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The measurement of water scarcity: Defining a meaningful indicator

Damkjaer, Simon, Taylor, Richard
Ambio 2017 v.46 no.5 pp. 513-531
freshwater, groundwater, humans, rivers, runoff, socioeconomics, soil water, supply balance, virtual water, water shortages
Metrics of water scarcity and stress have evolved over the last three decades from simple threshold indicators to holistic measures characterising human environments and freshwater sustainability. Metrics commonly estimate renewable freshwater resources using mean annual river runoff, which masks hydrological variability, and quantify subjectively socio-economic conditions characterising adaptive capacity. There is a marked absence of research evaluating whether these metrics of water scarcity are meaningful. We argue that measurement of water scarcity (1) be redefined physically in terms of the freshwater storage required to address imbalances in intra- and inter-annual fluxes of freshwater supply and demand; (2) abandons subjective quantifications of human environments and (3) be used to inform participatory decision-making processes that explore a wide range of options for addressing freshwater storage requirements beyond dams that include use of renewable groundwater, soil water and trading in virtual water. Further, we outline a conceptual framework redefining water scarcity in terms of freshwater storage.