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Land use patterns affect water resources: RICS

Australia: One in three people cannot access the water needed for everyday life and in less than 15 years, around one quarter of the world’s countries will face water stress or scarcity, outlined new Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) research report, Water Scarcity and Land Use Planning.

According to the report, water resources management and land use patterns are intrinsically linked. At a catchment level, forest cover and agricultural cultivation have significant impacts on the behaviour of water in the catchment and can affect availability of water for other users including cities.

At the urban scale, changes to land use, particularly increases to impermeable areas which limit groundwater recharge or the cultivation of unsustainable urban landscape (irrigated parks and lawns) can have a significant effect on water resources. Land use management does not just affect the quantity of water flowing through the system but is also a key factor in both managing pollution and influencing flood risk. Pollution prevent is an important way to increase the amount of water available for municipal use.

The report acknowledged that water insecurity is one of the greatest challenges facing the 21st century and sets out a number of recommendations for addressing this challenge at regional, city and building scale.

While an often opaque and complex inter-relationship between several factors (physical, economic, managerial, institutional and political) causes water scarcity, what is clear is that water demand continues to grow at almost twice the rate of the world’s population. The implications of this increase in demand are profound and include impacts on human health, food production, urban growth and development and the wider, global economy.

“When it comes to the issue of water scarcity, there is no more appropriate phrase than ‘think globally, act locally’. Water is not an infinite resource. As we only have limited options when it comes to increasing supply, it’s really time to refocus the balance between increasing supply and managing demand. Responses to water scarcity are likely to require a mixture of new infrastructure, technology, improved governance and the formulation and enforcement of more integrated policies. As such, any coherent and effective response will need to consider water management across catchments. It will require engagement by, and action from the general public, the land management and built environment sectors and governments,” said, Justin Abbott, author of RICS Research: Water Scarcity and Land Use Planning.

Currently, North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, northern China, parts of the Southwestern United States and South Eastern Australia are already experiencing physical water scarcity, while large swathes of sub-Saharan Africa are predominately being affected by managerial and institutional scarcity. The report takes an in-depth look at the current water situations in Australia, China and India.

Source: RICS