Water is the bloodstream of nature and wise stewardship of freshwater, from the very local to the regional, is central to human development and prosperity. But over-use and mismanagement of freshwater resources now threatens the functioning of ecosystems that are crucial to human activities.
"Water is key for maintaining and enhancing the resilience of social-ecological systems that we depend on," says centre director Johan Rockström.
He is the lead author of the book Water resilience for human prosperity, which is written together with colleagues from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm Environment Institute and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
The book analyses the problems and provides examples of successful water resource management.
Forces of change
Humanity’s imprint on the planet has now become so great that we seem to have entered a new geological era, the Anthropocene, where humankind is a main driver of change.
Of particular concern in this context is the freshwater use for current and future food production, a main focus of the book.
There are two major forces impacting the water cycle and threatening the stability of water flows, and both are human-induced.
The first is related to land-use change due to agricultural intensification, de-forestation, afforestation, or urbanization. This in turn alters the release of water into the atmosphere from vegetation and affects soil moisture that is needed for vegetation growth.
The second is human consumption of water for irrigation in agriculture, for households and industries. This affects river flows and groundwater levels, with detrimental effects for many ecosystems and for human activities that depend on them.
Solutions for prosperity
If the pressure on the water cycle at local, regional or the global scale becomes too great it can lead to unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes that ultimately affect human development and wellbeing.
"We have looked at feedbacks in social-ecological systems, the processes that maintain a system as it is, and that can be changed by external pressures, causing the system to radically change. Understanding these feedbacks can be of help in building water resilience," says centre researcher Line Gordon, co-author of the book.
The authors argue that through careful management of water resources and knowledge of the interaction between humans and nature, we can maximise the sustainable use of limited available resources.
In India, investment in watershed management, for example water storage in landscapes (in the form of small dams or natural features such as streams) has been effective in bridging dry spells. Now, water is in the right place at the right time, and in turn means that the local communities can produce more biomass per drop of water. This is essential to meet the needs of an expanding population.
The key message of Water Resilience for Human Prosperity is that by identifying and understanding the available water resources for humans and nature, we can find solutions that provide prosperity for longer and for more people.
Johan Rockström, Stockholm Resilience Centre
Malin Falkenmark, Stockholm Resilience Centre
Carl Folke, Beijer International Institute of Ecological Economics, Stockholm
Mats Lannerstad, Stockholm Environment Institute
Jennie Barron, Stockholm Environment Institute
Elin Enfors, Stockholm Resilience Centre
Line Gordon, Stockholm Resilience Centre
Jens Heinke, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)
Holger Hoff, Stockholm Environment Institute
Claudia Pahl-Wostl, Universität Osnabrück
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