated agriculture are considered, although estimates do not include transfer and drainage losses duringirrigation. (Hoekstra and Hung 2003)

Table 7.8. Annual Transfer of Virtual and Real Water throughGlobal Trade of Cereal and Meat Commodities, 2000. ‘‘Virtual’’water in this table is estimated as the fresh water required by theimporting country to produce the commodity, while ‘‘real’’ water is thefresh water expended by the exporter to produce the samecommodity. Water equivalents are vastly greater than the actualweights traded, from 1000:1 to 3000:1 for cereals and �20,000:1 forbeef. Through such trade there is a water-saving equivalent toapproximately 20% of agricultural water withdrawals. (Oki et al.2003a)

CommodityVirtual Water

Trade Real Water

Trade Water “Saved”(cubic kilometers per year)

Maize 130 50 80

Wheat 460 270 190

Rice 190 110 80

Barley 92 38 54

Cereal total 870 470 400

Beef 86 82 4

Pork 28 20 8

Chicken 37 25 12

Meat total 150 130 24

mented in the hydrological and ecological literature. While his-torically a large portion of the available information was generatedfor temperate and boreal areas of North America and Europe(Swank and Crossley 1988; Buttle et al. 2000), information is be-coming available for selected sites in Amazonia, South Africa, andAustralia, among others (Bruijnzeel 1990; Le Maitre et al. 1999).The global impact of 110,000 square kilometers per year net de-forestation (FAO 1999) on runoff, however, has yet to be fullyquantified.

Impacts of land use change patterns of weather and climate atdifferent scales are only starting to be understood. (See Chapter

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13.) Fragmenting a landscape alone can generate changes in localweather patterns (Avissar and Liu 1996; Pielke et al. 1997). At thecontinental level, land use changes can reduce recycling rates ofwater leading to reduced precipitation and distortions in the at-mospheric circulation patterns that link otherwise widely sepa-rated regions of the globe (Chase et al. 1996; Costa and Foley2000; Pitman and Zhao 2000). There has also been continental-to-global-scale acceleration in the loading of pollutants, includingnutrients, onto the land mass associated with industrial agricul-ture, urbanization, and grazing. (See Chapters 12 and 15.) Theseinputs are translated into greatly elevated fluxes to and transportthrough inland water systems (Chapter 20), the effects of whichpass in many cases fully to the coastal zone (Chapter 19).

Intensive agricultural and urbanized areas have expanded rap-idly in the last 50 years. The current extent of cultivated systemsprovides an indication of the location of freshwater ecosystemsthat are likely to experience water quality degradation from pesti-cide and nutrient runoff as well as increased sediment loading(Revenga et al. 2000). (See Figure 7.10 in Appendix A.) Figure7.11 (in Appendix A) shows, from a drainage basin perspective,the distribution and pattern of urban areas, as judged by satelliteimages of nighttime lights for 1994–95 (NOAA-NGDC 1998).Because more urbanized river basins tend to have greater impervi-ous area as well as higher quantities of sewage and industrial pollu-tion, this figure suggests the contemporary geography of pressureson freshwater systems arising from these classes of contaminants(Revenga et al. 2000).

The two Figures show contrasting patterns of modified landuse across the world. Intensively cropped lands are concentratedin five areas: Europe, India, eastern China, Southeast Asia, andthe midwestern United States, with smaller concentrations in Ar-gentina, Australia, and Central America. Africa is striking for itslack of intensively cropped land, with the exception of smallpatches along the Nile, on the Mediterranean coast, and in SouthAfrica. This reflects the minimal use of chemical inputs and thelow level of agricultural productivity in most African countries.Figure 7.11 shows that highly urbanized watersheds are concen-trated along the east coast of the United States, Western Europe,and Japan, with smaller concentrations in coastal China, India,

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187Fresh Water

BOX 7.4

Virtual Water Content Associated with African Food Supply

The interplay between water availability and irrigation is critical in defining In Africa, much of the sustainable (rain-fed) agriculture occurs withinwhether a country (or regions within a country) can be self-sufficient in food the more humid regions of the continent, while most irrigated agricultureproduction and do so in a sustainable manner. This is especially true in occurs in the semiarid and arid regions in northern and southern AfricaAfrica, where the climate and hydrology are highly unpredictable and as much and along the Sahel. At the continental scale, about 18% of total Africanas 40% of irrigation withdrawals in the driest regions are estimated to be non- VW is used for meat production, although this number is probably muchsustainable (Vorosmarty et al. 2005). Africa also represents a flashpoint for higher because it is doubtful that all grazing land is used sustainably.future water scarcity and food security, with a large and rapidly growing Food imports (both crops and meat) represent over 20% of Africa’s totalpopulation, enormous expanses of dry landscapes, extensive poverty, lack VW consumption, illustrating a reliance on external sources for meetingof investment in water infrastructure, and a lingering human health crisis. the food needs of today’s population. This reliance will likely continue to

Virtual water is the fresh water needed to produce crops embodying increase in the future, though some unknown fraction is intra-continental.all evapotranspiration on rain-fed or irrigated cropland, plus any transit Globally, VW from crop production is computed to co-opt 14,600 cubiclosses for irrigation (Raskin et al. 1995; Allan 1996). There are enormous kilometers (20%) of the 66,400 cubic kilometers annual evapotranspira-throughputs of water within agroecosystems to satisfy the evaporative tion. For Africa, crop production co-opts only 9% of annual evapotranspira-demands of crops, with ratios of �1,000-to-1 by weight for cereal prod- tion, a reflection of the fact that three quarters of Africa’s cropland isucts and �15,000-to-1 for beef (Hoekstra 2003). Thus, while food trade located in arid and semiarid climates characterized by highly limited soilcan be highly beneficial in simply economic terms, it could also help com- moisture stocks (Vorosmarty et al. 2005). The bar chart (see Box 7.4pensate for local water scarcity by exploiting the comparative advantage Figure B in Appendix A) illustrates that while sub-Saharan Africa reliesof water-rich countries to produce food (Allan 1996; Jaeger 2000). heavily on rain-fed agriculture (60–75% for South, East, West) and very

The map of Africa (see Box 7.4 Figure A in Appendix A) shows the little on irrigated agriculture (3–7%) for food production, North Africa hasspatial distribution of annual virtual water production on rain-fed and irri- very little rain-fed crop production and obtains more than 60% of its within-gated croplands, computed from long-term average (1950–95) water bal- region VW from irrigated agriculture. Much of this irrigation water is with-ance terms. VW embodied in meat (beef, pork, and chicken) production drawn from highly exploited river corridors, such as the Nile, as well aswas also estimated as the sum of VW in feed and fodder plus a portion groundwater. To satisfy overall food demand, North Africa nearly doublesof evapotranspiration that occurs over grazing lands, where it is assumed its available VW through food trade.that 30% of net primary production and hence evapotranspiration couldbe used sustainably.

Table 7.9. Brief Overview of Hydrologic Consequences Associated with Major Classes of Land Cover and Use Change (Bosch andHewlett 1982; Swank et al. 1988; Bruijnzeel 1990; Hornbeck and Smith 1997; Jipp et al. 1998; Swanson 1998; Bonnell 1999; Le Maitre et al.1999; Buttle et al. 2000; Le Maitre et al. 2000; Zavaleta 2000; Zhang et al. 2001; Paul and Meyer 2001; Sun et al. 2001; Zoppou 2001; Tollan2002)

Type of Land Use Change Consequences on Freshwater Provisioning Service Confidence LevelNatural forest to managed forest slight decrease in available freshwater flow and a

decrease in temporal reliability (lower long-termgroundwater recharge)

likely in most temperate and warm humid climates, buthighly dependent on dominant tree species

adequate management practices may reduce impacts to aminimum

Forest to pasture/agriculture strong increase in amount of superficial runoff withassociated increase in sediment and nutrient flux

decrease in temporal reliability (floods, lower long-termgroundwater recharge)

very likely at the global level; impact will depend on per-centage of catchment area covered

consequences are less severe if conversion is to pastureinstead of agriculture

most critical for areas with high precipitation during con-centrated periods of time (e.g., monsoons)

Forest to urban very strong increase in runoff with the associatedincrease in pollution loads

strong decrease in temporal reliability (floods, lower long-term groundwater recharge)

very likely at the global level with impact dependent onpercent of catchment area converted

stronger effects when lower part of catchment is trans-formed

most critical for areas with recurrent strong precipitationevents

Invasion by species with higherevapotranspiration rates

strong decrease in runoff

strong decrease in temporal reliability (low long-termgroundwater recharge)

very likely, although highly dependent on the characteris-tics of dominant tree species

scarcely documented except for South Africa, Australia,and the Colorado River in the United States

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188 Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Current State and Trends

Central America, most of the United States, Western Europe, andthe Persian Gulf (Revenga et al. 2000). While Figures 7.10 and7.11 show the average composition of each large river basin interms of intensively cultivated land or urban and industrial areas,they nonetheless hide within-basin differences that arise fromhighly localized patterns of crop production and urban pointsources of pollution (Revenga et al. 2000).

The implications of these changes and the incomplete under-standing of their consequences affect the manner in whichhumans interact with the water cycle. Integrated watershed man-agement is the current paradigm for sustainable water use andconservation (Poff et al. 1997). It can yield important environ-mental and social benefits, as shown by a survey of 27 U.S. watersuppliers that found the cost of water treatment in watershedsforested 60% or more was only half that of systems with 30%forest cover (Ernst 2004).

In practice, the integrated management approach is complexand difficult to implement because of limits to the understandingof interactions linking the physical and biotic processes that con-trol water quantity and quality (Schulze 2004). Integrated man-agement research typically has focused on local and short timescales and been limited to a very small portion of the world’swatersheds. Most of the understanding of watershed dynamics andmanagement principles comes from hydrological research onsmall watersheds and from studies at the local scale (Vorosmarty2002). At present, the longest hydrological studies encompass onlythe last 20–40 years, but the recent application of GIS techniquesfacilitates reconstruction of past events to place the impact of con-temporary land management into a longer-term perspective (Bha-duri et al. 2000).

