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Session Overview
KEYNOTE 4: Lowland inhabitants depend increasingly on mountain water resources: A global view from mid-20th to mid-21st century
Tuesday, 10/Sep/2019:
8:40am - 9:05am

Location: Congress center
Sall Innsbruck
by Daniel Viviroli

Session Abstract

Mountain areas are ‘Water Towers’ for the world and often provide disproportionally high runoff to the subjacent lowlands. This effect is especially marked in dryer climates where mountains are critically important for downstream water resources. The extent to which lowlands actually depend on mountain water resources has not been quantified so far, however. We therefore adopt a lowland perspective and examine the potential dependence on mountain water resources world-wide.

Looking at results from high-resolution global hydrological modelling and spanning a timeframe from 1961–2050, we can study the changing conditions of both runoff and water consumption over time. Analyses reveal that the number of lowland inhabitants critically depending on mountain water resources rises from ~0.2 billion (8% of world’s lowland population) in the 1960s to ~1.4 B (23%) in the 2040s under a ‘middle of the road’ scenario, mainly due to increasing local water consumption in the lowlands. Important hot-spot regions are not only found around High Mountain Asia, but also in North America, Africa and the Middle East. We further find that one third of 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. This figure is likely to rise to well over 50% in the coming decades and highlights the importance of mountains not only for water resources but also for food security.

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