Research Summary: How Close Do We Live to Water? A Global Analysis of Population Distance to Freshwater Bodies


Traditionally, people have inhabited places with ready access to fresh water.
Today, over 50% of the global population lives in urban areas, and water
can be directed via tens of kilometres of pipelines. Still, however, a large
part of the world’s population is directly dependent on access to natural
freshwater sources. So how are inhabited places related to the location of
freshwater bodies today? We present a high-resolution global analysis of how
close present-day populations live to surface freshwater. We aim to increase the
understanding of the relationship between inhabited places, distance to surface
freshwater bodies, and climatic characteristics in different climate zones and
administrative regions. Our results show that over 50% of the
world’s population lives closer than 3 km to a surface freshwater body, and
only 10% of the population lives further than 10 km away. There are,
however, remarkable differences between administrative regions and climatic
zones. Populations in Australia, Asia, and Europe live closest to water.
Although populations in arid zones live furthest away from freshwater bodies in
absolute terms, relatively speaking they live closest to water considering the
limited number of freshwater bodies in those areas. Population distributions in
arid zones show statistically significant relationships with a combination of
climatic factors and distance to water, whilst in other zones there is no
statistically significant relationship with distance to water. Global studies on
development and climate adaptation can benefit from an improved understanding of
these relationships between human populations and the distance to fresh


Publisher: Public Library of Science

Date Published: 8-June-2011

Author(s): Kummu M., de Moel H., Ward P., Varis O.


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