One significant challenge to both scientific understanding andsound management is that multiple processes control water quan-tity, quality, and flow regime. The pattern and extent of cities,roads, agricultural land, and natural areas within a watershed in-fluences infiltration properties, evapotranspiration rates, and run-off patterns, which in turn affect water quantity and quality.Additional challenges surround the fact that river basins extendacross contrasting political, cultural, and economic domains (theMekong River, for instance, flows through China, Laos, Thai-land, Cambodia, and Viet Nam). Thus, there remains substantialuncertainty about the effects of management on different compo-nents of the hydrological cycle arising from the unique combina-tions of climatic, social, and ecological characteristics of theworld’s watersheds (Bruijnzeel 1990; Tollan 2002).

It is widely recognized that while much more information isneeded to evaluate the impact of land use and cover change onfreshwater provisioning services, integrated watershed manage-ment—despite its present degree of uncertainty—is both possibleand would contribute significantly to improved management ofwater resources (Swanson 1998; Tollan 2002).

7.3.4 Climate Change and Variability

A major and natural characteristic of the land-based water cycle,and hence of water supply, is its variability over space and time.The large-scale patterns of atmospheric circulation dictate theworld’s climate zones and regional water availability. One particu-lar concern arises from climate change, which in the past hasshaped major shifts in the water cycle, such as changes in theSahara from a much wetter region with abundant vegetationabout 10,000 years ago to the desert of today (Sircoulon et al.1999). A changing climate can modify all elements of the watercycle, including precipitation, evapotranspiration, soil moisture,

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groundwater recharge, and runoff. It can also change both thetiming and intensity of precipitation, snowmelt, and runoff.

Two issues are critical for water supply: changes in the averagerunoff supply and changes in the frequency and severity of ex-treme events, including both flooding and drought. Both of thesechanges have been difficult to articulate due to complexities inthe processes at work as well as a non-uniform and, in many partsof the world, deteriorating monitoring network, as discussed insection 7.1.2.

Shiklomanov and Rodda (2003) present a study of continental-scale variations in water supply as represented in the observationalrecord spanning 1921–88. They used data from a total of approxi-mately 2,500 stations, maximizing, to the degree possible, lengthof record, suitably large river basins, and hydrographs reflectingnear-natural conditions. The stations represented �10% of allavailable records and reflect great disparities in maximum lengthof record (from 5 to 178 years). (Statistically, the optimal recordlength for trend analysis is on the order of 30 years (Lanfear andHirsh 1999; Shiklomanov et al. 2002), but detectability of a trendalso depends on the relative lengths of the ‘‘base’’ (pre-change)and changed periods of record (Radziejewski and Kundzewicz2004).)

Year-to-year variations over five continents were 10% or less(see Figure 7.12) but rose to as high as 35% when examining 27climate-based subdivisions. Relatively dry periods occurred in the1940s, 1960s, and late 1970s, with global runoff declining by upto 3,000 cubic kilometers a year. This is in contrast to relativelywet conditions in the 1920s, late-1940s to early 1950s, and mid-1970s. Though there are limitations to making such global state-ments, the overall conclusion with respect to renewable suppliesof runoff is that despite some recent continental-scale trends (anincrease in South America and decrease in Africa), there was nosubstantial global trend in renewable supplies of runoff over the67 years tested. Labat et al. (2004) did, however, compute anincreasing global trend in runoff. This was correlated to increasingglobal surface air temperature, amounting to 4% per degree Cel-sius over the last century, though with regional increases (Asia,North and South America) and decreases (Africa) or stability (Eu-rope) over the last few decades.

Care must be exercised in interpreting such long-term trends,which are anticipated to be associated with climate change. Mapsof trends presented by the IPCC (Houghton et al. 2001) showlarge-scale and spatially coherent increases as well as decreases inprecipitation over multi-decadal periods that start in 1910, al-though these patterns shift depending on the time frame observed.A similar time dependency is evident in interpreting changes inrain-to-snow ratios across Canada, with a time frame of 1948–96indicating completely opposite results than with a time seriesstarting at 1960 and ending in 1990 (Mekis and Hogg 1999; Lam-mers et al. 2001).

The clearest signatures require long time periods and sufficientspatial integration units (that is, large drainage basins). Peterson etal. (2002), for example, found it impossible to detect a coherenttrend in runoff without first aggregating the flow records from sixlarge Eurasian rivers and over 65 years. Insofar as northern Eurasiais among the regions historically to show the clearest trends inclimate warming and the general absence of other confoundingeffects such as land cover change and water engineering, theseresults point to the difficulty in assessing recent runoff trends.

Nonetheless, there is evidence that climate change may al-ready be causing long-term shifts in seasonal weather patterns andthe runoff production that defines renewable freshwater supply.Shifts toward less severe winters and earlier thaw periods in coldtemperate climates that depend on snowfall and snowmelt result

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189Fresh Water

Figure 7.12. Time Series of Renewable Water Supply across the Global Landmass since 1920. The series is based on a subset ofavailable discharge station records. (Shiklomanov and Rodda 2003)

in important changes in water availability (Dettinger and Cayan1995; Hamlet and Lettenmaier 1999; WSAT 2000; Hodgkins etal. 2003). Multi-decade hydrological anomalies are apparent forAfrica, with decreases on the order of 20% between 1951 and1990 for both humid and arid zone basins that discharge into theAtlantic (Mahe 1993).

In the Sahel, persistent rainfall deficits could entrench deserti-fication through a critical loss of water recycling between landand atmosphere, exacerbated by reduced soil infiltration when so-called hydrophobic soils are created in arid environments, and bysoil compaction over poorly managed lands (Sircoulon et al.1999). Such rainfall deficits also reduce replenishment of thegroundwater resource, exacerbated by the decreased permeabilityof soils that favor storm runoff and flooding, even in the contextof lower overall precipitation. In the transition zones betweenwet and dry regions across Africa, there is a highly uneven anderratic distribution of rainfall and river corridor flow (Vorosmartyet al. 2005). While this climate already produces chronic waterstress, episodic droughts greatly increase the number of people atrisk. Once each generation, the major sub-regions of the westernSahel, Horn of Africa, and SADCC region see a tripling in thenumber of people at risk from severe water stress (Vorosmarty etal. 2005).

An intensification of the water cycle, through more extremeprecipitation in the United States (Karl et al. 1996; Karl andKnight 1998) and other parts of the world (Easterling et al. 2000;Houghton et al. 2001; Frich et al. 2002) has also been recorded.However, the effect of these increases on the rest of the hydrolog-ical cycle is only now being articulated.

In the United States, where sufficient records are available,Lins and Slack (1999) and Douglas et al. (2000) used stream gaug-ing stations with 50 years of continuous records (from unregu-lated systems) to conclude that annual minimum and mean flowshave increased. This was later confirmed by McCabe and Wol-lock (2002), who found statistically significant increases in annualmoisture surplus (moisture that eventually becomes runoff ) overthe contiguous United States as a whole, but especially in theEast. And while Yue et al. (2003) found similar increases in mini-mum and mean daily flows in northern Canada, they found theopposite to be true (significant decreases in minimum, mean, andmaximum daily flows) in the southern part of the country.

Groisman et al. (2004) reported that warming in the northernhalf of the coterminous United States was related to a reductionin the extent of springtime snow cover and to the earlier onset ofspring-like weather conditions and snow retreat. This has resulted

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in the increased frequency of cumulonimbus clouds and in a na-tionwide increase in very heavy precipitation. Warming in thesouthwest and northeast part of the country has led to greatersummer dryness and increased fire danger. An interseasonal shiftof precipitation from summer to fall in the Southeast was alsonoted.

The effect of increased precipitation extremes on floods is stilldebated (Douglas et al. 2000; Groisman et al. 2001; McCabe andWolock 2002; Robson 2002; Milly et al. 2002) because floodresponse is influenced by many interacting factors, such as basingeology, terrain, and land cover as well as basin size and rainfallpatterns. Also, the natural variability of flood flows can mask smallchanges in precipitation inputs.

Trends are also apparent in soil moisture distributed aroundthe globe. Historical time series from more than 600 sites indicatea modest increase in growing period wetness for the majority ofstations examined (Robock et al. 2000), contrary to the expecta-tion (by general circulation models) of drier conditions in mid-continental areas due to climate change (e.g., Cubasch and Meehl2000).

Taken together, these results indicate a high natural degreeof variability and difficult-to-interpret shifts in runoff generationassociated with historical climate change. The detection of suchchanges is complicated by the interactions among existing physi-cal climate variations (that is, decadal and ENSO-type oscilla-tions), land cover change, and water engineering, which for manyparts of the world dominate the character of renewable water sup-plies.

7.3.5 Urbanization

During the twentieth century, the world’s urban population in-creased almost fifteenfold, rising from less than 15% to close tohalf the total population (see Chapter 27), and by 2015 nearly55% of the world will live in urban areas (UNPD 2003). In devel-oping countries alone, the proportion of the population living inurban centers will rise from less than 20% in 1950 to 48% in 2015(UNPD 1999, 2003). In fact, 60% of the fastest-growing citieswith more than 750,000 people are located in the developing world,mostly in Asia (World Bank 2001). While 70% of the world’swater use is for agriculture, the remaining withdrawals are fordomestic household and other urban uses, including industry, andin many places these water resources are heavily polluted and lim-ited by local shortages and distribution problems (UN-HABITAT2003).

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190 Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Current State and Trends

Urban residents bring with them a set of new challenges forwater supply delivery, management, and waste treatment (WHO/UNICEF 2004; UN-HABITAT 2003). Because of the rapid rateof increase in cities around the world, water infrastructure is prac-tically unable to keep apace, especially in the megacities withmore than 10 million people. Large parts of these megacities lackthe basic infrastructure for drinking water and sanitation, andmost large cities in the developing world, and many in the indus-trial world, lack basic waste and storm water treatment plants(UN-HABITAT 2003).

