Water scarcity in transboundary rivers seen to intensify in future

18 Feb 2020, 02:07

  DF Report

Hafsa Munia. Press Release Photo.

Future water scarcity in transboundary rivers will intensify in basins which are already under stress and is mostly a local problem, according to a new doctoral dissertation. 

Hafsa Munia, a researcher of the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), developed a novel framework to understand globally the evolution of transboundary water scarcity over time and to assess downstream dependencies on upstream water use. 

Her doctoral dissertation will be examined at the Aalto University on February 21, said a SYKE press release.

According to the thesis, although many downstream areas are highly dependent on upstream water resources, the key driver for increased water scarcity has been and will be in the future local use of water.  It is therefore important to manage both local and upstream water use and action to avoid scarcity. 

The analysis found that over the past decades’ water scarcity in the transboundary basins has intensified and developed mainly over the basins which are heavily irrigated and densely populated, e.g., in central and South Asia, China, southern Europe, the USA, Mexico, and the MENA Region Countries (Middle East and North Africa).

“The work I have produced has important policy implications for improving water management in transboundary basins. In case of shared water resources, it is sometimes tempting to blame others for water scarcity, while it is not the case always. Water managers therefore need to have some information about the key issues”, said Hafsa Munia.

In the case of transboundary waters, the roles of local vs. upstream changes in water use and availability due to climate and socioeconomic changes can be considered as especially troubling issues.

Any changes in upstream, either due to changing climate or changes in water use, directly impact downstream water availability. For example, many socioeconomic developments, which are mostly targeted at local to regional scales, are known to impact the hydrological cycle which can affect streamflow on larger scales, such as in downstream areas.

According to the researcher, upstream water withdrawals from the streamflow may decrease water availability for downstream use. Changes in climate would impact both local and upstream water availability. Understanding these upstream-downstream linkages is, therefore, an essential basis for integrated land and water resources management and planning in the shared river basin. This sets transboundary water scarcity analysis apart from other water scarcity analysis.