In Report, Water Trumps Climate Change
Trends of population under moderate, high, and extreme water shortage over the time period 1900–2005. During that time the population under water shortage has increased from 131 million to 3247 million or from 9% to 50% of the work population. Credit: Matti Kummu.
Environmental assessments of material manufacturing typically focus on energy and associated greenhouse gas effects, but a recent study suggests that there may be an even more important consideration. Resource demands related to population growth have led to accelerated water shortages in many parts of the world, and scientists from Finland and the Netherlands claim that the population increase has affected water supplies at a rate four times more significant than climate change.
According to Matti Kummu of Finland's Aalto University, “Moderate water shortage first appeared around 1800, but it commenced in earnest from about 1900 when 2% of the world population experienced chronic water shortage ([with access to] less than 1000 cubic m/capita/year). Water shortage increased extremely rapidly from 1960 onward, with the proportion of the global population living under chronic water shortage increasing from 9%, or 280 million people, in 1960 to 35% (2,300 million) in 2005.”
Industrial and agricultural use account for the majority of water consumption, followed by consumer use. Many building materials and products utilize large amounts of water in their manufacture, although material-related water use has not been scrutinized at the level of embodied energy and carbon footprint. Given the growing competition for H2O, however, water footprint will be an increasingly important factor in determining the overall environmental influence of materials.