The geographic location of many of these large and growingcities, such as close to coastal areas, and their rapid pace of growthhas encouraged the overtapping of water resources that are notnecessarily renewable, such as coastal aquifers. In Europe, for in-stance, nearly 60% of the cities with more than 100,000 peopleare located in areas where there is groundwater overabstraction(EEA 1995). Groundwater overexploitation is also evident inmany Asian cities. Bangkok, Manila, Tianjin, Beijing, Chennai(formerly Madras), Shanghai, and Xian all have registered a de-cline in water table levels of 10–50 meters (Foster et al. 1998).These high levels of abstraction in many cases are accompaniedby water quality degradation and land subsidence. For instance,the aquifer that supplies much of Mexico City had fallen by 10meters as of 1992, with a consequent land subsidence of up to 9meters (Foster et al. 1998).

Overabstraction is also an increasing problem with tourism-associated development, particularly in coastal areas. Ground-water overabstraction in such areas can reverse the natural flow ofgroundwater into the ocean, causing saltwater to intrude into in-land aquifers. Because of the high marine salt content, even lowconcentrations of seawater in an aquifer are enough to makegroundwater supplies unfit for human consumption (Scheidlederet al. 1999). Of 126 groundwater areas in Europe for which statuswas reported, 53 showed saltwater intrusion, mostly of aquifersused for public and industrial water supply (Scheidleder et al.1999).

Unfortunately, the poor, mostly migrant workers from ruralareas suffer most from reduced quality or quantity of water supplywhen they resettle to large cities. Poor residents of cities tend toconcentrate in the outskirts, where safe drinking water and sanita-tion are less available, and they often depend on contaminatedsources of water or intermediate water vendors who charge exor-bitant prices.

In the context of these many problems, an emerging trendtoward protecting water supplies for urban areas is noteworthy. Astudy of more than 100 of the world’s largest cities, for example,found that more than 40% rely on runoff-producing areas that arefully or partially protected (Dudley and Stolton 2003). This re-flects a growing recognition of the value of ecosystem serviceslinked to sound watershed management approaches, as well as ofthe limits placed on urban water supply from polluted upstreamsource areas (UN-HABITAT 2003). The geography of down-stream populations supported by upstream runoff-producing areassuggests the potential global importance of this management strat-egy. This is further demonstrated by Table 7.2, with data showingbillions of people living downstream of particular MA ecosystemsand their renewable freshwater flows.

7.3.6 Industrial Development

Industrial processes, which include withdrawals for manufacturingand thermoelectric cooling, today use about 20% of the totalfreshwater withdrawals, which has more than doubled between1960 and 2000 (Shiklomanov and Rodda 2003). Even though this

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global use remains small in comparison to water used for agricul-ture, the current trend in shifting the manufacturing base from in-dustrial to developing countries, due to globalization andinternational trade, is of concern for future water security. Muchof the technology developed for industry is adapted to industrialnations, which are generally considerably more water-rich. Whenindustrial plants are relocated to developing countries, many ofwhich are water-poor or have limited water delivery services,these operations add pressure to the water resource base and in-crease conflict among water users. In addition, the environmentalsafeguards for effluent treatment are less well established or en-forced in developing nations, adding to the scarcity problems byincreasing pollution.

The most polluting industries, in terms of organic water pol-lutants, are those whose products are based on organic raw mate-rials, such as food and beverage, paper and pulp, and textile plants(UN/WWAP 2003). Power station electric generation is thelargest source of thermal water pollution. Estimates correlatingwater withdrawals for industrial use with population density byriver basin show that many already water-stressed river basins arealso centers for industrial production, such as in eastern China,India, and parts of Europe (UN/WWAP 2003).

Industrial emissions are released not only as thermal andchemical effluents into rivers and streams but also as gases andaerosols into the atmosphere. These can be transported for largedistances and may end up deposited in other water bodies far fromthe emission source. Large areas of the continents show atmo-spheric deposition as the single most important source of nitrogenloading, with concomitant increases in pollutant transportthrough inland waterways (Green et al. 2004).

7.4 Consequences for Human Well-being ofChanges in the Provision of Fresh WaterWater is essential for human well-being, but not all parts of theworld receive the same amount or timing of available water sup-plies. Some areas contain abundant water throughout the year,others have seasonal floods and droughts, and still others havehardly any water at all. In river basins with high water demandrelative to the available supply, water scarcity is a growing prob-lem, as is water pollution. Water availability is already one of themajor challenges facing human society, and the lack of water willbe one of the key factors limiting development (WMO 1997;UN/WWAP 2003). The socioeconomic implications of deliver-ing, using, managing, or buying water also have impacts onhuman well-being. This section begins with a brief overview ofthe benefits and required investments for water resource systems;examines the implications of freshwater scarcity, including treat-ment of pricing and equity issues; and concludes with descriptionsof the consequences of too much water (flooding) and the con-nections between freshwater services and human health.

7.4.1 Freshwater Provision: Benefits andInvestment Requirements

Over the long term, water use has generally increased geometri-cally, in line with population growth, increased food production,and economic development (L’vovich and White 1990), and dur-ing the last 40 years, there has been a doubling in the water usedby society—from 1,800 to 3,600 cubic kilometers a year. In anaggregate sense, water is a required input generating value-addedin all sectors of the economy, and trends in its use can be assessedfrom its ability to yield economic productivity. In the UnitedStates, for example, water productivity measured as GDP per

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cubic meter of freshwater use rose dramatically between 1960 and2000 by about 25% per decade, to $18 per cubic meter (Posteland Vickers 2004), in response to shifts in regulation, technology,and restructuring of the economy.

Water provided for irrigation has a particularly important role,being responsible for 40% of global crop production (UN/WWAP 2003). And despite major challenges in conveying ade-quate drinking water and sanitation, more than 5 billion peopleare routinely provided with clean water and more than 3.5 billionhave access to sanitation (WHO/UNICEF 2004). Further, withcontinued investments in water infrastructure, much of theworld’s population has benefited from allied improvements inpublic health, flood control, electrification, food security throughirrigation, and associated economic development. From thisstandpoint, well-managed water resources have helped promoteeconomic development, which is tied closely to improvements inmany aspects of human well-being.

A good example is provided by a recent analysis (Hutton andHaller 2004) of the cost-effectiveness of different options toachieve MDG 7 (on access to safe water and basic sanitation).Of five scenarios tested, two considered Target 10—halving theproportion of people without sustainable access to safe water by2015 and halving the proportion of people without sustainableaccess to improved sanitation. It was shown that for each dollarinvested in both improved water supply and sanitation, a returnof $3–34 can be expected. Among the health benefits of achiev-ing the MDG drinking water target was a global reduction indiarrheal episodes of 10%. The economic benefits of simultane-ously meeting the drinking water and sanitation MDG targets onhouseholds and the health sector amount to $84 billion per year,representing reduced health care costs, value of days gained fromreduced illness, averted deaths, and time savings from proximityto drinking water and sanitation facilities for productive endeavor.

Because of the variability of the water cycle, economic bene-fits often accrue only after substantial investments in infrastructureand operations that stabilize and improve the reliability of waterresources. Capital investments in water infrastructure totaled $400billion in the United States over the last century (Rogers 1993).When the annual investment in water storage for irrigation glob-ally during the 1990s of about $15 billion (WCD 2000) is tabu-lated, an important source of required capital can be seen, whichcan constitute a major fraction of agricultural investment for manydeveloping countries (UN/WWAP 2003).

Worldwide, investments in dams have totaled $2 trillion(WCD 2000). World Bank lending for irrigation and drainageaveraged about $1.5 billion per year from 1960 to 2000, althoughthis continues to decrease from a peak of $2.5 billion in 1975 toits current rate of $500 million (Thompson 2001). Global costsfor expanding irrigation facilities are estimated at $5 billion annu-ally, but rehabilitation and modernization costs on existing irriga-tion works are estimated at an additional $10 billion or more peryear (UN/WWAP 2003). Although projected funding for eco-nomic development and meeting the MDGs for the entire watersector is estimated to reach $111–180 billion a year, current in-vestments in sanitation and water supply total from $10 billion to$30 billion annually (UN/WWAP 2003). Securing water re-sources is thus deeply embedded within development investmentand planning but incompletely resolved. The private sector, withglobal revenues today standing at $300 billion annually (Gleick etal. 2002a), is a major player in providing potential investments, asdescribed later.

7.4.2 Consequences of Water Scarcity

With population growth and the overexploitation and contami-nation of water resources, the gap between available water supply

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and water demand is increasing in many parts of the world. Inareas where water supply is already limited, water scarcity is likelyto be the most serious constraint on development, particularly indrought-prone areas. Earlier in this chapter we provided a quanti-fication of water scarcity in physical terms. Here scarcity ismapped to issues relating directly to human well-being.

While decreased or variable water supply has sometimes pre-sented itself as an opportunity to develop efficiency-enhancingresponses (Wolff and Gleick 2002) and cooperation (Wolf et al.1999; UN/WWAP 2003), more often it has spawned numerousdevelopment challenges, including increased levels of competi-tion for water among people and between people and ecosystems;the use of non-sustainable supplies or development of costly alter-natives; limits to economic growth, including curtailment ofactivities and required importation of food and other water-intensivecommodities; pollution and public health problems; potential po-litical and civil instability (Furlong and Gleditsch 2003; Miguel etal. 2004); and international disputes in transboundary river basins(Gleick 1998). These situations arise in part because society hastypically managed ecosystems for one dominant service such astimber or hydropower without fully realizing the trade-offs beingmade in such management. This approach has led to the docu-mented decline in freshwater ecosystem condition, with accom-panying consequences for human well-being. The poor, whoselivelihoods often depend most directly on ecosystem services, suf-fer most when ecosystems are degraded. (See Chapter 6.)

