Photo via victoriapeckham via Flickr Creative Commons
We're well aware of the fact that humans have a significant impact on water supplies -- from groundwater pumping to altering the course and flow of the world's rivers, we are no small player in how much fresh water exists on the planet. However, would we ever have guessed that we were four times more significant than climate change on water supplies? A new report shows that we really need to focus far more on humans than warming temperatures if we want to avoid major water conflicts in the near future.Researchers in Finland and The Netherlands have analyzed the mix of population growth, climate data and water resources and have found that despite the fact that our global climate is shifting at a dizzying rate, our population boom as a species has a far greater impact on water sources.
"In this study, the effects of changes in population on water shortage are roughly four times more important than changes in water availability as a result of long-term climatic change," the researchers state.
Environmental Research Web reports that according to the study, about 2% of the world's population experienced water shortages in 1900, but it shot up to 9% in 1960 and skyrocketed to 35% in 2005. The water shortages fall in line with our population rise -- but it also seems to fall in line with our heightened consumption of goods and services on a global level.
"In Eastern Asia and North Africa, over 20% of the population has been under some level of water shortage since the year 1900," Matti Kummu of Aalto University, Finland told the Environmental Research Web. "In the Middle East, this point was not reached until 1960, and in South Asia slightly later. In South Asia the trend has been particular sharp as today over 90% of the population are under some level of water shortage."
The researchers feel that the study highlights that in some areas there simply isn't enough water to support the population.
"Consequently, there will be an increasing need for non-structural measures, focusing on increasing the efficiency of water use, lowering water use intensity, reforming the economic structure of countries or entire regions, and optimising virtual water flows from regions without shortage to regions with shortage."
Easy peasy, right?
Just last week we discussed the groundwater supplies -- the main source of water for humans -- are being depleted at unsustainable rates. We know we're heading for a wall when it comes to water, and yet we as a global community don't seem to be making serious strides for changing our behaviors. It's one thing to give to charity:water and have a well drilled in Africa as a temporary solution. It's a whole other thing to ignore the catastrophic wastes of water our US agricultural industries are guilty of, or the virtual water held within the many consumer goods manufactured in places with water shortages, such as China, and shipped all over the world.
Rather than looking for solutions to the problem, we often spend too much brain power figuring out band-aids, from environmentally damaging desalination plants to shipping water from Alaska to India. It seems much more reasonable to invest that energy into implementing new standards for farming and regulations on water use globally -- to focus on the human problem, not the climate problem.
The researchers from Finland and The Netherlands plan to turn their focus to how water scarcity has developed between 1900 and the present, and predict how it may change in the next century.
Knowing the past helps us better manage the future, and when it comes to water, that's a literal life or death understanding.
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