Increasing dependence of lowland populations on mountain water resources

Daniel Viviroli*, Matti Kummu, Michel Meybeck, Marko Kallio, Yoshihide Wada

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)
49 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Mountain areas provide disproportionally high runoff in many parts of the world, but their importance for water resources and food production has not been clarified from the viewpoint of the lowland areas downstream. Here we quantify the extent to which lowland inhabitants potentially depend on runoff contributions from mountain areas (39% of the global land mass). We show that similar to 1.5 billion people (24% of the world's lowland population) are projected to depend critically on runoff contributions from mountains by the mid-twenty-first century under a 'middle of the road' scenario, compared with similar to 0.2 billion (7%) in the 1960s. This striking rise is mainly due to increased local water consumption in the lowlands, whereas changes in mountain and lowland runoff play only a minor role. We further show that one-third of the global lowland area equipped for irrigation is currently located in regions that both depend heavily on runoff contributions from mountains and make unsustainable use of local blue water resources, a figure that is likely to rise to well over 50% in the coming decades. Our findings imply that mountain areas should receive particular attention in water resources management and underscore the protection they deserve in efforts towards sustainable development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)917-928
Number of pages12
JournalNature Sustainability
Volume3
Issue number11
Early online date6 Jul 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Keywords

  • CLIMATE-CHANGE
  • HYDROLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE
  • SNOW
  • GLACIER
  • RUNOFF
  • VULNERABILITY
  • AVAILABILITY
  • REGIONS
  • FUTURE
  • EXTENT

Cite this