One of the problems thus far has been the difficulty of relatingecosystem condition to human well-being, particularly from thesocioeconomic perspective. An emphasis on water supply, by de-veloping more dams and reservoirs, coupled with weak enforce-ment of regulations, thus has limited the effectiveness of waterresource management, particularly in developing regions of theworld (Revenga and Cassar 2002).

As a consequence, policy-makers are now shifting from en-tirely supply-based solutions to demand management, highlight-ing the importance of using a combination of measures to ensureadequate supplies of water for different sectors, and slowly mov-ing toward an integrated approach to water resources manage-ment (Schulze 2004) that is now linked directly to developmentinitiatives (GWP 2000; UN-HABITAT 2003; Kakabadse-Navarro et al. 2004). Measures include improving water use effi-ciency, pricing policies, preservation of environmental flows,market incentives, privatization of water delivery, and public-private partnerships among others. (See MA Policy Responses,Chapter 7, for more on response measures in integrated waterresource management.)

Human society has relied for decades on economic and socialindicators for planning, but in virtually complete isolation of mea-sures depicting the state and trends of ecosystem services. Thissection presents some of the latest findings relating water as anecosystem service through social and economic indicators.

The need for integrated indicators or indices at the nationalor regional scale to help donors and decision-makers establish pri-orities in water resource management is widely acknowledged.Such metrics can also assist in monitoring progress toward sustain-able development goals in a systematic manner. Many such toolshave been proposed over the last several decades. For example,the Water Stress Index was developed in the 1970s to link popula-tion to water resources (Falkenmark 1997), and various other in-dices have been proposed, such as the Stockholm EnvironmentInstitute’s Water Resources Vulnerability Index (Gleick et al.2002b). New water scarcity indices capitalizing on geospatial datasets and high-resolution digital representations of river networks

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192 Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Current State and Trends

can define the climatic and hydrological sources of water-relatedstress (Vorosmarty et al. 2005).

One important indicator that combines physical, environ-mental, economic, and social information related to water avail-ability and use is the Water Poverty Index. The WPI is similar tothe Human Development Index but applicable to a more localscale, where the impacts of water scarcity are fundamentally ex-pressed. It measures water stress at the household and communitylevel and was designed to ‘‘aid national decision makers, at com-munity and central government level, as well as donor agencies,to determine priority needs for intervention in the water sector’’(Sullivan et al. 2003).

The WPI reflects an attempt to quantify inequities in waterallocation and the inability of the poor to govern access to water.It has five key components, each based on a series of input vari-ables that are weighed and aggregated into the overall index.When an element cannot be measured, proxy indicators are usedin its place. The WPI relies in part on standardized data collectedfor other purposes, and thus can be used in comparative analysisof water stress across countries. For instance, to provide inputs onwater management capacity the index uses Log GDP per capita,under-5 mortality rates, and a UNDP education index, all usedpreviously in constructing the HDI. The five components of theWPI and some of its key variables are:• Water resources: The physical characteristics of water availability

and water quality. This component includes total water avail-ability, its variability across time (seasonality), and its quality.

• Access to water: This includes not only the distance to waterfrom dwellings but, more important, the time spent in collect-ing water, conflicts over water use, and access to sanitation.

• Water use: This represents withdrawals for domestic, agricul-tural, and industrial purposes. In many parts of the world,small-scale irrigation and livestock are key components oflivelihood strategies and thus are tabulated as inputs.

• Capacity to manage water: This component is measured in termsof income, education level, membership in water users associ-ations, and the burden of illness due to contaminated water.

• Environmental integrity: If the ecosystems that support water de-livery are degraded, then provision of water per se plus themany services derived from freshwater systems will be jeop-ardized. This component evaluates the integrity of freshwaterecosystems based on the use of natural resources, crop lossesreported in the previous five years, and household reports ofland erosion. Overall, no variables of the actual condition ofaquatic ecosystems are included, suggesting a component ofthe index that could benefit from revision.The WPI has been tested internationally in 140 countries as

well as at the local scale in South Africa, Tanzania, and Sri Lanka.Finland and Iceland were found to score the best, while Haiti andEthiopia fared worst (Lawrence et al. 2003). The results of thelocal pilot analysis look promising, but the WPI would benefitfrom a better incorporation of ecosystem condition and capacitymeasures. Nevertheless, the WPI is a vehicle for understandingthe complex relationship between water services and human well-being. Moreover, as the authors state, it constitutes ‘‘a systematicapproach that is open and transparent to all’’ (Sullivan et al. 2003),allowing incremental improvements to the index to be madethrough community consensus.

There are also important gender-related issues associated withwater poverty. Women and men usually have different roles inwater and sanitation activities, and these differences are pro-nounced in rural areas across the developing world (Brismar 1997;UN/WWAP 2003). Women are most often the users, providers,and managers of water in rural households and the guardians of

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household hygiene. In many parts of the world, women and girlscan spend several hours a day carrying heavy water containers,suffering acute physical problems as a result (WEDO 2004). Theinordinate burden of acquiring water also inhibits women’s andgirls’ opportunities to secure an education and contribute to fam-ily income (WEDO 2004).

7.4.3 The Cost and Pricing of Water Delivery

Water users in most countries are generally charged but a smallfraction of the actual cost of water abstraction, delivery, disposal,and treatment (Briscoe 1999; WHO/UNICEF 2000; Walker etal. 2000), and in some countries implicit and explicit water sub-sidies can reach up to 93% (Pagiola et al. 2002). Moreover, exter-nalities associated with freshwater use, such as salinization of soils,degradation of ecosystems, and pollution of waterways, have beenalmost universally ignored, promoting current inefficiencies inuse and threats to freshwater ecosystems. In general, those withaccess to abundant or underpriced water use it in a wasteful man-ner, while many, usually the poor, still lack sufficient access towater resources.

When water is in short supply or when it is polluted or unsafeto drink, the expense of delivering water services can rise dramati-cally or force curtailment in use. As scarcity increases, the cost ofdeveloping new freshwater resources also reflects the need to se-cure water from sources sometimes at great distances from theeventual user, often involving complex hydrological engineering(Hirji 1998; Rosegrant et al. 2002). Until recently there were fewincentives in most countries to use water efficiently. However,increasing costs of water supply, dwindling supplies, and losses ofaquatic habitat and biodiversity are increasingly providing in-centives to value water as an economic good. In most countries,governments bear the burden of water delivery to users, butmaintaining necessary infrastructure and expanding it to reach un-served users or improve the efficiency of water delivery is theexception rather than the norm (Pagiola et al. 2002). Inadequatefunding results in a lack of new connections and unreliable ser-vice, with serious consequences for the poor, who usually incurhigher costs when forced to obtain water from alternative sources(Pagiola et al. 2002).

Water can be priced in a number of different ways, and thepast decade has shown the increasing application of several com-mon methods, including flat fees, fixed fees plus volumetriccharges, decreasing block rates, and increasing block rates. Someof these measures discourage waste, while others lead to overuse.(See MA Policy Responses, Chapter 7). This section surveys recenttrends in the price and cost of water, reviews cost-recovery strate-gies, and assesses the impact on human well-being of privatizationand public-private partnerships that deliver freshwater services. The Price of Water and Recent Trends

There are enormous disparities in the price of fresh water suppliedto end-users, reflecting a complex interplay among several factors,including proximity to natural sources of sufficient quantity andquality, level of economic development, investments—both pub-lic and private—in water infrastructure, and governance. A surveyof urban households across the developing world showed watercosts from both public and private sources varying by a factor of10,000, from $0.00001 per liter (for piped supply in Calcutta) toas high as $0.1 per liter (through private water vendors) (UN-HABITAT 2003). Even municipal supplies can constitute a sub-stantial fraction of monthly family expenditure—for example, upto 20% in informal settlements in Namibia (UN-HABITAT2003). An analysis of urban areas in Asia showed that prices

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193Fresh Water

charged by informal water vendors are more than 100 times thatfrom domestic connections (ADB 2001). In Benin, Burkina Faso,Kenya, Mauritania, and Uganda, household connection fees topiped water supplies exceeded per capita GDP by factors of up to5:1, rendering these unaffordable (Collignon and Vezina 2000).

Cities also have seen a marked increase in the cost of financingnew water supplies. In Amman, Jordan, during the 1980s ground-water sources were used to meet water needs at an incrementalcost of $0.41 per cubic meter. As groundwater supplies declined,the city began to rely on surface water pumped from a site 40kilometers away at an average incremental cost of $1.33 per cubicmeter (Rosegrant et al. 2002). In another example, the real costof water supply for irrigation in Pakistan more than doubled be-tween 1980 and 1990 (Dinar and Subramanian 1997).

In Algeria, drought during 2000–02 forced cuts in the provi-sion of water supply from municipal networks (access restrictedto several hours every two to four days), despite large investmentsin water supply networks by the Algerian government since 1962(UN-HABITAT 2003). The situation was further exacerbated bylack of maintenance of the network, with water losses throughleaking pipes and underpricing of the resource use. Today, priceincreases and a major facilities upgrade are under way. Many Afri-can cities have exhausted and polluted local groundwater supplies,necessitating expensive transport of fresh water from distantsuppliers (200 kilometers in the case of Dakar, Senegal) (UN-HABITAT 2003) or the need to invest in desalination, which isamong the costliest methods of supplying fresh water (Gleick2000; UN/WWAP 2003).

In addition to direct prices paid, additional costs are incurredby the poor provision of water services. Time spent in travelingto supplies, queuing, and transporting water can be a significantburden on household incomes for the poor. Compared with thelate 1960s, households without piped water supply in Kenya,Uganda, and Tanzania today spend triple the time each day secur-ing water, an average of over 90 minutes (UN-HABITAT 2003).Public taps are often in short supply, as in many Asian cities,where several hundred people are served by a single source (Mc-Intosh and Yninguez 1997). Further, the true costs associated withwater delivery services are amplified by significant health burdensincurred when supplies are insufficient to meet basic needs. In thecase of Lima, Peru, a major portion of household income (27%)is represented by medical costs and lost wages from water-relateddisease (Alcazar et al. 2000), while in Khulna, Bangladesh, an av-erage of 10 labor days per month are lost due illness from poorwater provision (Pryer 1993). Cost Recovery

The fourth guiding principle of the Dublin Statement on Devel-opment Issues for the 21st Century (ICWE 1992) articulated that‘‘water has an economic value’’ and ‘‘should be recognized as aneconomic good.’’ At the same time, the statement argued thatwater should be available to all people at affordable prices. Aftermuch discussion and controversy, which continues to this day, theMinisterial Declaration from the 2nd World Water Forum (2002)established that ‘‘the economic value of water should be recog-nized and fully reflected in national policies and strategies by2005’’ and that ‘‘mechanisms should be established by 2015 tofacilitate the full cost pricing for water services, while the needsof the poor are guaranteed.’’

Supporters of full-cost water pricing argue that to improveefficiency, the set price of water needs to reflect the cost of sup-plying, distributing, and treating it. There is some evidence thatthis principle works. For instance, price increases for water in

PAGE 193

Bogor, Indonesia, reduced domestic consumption by 30% (Rose-grant et al. 1995). Proponents of full-cost water pricing also pointout that most of the poor are not meeting their basic water needstoday under current public management, usually because of lackof government capacity and resources. Consequently, poor com-munities are already paying higher prices through intermediatewater vendors than if they were connected to a water deliverysystem.

But while pricing water to reflect its true cost is relativelysimple in theory, the political and social obstacles are formidable.Opponents to the idea of full-cost water pricing claim that accessto water is a fundamental human right. Water, like air, shouldtherefore not be treated as an exchangeable, marketable commod-ity, because if market conditions rule, access to water becomesdependent on the ability to pay and not an inherent entitlement.In the eyes of many, establishing a price for water or privatizingits delivery puts many of the poorest, most marginalized people atrisk of not getting enough water to meet basic needs.

The majority of OECD countries have adopted or are adopt-ing, as an operating principle, the full-cost recovery concept inwater management, although what should be covered under this‘‘full cost’’ is still a matter of debate. Infrastructure costs, however,are not usually included (UN/WWAP 2003). As pricing was re-structured and subsidies reduced during the 1990s and in thecurrent decade in industrial countries to capture the full-cost re-covery of water, the real price of water was increasing in 18 outof 19 countries surveyed (Australia being the only exception). Intwo thirds of OECD countries, over 90% of single-family homesare currently metered (OECD 1999).

The concept of full-cost water pricing in the developingworld has been introduced with the support of local communitiesin situations where a more reliable service is assured. In Haiti, forexample, shantytown residents with no connection to the waterutility pay 10 times more for water from water vendors (watertrucks) than those who are connected to the private water utilitygrid in nearby villages (Constance 1999). Residents connected tothe grid have their water use metered and pay the correspondingfees. Water Privatization

One of the most controversial trends in today’s globalized econ-omy is the increasing privatization of some water managementand delivery services. In many countries, due to increasing costsof maintaining and expanding water networks and overstretchedgovernment budgets, private companies have been invited to takeover some of the management and operations of public watersystems. Private-sector investment in theory results in more fi-nancing for infrastructure as well as more-efficient operations andcost recovery, and the hope is that the public will benefit froma more stable and reliable water delivery system at a reasonableprice.

Opponents to privatizing water services argue that putting pri-vate companies in charge of water will drive prices to the pointthat marginalized groups have no capacity to secure sufficientwater even for their most basic of needs. In addition, because theprofit motive fails to recognize environmental externalities, theyargue that privatization will increase risk to the very ecosystemsthat help supply fresh water. The debate on public-private part-nerships for water management was prominent on the agenda ofthe World Water Forum gatherings (in particular, at the 2ndForum in The Hague and the 3rd Forum in Kyoto), as well as atthe World Summit on Sustainable Development.

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194 Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Current State and Trends

Despite trends toward privatization, at present over 80% ofthe world’s investments in water, sanitation, and hydropower sys-tems are by publicly owned bodies or international donors (Win-penny 2003). Therefore, the responsibility for providing water,over the short to medium term, will remain largely a public enter-prise. Among industrial countries, there is much variation in thedegree of privatization. In the United States in 2000, private com-panies provided only 15% of municipal water supply, although inthe nineteenth century they provided nearly 95% (Gleick et al.2002a). France, in contrast, shows more than half of all residentscurrently served by private companies (Gleick et al. 2002a).

In Latin America, Chile has been successful at delivering waterthrough privatization, and nearly all houses in Santiago have ac-cess to clean water and sanitation. Despite exchange-rate fluctua-tions, a foreign company, Suez, has remained the water providerfor Santiago and its region, investing over $1 billion in waterinfrastructure. Water in Chile has been priced at rates affordableby the middle classes, and stamps are given to poor people toguarantee near-universal access. Conversely, in Argentina, whatlooked like a positive trend did not withstand economic troubles.In 1993 privatization in Buenos Aires increased the share of resi-dents served with water from 70% to 85%—an increase of 1.6million people, with a concurrent drop in prices (Peet 2003).Exchange-rate fluctuations in many developing countries, such asthe currency devaluation in Argentina in 2002, add challenges tosuccessful implementation of privatization schemes. If the cur-rency of a country devalues, the price paid for water will be worthmuch less, and the foreign firm could pull out of the market,leaving users without reliable service (Peet 2003).

South Africa is using a different pricing scheme to improvepoor people’s access to water and has made good progress in pro-viding water to nearly two thirds of those who lacked access in1994, when apartheid officially ended. Despite the relatively lowcost of water, however, some rural residents opted to consumefree—but contaminated—water from other sources. In February2000, to improve public health for the poor, the government in-troduced a scheme to provide households with 6,000 free liters ofwater per month, enough to provide 25 liters per person per day,with charges for additional use.

Privatization can be executed in many ways, depending onthe level of transfer from public to private hands. Full transfer ofownership and operations of water resource systems so far hasbeen rare. The majority of cases embody the transfer of certainoperational aspects, such as water delivery, but the ownership ofthe water resources usually remains with the state, thereby form-ing a public-private partnership.

These partnerships have been demonstrated over the last fewyears to capture the benefits of privatization without all of the risk(Blokland et al. 1999). They do not privatize all of the waterassets, but they do give private actors control over some elementsof the water rights, infrastructure, and distribution systems. Yetpublic entities typically maintain ownership over some or all ofthese systems. Public-private partnerships work best when strongregulatory controls exist. A typical arrangement in France, for ex-ample, delegates the operation, maintenance, and development ofpublic potable water and sanitation to private companies, thoughpublic bodies retain ownership of the system (Barraque et al.1994; Gleick et al. 2002c).

Experience has shown that a clear legal framework, whererisks are decreased and the cost of capital decreases, would benecessary to enlist private-sector involvement (Winpenny 2003).More detailed analysis of privatization as a response option for thesustainable management of water resources and freshwater ecosys-tems is presented in Chapter 7 of the MA Policy Responses volume.

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7.4.4 Consequences of Too Much Water: Floods

In addition to water scarcity, the accumulation of too much waterin too little time in a specific area can be devastating to popula-tions and national economies. (See Chapter 16.) According to thelatest World Disasters Report (IFRC/RCS 2003), on average 140million people are affected by floods each year, more than allother natural or technological disasters put together. Between1990 and 1999, there were over 100,000 people reportedly killedby floods. The majority of these deaths were in Asia (56,000),followed by the Americas (35,000), Africa (9,000), and Europe(3,000) (IFRC/RCS 2000).

In addition to human lives, floods are a costly natural hazardin monetary terms, with more than $244 billion damage from1990 to 1999, the most of any single class of natural hazard(IFRC/RCS 2000). Although this arises from potential changesin climate variability and extreme weather, humans also play animportant role, settling and expanding into vulnerable areas(Kunkel et al. 1999; van der Wink et al. 1998).

While catastrophic flooding has negatively affected society forthousands of years, naturally occurring floods also provide benefitsto humans through maintenance of ecosystem functioning such assediment and nutrient inputs to renew soil fertility in floodplains,providing floodwaters to fish spawning and breeding sites andhelping to define the dynamics to which coastal ecosystems areadapted. Although floods are primarily natural events, human ac-tivity influences their frequency and severity. By converting natu-ral landscapes to urban centers, deforesting hillsides, and drainingwetlands, humans reduce the capacity of ecosystems and soils toabsorb excess water and to evaporate or transpire water back intothe atmosphere, creating conditions that promote increased run-off and flooding.

There are, then, potentially costly consequences of upstreamanthropogenic activities on hydrological function that placedownstream populations at risk, sometimes affecting other na-tions, as in the case of more than 250 international river basins(Wolf et al. 1999). Douglas et al. (2005) reported on a simulationstudy suggesting that, in aggregate, a 32% conversion of forests toagriculture across the pan-tropics has led to a mean increase inannual basin yields of approximately 10%, with a concomitant risein seasonal high flows. More than 800 million people live alongfloodplains in river basins containing some amount of tropicalforest, and if the most threatened of the existing forests are con-verted to agriculture in the future, approximately 80 million ofthem could be at risk from the hydrologic impacts associated withthese land conversions. Costa et al. (2003) present empirical evi-dence that large-scale savanna clearance in the Tocantins basin inBrazil (175,000 square kilometers) has been associated with in-creases of 24% in mean annual and 28% in wet season flows, inde-pendent of climate variations.

Nevertheless, there is some agreement that the most cata-strophic floods in large basins result from storms so large and per-sistent that peak flows are unaffected by land cover (Calder 1999;Bruijnzeel 2004). Further, the proclivities of particular regions tolandslides, soil erosion, and debris flows, as in the Himalayas, con-stitute the dominant source of risk (Gilmour et al. 1987; Hamilton1987; Gardner 2002). Thus the costs and benefits of designinginterventions to mitigate floods have their limits, and there maybe little opportunity to escape potential vulnerabilities to flood-ing, given current patterns of human settlement in high-risk areas.

These findings should not suggest abandonment of good landstewardship, which yields fundamental benefits in sustaining eco-system services. But they do argue for clearly identifying thesource areas of hazard and designing response strategies to protect

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195Fresh Water

life and property. Even when specific and well-established policygoals for watershed protection are formulated, stakeholder inter-ests and sustainable funding issues add to the challenge of designingeffective upstream-downstream management strategies (Pagiola2002).

Further information on the impact of natural hazards, includ-ing floods, on human well-being can be found in Chapter 16.

7.4.5 Consequences of Poor Water Quality onHuman Health

Water is an essential resource for sustaining human health, andthere is a basic per capita daily water requirement of 20 to 40liters of water free from harmful contaminants and pathogens forthe purposes of drinking and sanitation, which rises to 50 literswhen bathing and kitchen needs are considered (Gleick 1996,1998, 1999). Yet billions of people lack the services to meet thisneed, as documented earlier. Water-related diseases include fourmajor classes: waterborne, water-washed, water-based, andwater-related vector-borne infections (Bradley 1977). Threats tohealth also arise from chemical pollution. Water-Related Diseases

As a whole, water-related diseases are a leading cause of morbidityand mortality in many parts of the developing world, with esti-mates ranging from 2 million to 12 million deaths per year (Gleick2002), although monitoring and reporting remain poor in manycountries. (See Table 7.10.) UN/WWAP (2003) reports 3.2 mil-lion deaths each year from water-related infectious disease, orabout 6% of all deaths. The lack of access to safe water and tobasic sanitary conditions also translates into the annual loss of 1.7million lives and at least 50 million disability-adjusted life years.(The DALY is a summary measure of population health, calcu-lated as the sum of years lost due to premature mortality and thehealthy years lost due to disability for incident cases of the illhealth condition. The DALY is not only an effectiveness indicator

Table 7.10. Selected Water-Related Diseases. Approximate yearly number of cases, mortality, and disability-adjusted life years. The DALYis a summary measure of population health, calculated as the sum of years lost due to premature mortality and the healthy years lost due todisability for incident cases of the ill-health condition. (WHO 2001, 2004)

Disease Number of CasesDisability- Adjusted

Life YearsEstimatedMortality Relationship to Freshwater Services

(thousand DALYs) (thousand)

Diarrhea 4 billion 55,000a 1,700a water contaminated by human feces

Malaria 300–500 million 46,500 1,300 transmitted by Anopheles mosquitoes

Schistosomiasis 200 million 1,700 15 transmitted by aquatic mollusks

Dengue and dengue hemorrhagic fever

50–100 million dengue;500,000 DHF

616 19 transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes

Onchocerciasis (river blindness)

18 million 484 0 transmitted by black fly

Typhoid and paratyphoid fevers

17 million contaminated water, food; flooding

Trachoma 150 million, 6 million blind 2,300 0 lack of basic hygiene

Cholera 140,000–184,000b 5–28b water and food contaminated by human feces

Dracunculiasis (Guinea worm disease)

96,000 contaminated water

a Specifically attributable to unsafe water, sanitation, and hygiene from WHO (2002).b The upper part of the range refers specifically to 2001 as reported in UN/WWAP 2003.

PAGE 195

in the economic evaluation of different intervention options butalso a reflection of the impact of ill health on the income-generatingcapacity of the poor.)

The first three categories of water-related diseases are mostclearly associated with lack of access to improved sources ofdrinking water, and in turn to ecosystem condition. Improvedsanitation through the safe disposal of human waste is a majordevelopment objective that improves the health of those serveddirectly by separating drinking water from wastewater. In devel-oping countries, however, 90–95% of all sewage and 70% of in-dustrial wastes are dumped untreated into surface waters (UNFPA2001), placing both downstream populations as well as ecosystemfunctions at risk. (See Chapter 15.) The fourth category of water-related disease is associated with ecological conditions that favordisease vector breeding. These may be natural (such as those sup-porting malaria transmission by Anopheles gambiae mosquito acrosslarge parts of Africa south of the Sahara) or anthropogenic,through improperly planned irrigation systems, dams, and urbanwater systems. (See Chapter 14.)

Waterborne diseases are caused by consumption of water con-taminated by human or animal waste and containing pathogenicparasites, bacteria, or viruses. They include the diverse group ofdiarrheal diseases as well as cholera, typhoid, and amoebic dysen-tery. These diseases occur where there is a lack of access to safedrinking water for basic hygiene, and most could be prevented bytreating water before use. The World Health Organization esti-mates that there are 4 billion cases of diarrhea each year in addi-tion to millions of other cases of illness associated with lack ofaccess to safe water (WHO/UNICEF 2000). This translates into1.7 million deaths per year, mostly among children under the ageof five (WHO 2004). Morbidity and mortality from microbialcontamination are orders of magnitude greater in developingcountries than in the industrial world.

Water-washed diseases are caused by poor personal hygieneand skin or eye contact with contaminated water; their incidenceis associated with the lack of access to basic sanitation and suffi-

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196 Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Current State and Trends

cient water for effective hygiene (Bradley 1977; Gleick 2002; Jen-sen et al. 2004). These include scabies, trachoma, and flea, lice,and tick-borne diseases. Trachoma alone is estimated to causeblindness in 6 million people (WHO/UNICEF 2000). In addi-tion, the transmission of intestinal helminths (Ascaris, Trichuris,and hookworm) is linked to a lack of sanitation facilities and isestimated to account for a global annual loss of over 2 millionDALYs.

Water-based diseases are those caused by aquatic organismsthat spend part of their life cycle in the water and another part asparasites of animals. As parasites, they usually take the form ofworms, using intermediate animal vectors such as snails to thrive,and then directly infecting humans either by boring through theskin or by being swallowed. They include Guinea worm infec-tion, schistosomiasis (bilharzia), and a few other helminths (certainliver flukes of local importance in Southeast Asia, for instance,such as Opisthorchis viverrini) that infect humans through eitherdirect contact with contaminated water or the consumption ofuncooked aquatic organisms.

Although these diseases are not usually fatal, they prevent peo-ple from living normal lives and impair their ability to work. Forinstance, 200 million people worldwide are infected with schisto-somiasis, of which 20 million suffer severe consequences, with anestimated global annual burden of 1.7 million DALYs (WHO2004). The prevalence of water-based diseases often increaseswhere dams are constructed, because stagnant water is the pre-ferred habitat for aquatic snails, their most important intermediaryhosts. For instance, the Akosombo Dam in Ghana, the AswanHigh Dam on the Nile in Egypt, and the Diamma Dam at themouth of the Senegal river have resulted in huge increases of localschistosomiasis prevalence. (See also Chapter 14.)

Water-related vector-borne diseases are caused by parasitesthat require a vector (such as insects) to develop and transmit thedisease to humans. For example, Anopheles mosquitoes are thevectors for a protozoan parasite (Plasmodium) that causes malaria.These diseases are strongly ecosystem-linked, in contrast to theother three categories of water-related diseases, where water qual-ity (and to some extent quantity) is the key determinant. Theirdistribution reflects the distribution of ecosystems suited to thepropagation of the vectors.

Vector species, moreover, are highly diverse, so that detailedecological requirements differ over wide ranges. Anophelinemosquitoes—vectors of malaria (1.3 million deaths a year and anannual burden of over 46 million DALYs), for example—breed indifferent types of freshwater ecosystems and brackish water coastallagoons. Aedes, vectors of dengue and yellow fever, originallybreeding in leaf axils of bromeliads, are cosmopolitan in humansettlement areas, where they breed in small water pools. Urbanfilariasis vectors (Culex ssp.) breed in organically polluted water.And the blackfly vectors of onchocerciasis breed in oxygenatedwaters of rapids.

These vector-borne diseases are not typically associated withlack of access to safe drinking water but rather with water man-agement practices in tropical and sub-tropical regions of theworld. Several parasitic diseases endemic of tropical regions, suchas Rift Valley Fever and Japanese encephalitis, spread easily withthe presence of reservoirs, irrigation ditches and canals, and ricefields (WCD 2000). (See Chapter 14.) In all, more than 30 dis-eases have been linked to irrigation and paddy agriculture (WRIet al. 1998). Consequently, improved water management, drain-age, and storage practices can help reduce the transmission risk,particularly in areas where anthropogenic conditions have led tothe introduction of these diseases.

PAGE 196 Chemical Pollution

Another set of diseases affecting industrial and developing nationsalike arises in response to chemical pollution of water by heavymetals, toxic substances, and long-lived synthetic compounds.While evidence of the long-term impacts of chemical pollutioncan be detected even in the remote Arctic (AMAP 2002), theimpacts on poor populations in developing countries are difficultto identify, given the lack of reliable and comprehensive records.However, exposure to chemical agents in water has been relatedto a range of chronic diseases, including cancer, lung damage,and birth defects. Many such diseases develop over several years,making the links between cause and effect difficult to establish.On a global scale, the burden of disease from chemical pollutionis much lower than from microbial contamination and parasiticdiseases, but in some highly polluted regions these risks can besubstantial (WRI et al. 1998). Exposure to chemical pollutantscan also compromise the immune system, rendering people moresusceptible to microbial and viral infections. The cumulative andsynergetic effects of long-term exposure to a variety of chemicals,especially at low concentrations, cannot be well quantified atpresent.

Naturally occurring inorganic pollutants constitute a class ofchemical pollution with serious long-term health effects. Arsenic,which occurs naturally in some soils, for example, can becometoxic when exposed to the atmosphere, as seen in areas with highwater abstraction from underground aquifers (WRI et al. 1998).Arsenicosis is the result of arsenic poisoning from drinking arsenic-rich water over long periods of time and is a great concern inmany countries, including Argentina, Bangladesh, China, India,Mexico, Thailand, and the United States (Bonvallot 2003). WHOestimated in 2001 that in Bangladesh alone, 35–77 million peo-ple—close to half the population—were exposed to drinkingwater from deep wells contaminated with high levels of arsenic(5–50 times the limit of 0.01 milligrams per liter recommendedby WHO) (Bonvallot 2003). Arsenic is a carcinogen linked toskin, lung, and kidney cancer, although these diseases can go un-detected for decades (WRI et al. 1998). In other parts of theworld, high fluoride concentrations in drinking water have re-sulted in long-term effects that weaken the skeleton.

Chronic effects also arise from anthropogenic pollutants suchas discharge from mining operations, pesticide runoff, and indus-trial sources. Long-term lead poisoning from old water pipes, forexample, can cause significant neurological impairment (WRI etal. 1998). Mercury contamination can also originate from indus-trial discharge and runoff from mining activities, accumulating inanimal tissue, particularly fish (WCD 2000).

Nutrient runoff is another concern from the standpoint ofhuman health, especially in light of pandemic increase in loadingsto inland water ecosystems, for example, of nitrogen (describedearlier; see also Chapters 12 and 20). Although there is no globalassessment of how many water bodies exceed the WHO guide-lines on nitrate levels, most countries report that nitrates are oneof the most common contaminants found in drinking water(WRI et al. 1998). Coastal and inland waters in regions with highlevels of eutrophication have been observed to often propagatetoxic algal blooms (toxic cyanobacteria) that can cause chronicdisease. (See Chapter 19.) In China, for instance, the presence ofcyanobacterial toxins in drinking water has been associated withelevated levels of liver cancer (WCD 2000). Excess nitrate indrinking water has also been linked to methaemoglobin anemiain infants, the ‘‘blue baby’’ syndrome (WRI et al. 1998).

Discharge from aquaculture facilities can also be loaded withpollutants, including high levels of nutrients from uneaten fish

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feed and fish waste, antibiotic drugs, and other chemicals, includ-ing disinfectants such as chlorine and formaline, antifoulants suchas tributyltin, and inorganic fertilizers such as ammonium phos-phate and urea (GESAMP 1997). These chemicals can signifi-cantly degrade the surrounding environment, particularly localwaterways (GLFC 1999). The use of antibiotics and other syn-thetic drugs in aquaculture can also have serious health effects onpeople and ecosystems more broadly. The antibiotic chloram-phenicol, for example, can cause human aplastic anaemia, a seri-ous blood disorder that is usually fatal. While many countries havebanned the use of chloramphenicol in food production, the levelof enforcement varies considerably (GESAMP 1997; Health Can-ada 2004). A further risk from antibiotic use is the spread of anti-biotic resistance in both human and fish pathogens. The U.S.Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that certainantibiotic resistance genes in Salmonella might have emerged fol-lowing antibiotic use in Asian aquaculture (Angulo 1999 as citedin Goldburg et al. 2001).

There is also evidence from studies on wildlife that humansmay be at risk from persistent organic pollutants and residual ma-terial that has the ability to mimic or block the natural functioningof hormones, interfering with natural physiological processes, in-cluding normal sexual development (WRI et al. 1998). Certainchemicals such as PCBs, DDT, dioxins, and at least 80 pesticidesare regarded as ‘‘endocrine disrupters,’’ chemicals that may inter-fere with normal human physiology, undermining disease resis-tance and affecting reproductive health (WRI et al. 1998).

Finally, pharmaceutical products excreted by livestock or hu-mans comprise a set of ‘‘emerging contaminants,’’ whose impactson human well-being, ecosystems, and species are not yet under-stood. These contaminants are hard to detect with current tech-nologies, but their impact on wildlife are already observed insome parts of the world. In the United States, the first nationwidesurvey conducted in 1999 and 2000 found hormones in 37% ofthe streams surveyed and caffeine in more than half (Kolpin et al.2002). Just recently, 42% of the sampled male bass in a relativelypristine stretch of the Potomac River in the United States werefound to be producing eggs. The exact cause is still unknown, butit is hypothesized that it could be caused by chicken estrogen leftover in poultry manure or perhaps human hormones dischargedinto the river with processed sewage. Sanitation and Provision of Clean Water: Challenges forthe Twenty-first Century

Providing ‘‘improved’’ clean water supply and sanitation to largeparts of the human population remains a challenge (WHO/UNI-CEF 2004; United Nations Statistics Division 2004). (See Box 7.5for definitions of improvement.) The most recently completedand comprehensive assessment of improved water and sanitation(WHO/UNICEF 2004) concluded that 1.1 billion people aroundthe world still lack access to improved water supply and morethan 2.6 billion lack access to improved sanitation, with stronggeographic variations. (See Table 7.11 and Figures 7.13 and 7.14in Appendix A.) Asia contains two thirds of all people who lackaccess to improved drinking water and three quarters of thosewho lack access to improved sanitation. Africa is next most prom-inent in terms of numbers still awaiting improvements in supplyand sanitation. Other continents show much smaller numbers butmay have relatively low rates of service, as in Oceania, with lessthan 50% served for both supply and sanitation.

There has been progressive improvement in the provision ofsanitation since 1990 (see Table 7.12), recently prompted by theambitious target for sanitation of the MDG environmental sus-

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BOX 7.5

Defining Improved Water Supply and Sanitation

‘‘Improved’’ water supply includes household connections, publicstandpipes, boreholes, protected dug wells, protected springs, andrainwater harvesting systems, but it does not include protected rivers orponds, unprotected wells or springs, and unmonitored vendor-providedwater (bottled water is not considered improved due to quantity limitsarising from its high expense).

‘‘Improved’’ sanitation technologies include connections to a publicsewer, connections to a septic system, pour-flush latrines, simple pitlatrines, and ventilated improved pit latrines. Excreta disposal systemsare considered adequate if they are private or shared (but not public)and if they hygienically separate human excreta from human contact.‘‘Not improved’’ sanitation systems are service or bucket latrines(where excreta are manually removed), public latrines, or open pit la-trines.

tainability goal—namely, to halve by 2015 the proportion of peo-ple lacking such service in 1990. Worldwide, the goal was set tomove coverage from 49% to 75%, and progress is nearly on trackwith the interim target for 2002 of 62% nearly attained. Of thenine regions analyzed, however, only four are on track or nearly,while five are behind schedule. The greatest challenge remainssub-Saharan Africa, which met only 4% of a targeted 17% im-provement by 2002. Western Asia and Eurasia are less off theirtargets but have not moved forward. Overall, improvements insanitation in rural areas have been significantly less than in urbanareas, and there has even been a decline in the provision of sanita-tion in rural areas of Oceania and the former Soviet Union(WHO/UNICEF 2004).

The rapid and disorganized growth in cities and peri-urbanareas in developing countries is likely to hinder progress towardimproved water delivery and sanitation systems. In 2000 alone,16 cities around the world became megacities, with more than 10million inhabitants each, housing 4% of the world’s population(United Nations 2002). Most of these megacities fall within re-gions already suffering from water stress (UN/WWAP 2003). InAfrica, Asia, and Latin America, 25–50% of the population live ininformal or illegal settlements around urban centers where nopublic services and no effective regulation of pollution and eco-system degradation are available (UN-HABITAT 2003). Half ofthe urban population in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and theCaribbean suffers from one or more diseases associated with inad-equate water and sanitation (UN/WWAP 2003).

Even if government or municipal authorities were inclined toexpand water and sanitation services to informal urban settle-ments, the lack of formal land ownership, plot designation, andinfrastructure make this very difficult and unlikely. In many coun-tries, water and sanitation authorities are only allowed to provideservices and connect households to the water grid if proof of land-ownership is provided (UN-HABITAT 2003). These problemsare in addition to the basic inability of slum dwellers to pay forconnection charges and monthly fees without subsidies. Withurban populations expected to encompass 80% of the world’spopulation by 2030 (UNPD 1999), the supply of water and sani-tation to city dwellers is set to become one of the greatest chal-lenges to development.

7.5 Trade-offs in the Contemporary Use ofFreshwater ResourcesThis chapter has provided an assessment of the recent history andcontemporary state of global freshwater provisioning services. It

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198 Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Current State and Trends

Table 7.11. Access to Clean Water and Sanitation (WHO/UNICEF 2004)

Geographic Regiona

Population Unserved by Improved Drinking

Water Supply Unserved by Clean

Drinking Water Supply Population Unserved by

Improved Sanitation Unserved by

Improved Sanitation

(million) (percent of region’s population) (million) (percent of region’s population)











Latin America and the Caribbean

59 11 134 25

Eurasia 20 7 48 17

Oceania 4 48 4 45

World Total 1,060 17 2,600 42a According to WHO/UNICEF definition; does not correspond fully to MA reporting units.

Table 7.12. Regional Progress toward the MDG Sanitation Goal (WHO/UNICEF 2004)

Geographic Region a Coverage in 1990 Coverage in 2002 Coverage Needed in 2002

to Remain on Track Coverage Needed by 2015

to Achieve MDG Target (percent)

Regions on trackEastern AsiaSoutheast Asia





Regions nearly on trackNorth AfricaLatin America and the Caribbean





Regions not on trackSouth AsiaSub-Saharan Africa West AsiaEurasiaOceania





World Total 49 58 62 75

a According to WHO/UNICEF definition; does not correspond fully to MA reporting units.

has documented a growing dependence of human well-being onfresh water, which in turn has promoted a variety of engineeringstrategies aimed at delivering reliable freshwater supplies. So ef-fective has been the ability of water management to influence thestate of this resource that anthropogenic impacts are now evidentacross the global water cycle. Much of the human influence isnegative due to overuse and poor management, which has re-sulted in human-induced water scarcity, widespread pollution,and habitat and biodiversity loss. The capacity of ecosystems tosustain freshwater provisioning services thus has been greatlycompromised throughout much of the world and may continueto remain so if historic patterns of managed use persist.

Sector-specific decisions often drive the nature of human inter-actions with water, with often unintended or purposefully ignored

PAGE 198

externalities on ecosystems. There is no shortage of examples. Flowstabilization optimizing hydroelectricity can severely fragment anddegrade aquatic habitats and lead to losses of economically importantfisheries. Industrial development with poor effluent managementcan result in severe pollution, leading to the loss of aquatic ecosystemfunction and biodiversity. Connecting urban dwellers to water sup-ply and sewerage systems without due attention to water treatment,as has been commonplace, results in the release of toxic compoundsand waterborne diseases that affect downstream water users. In aridand semiarid regions, decisions to promote national food self-sufficiency can translate into great risk to downstream populationsand costly infrastructure, as rivers that normally carry water andsediments nourishing coastal lands and floodplains are divertedonto croplands or stabilized behind dams.

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Trade-offs are thus an unavoidable component of human-freshwater interactions. Trade-offs are also inevitable in meetingMillennium Development Goals and other international commit-ments. To demonstrate this, a heuristic analysis is presented hereto explore how emphasis on a particular objective could influencethe capacity to attain others. The analysis uses the contemporarysetting as its starting point, which is then tracked with respect tothe impact of five specific interventions. These correspond directlyto major objectives embodied in the Kyoto Protocol (carbon mit-igation), the MDGs (poverty alleviation, hunger reduction, im-proved water services), and the Conventions on BiologicalDiversity and Wetlands (pragmatic ecosystem maintenance ap-plied to inland and coastal ecosystems).

A non-intervention case (current trends) is also considered,analyzing the implications of allowing contemporary trends tocontinue. A time frame of approximately 10–15 years is consid-ered, allowing sufficient time for general patterns to emerge. Thistime frame also is associated with the first targets of the MDGs.

The interventions and their impacts are specifically viewedthrough the lens of freshwater services and ecosystem mainte-nance. Thus, for carbon mitigation the positive impacts of ex-panding hydropower to reduce carbon emissions are considered,together with the negative impacts of flow fragmentation thatcompromises the normal functions of inland freshwater andcoastal ecosystems. To maximize relevancy to the internationaldevelopment agenda, the findings refer to poor countries alone.The interventions and key results are summarized in Table 7.13and Figure 7.15. In each case the contemporary baseline is thestarting point, given by the intermediate of three circles. Im-provement is depicted by movement outward to the larger circle.Declining condition is represented by a move inward, and noappreciable change settles on the middle curve.

It is important to note that these experiments are not predic-tions but instead are thematic devices to demonstrate broad-scaleeffects that can be supported by findings in this chapter. Althoughthe details could be argued legitimately one way or another, it isthe basic character of the response that is sought. Furthermore, aswill become apparent, it is the behavior of the full set of experi-ments rather than individual cases that becomes most instructive.

Current Trends in Figure 7.15 is the first case, representing nomeaningful change in the pace at which human development isattained or interventions are made to reverse ongoing threats toecosystem services. This scenario shows direct beneficiary effectson human well-being but also sustained and substantial declinesin the condition of aquatic ecosystems. On the positive side, thereis some alleviation of hunger through increased food productionthat relies on expanded irrigation and use of agrochemicals; con-tinued improvement to health by way of drinking water and sani-tation access; some progress toward reducing poverty; and anexpansion of hydropower, which in some parts of the developingworld (such as South America) is already an important source ofenergy, with some beneficiary effects on carbon mitigation.

At the same time, aquatic ecosystems and their biodiversitywill be increasingly degraded in this scenario due to the combinedforces of industrial, agricultural, and domestic sources of pollu-tion, hydropower with associated flow fragmentation, and habitatdestruction. Lack of environmental regulation and enforcementexacerbates the trend. Reduced and highly regulated water flowsin rivers continue to decrease the transport of water and sediment

PAGE 199

to estuaries and coastal wetlands. Food provisioning services, interms of natural inland and coastal fisheries, are in decline, andfreshwater provisioning will continue to be placed in jeopardy bythe dual threats of overuse and pollution.

Major supporting and regulating services also continue theirdecline due to loss of ecosystem function across both inlandaquatic systems and their linked terrestrial ecosystems. Particularlyrelevant to fresh water are losses in flood control (from poor landmanagement, erosion, loss of wetlands), in self-purification po-tential of waterways (from chronic and acute land-based sourcesof pollution), and in protection of human health (from inappro-priate waste disposal). The links between ecosystem services andhuman well-being mean that these losses of natural services couldultimately compromise the attainment of important developmentgoals.

While the value of controlling greenhouse gases or institutingthe MDGs is almost universally accepted, results in Table 7.13 andFigure 7.15 suggest that pursuing each objective in isolation ofother development goals or environmentally sound managementprinciples will be counterproductive. Interventions in accordancewith strategies being promoted through the Conventions on Bio-logical Diversity and Wetlands, which stress protection and wiseuse of ecosystems and their services for sustainable development,yield several positive effects on human well-being. These im-provements arise from a purposeful strategy of integrated environ-mental management, which links environmental stewardshipdirectly to poverty alleviation, food security, and clean water tar-gets (CBD 2004; Ramsar Convention 2004).

There is a growing recognition that maintaining biodiversityand ecosystem integrity will require compromise and trade-offs.A good example is the critical choice between providing waterfor crop production or for healthy rivers and wetlands. In areaswhere irrigation and storage reservoirs are upstream of sensitiveecosystems, both livelihoods and environmental integrity can beat stake. One possible strategy to accommodate potential losses infood production and income is by managing basin-wide improve-ments in water productivity for agriculture through new cropbreeding, innovative technologies, and water reuse strategies(Molden 2003), all saving water and reducing the need for irriga-tion and flow stabilization.

While only qualitative in nature, these findings clearly dem-onstrate the consequences of optimizing one development goal orconservation objective over others. This assessment indicates thatthere would be substantial inconsistencies in the major develop-ment and sustainability strategies should they not become betterintegrated. The impacts of these conflicts on freshwater provi-sioning services and ecosystem functioning are likely to compro-mise the sought-after progress inherent in these same internationalcommitments. The conjunction of several incongruous objectiveswill further exacerbate the deterioration of inland and coastal sys-tems documented in Chapters 19 and 20.

It is very certain that the condition of inland waters and coastalecosystems has been compromised by the conventional sectoralapproach to water management, which, if continued, will con-strain progress to enhance human well-being. In contrast, theecosystem approach, as adopted by CBD, Ramsar, FAO, and oth-ers, shows promise for improving the future condition of waterprovisioning services, specifically by balancing the objectives ofeconomic development, ecosystem needs, and human well-being.

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200 Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Current State and Trends

Table 7.13. Major Objectives Optimized in Experiments to Discern the Compatibility of Development Goals and InternationalConventions. These objectives are considered in the context of freshwater provisioning services and protection of inland and coastal waters.General categories of responses are given, as depicted in Figure 7.13. Positive, intermediate, and negative effects are relative to contemporarycondition. A time horizon of 10–15 years is considered.


RelevantInternationalCommitment Positive Effects

Intermediate orSmall Effects Negative Effects

Current trends(non-intervention)

some progress toward carbon mitigation,poverty reduction, hunger alleviation, andaccess to water services

persistent decline in health ofinland and coastal ecosystemsand their services (provisioning,regulating, supporting)

Carbon mitigation Kyoto Protocol reduced CO2 emissions throughincreased reliance on hydropowerassumed to override reservoir res-piration and methane emission;progress on hunger reduction,water services, poverty reductionas under current trends

water storage for irrigation yields somereservoir fisheries for food; urban benefitsof hydroelectricity; rural poverty alleviationeffects small in relation to current trends

waterborne disease increases intropical regions; dams fragmenthabitat and modify fluxes of con-stituents and water throughinland waterways; loss of inlandfisheries; erosion, nutrient imbal-ance in coastal systems due toupstream reservoir trapping

Hunger reduction MDG 1, Target 2

major beneficial effects on nutri-tion

well-fed populations show increased healthbenefits and poverty reduction; consump-tive losses from expanded irrigation meanless water for hydroelectricity; little effecton improved water/sanitation

expanded irrigation andimpoundment storage meansless available water for inlandand coastal ecosystems

Improved waterservices (access to clean water andsanitation)

MDG 7, Target 10

improved health; increased pro-ductivity of labor reduces poverty

similar water quality as under currenttrends if waste treatment assumed (not thenorm); no impact on carbon mitigation orhunger alleviation assumed

inland and coastal pollution fromsewage, assuming no treatment

Poverty alleviation MDG 1, Target 1

rising standards of living;increased availability of hydropow-er with benefits for carbon mitiga-tion; increased food demands andavailability

increased access to water services leadsto improved health for those served; effectmitigated by increased pollution and water-related diseases for remaining poor

strong impacts on naturalecosystems from agriculturalpollution; water diversions forcrops and industrial production;river fragmentation from dams

Pragmatic ecosys-tem maintenance (inland and coastalwetlands)

Convention onBiologicalDiversity,Convention onWetlands(Ramsar)

integrated management leads toprotection of inland/coastalecosystems with improved fresh-water provision (quantity and quality)

land management improves carbon mitiga-tion and crop productivity; food sourcesfrom aquatic systems; stable water sup-plies allow for some high-productivity irri-gation and well-managed reservoirs (for Cmitigation as well); improved water qualityleads to better health; aggregate benefitfrom all factors reduces poverty

no single objective met fully;compromises among stakehold-ers inherent in such a multiob-jective framework

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Figure 7.15. Trade-off Analysis, Depicting Major Interventions and Consequences on Condition of Ecosystems and DevelopmentGoals. Note that in the absence of integrated sustainable development and environmental protection plans, current trends and development-related interventions may compromise ecosystem functioning. Better balanced effects are noted by instituting strategies guiding the Conven-tion on Biological Diversity and Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar). An approach balancing ecosystem protection and economic developmentcould yield an aggregate net benefit to the entire suite of objectives. The contemporary starting point is the middle circle. Movement towardthe outside circle indicates improvement while movement inward depicts negative trends. See text and Table 7.13 for further interpretation.

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