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Nature. 2010 Sep 30;467(7315):555-61. doi: 10.1038/nature09440.

Global threats to human water security and river biodiversity.

Author information

  • 1The Environmental CrossRoads Initiative, City University of New York, The City College of New York, New York, New York 10035, USA.

Erratum in

  • Nature.2010 Nov 11;468(7321):334.


Protecting the world's freshwater resources requires diagnosing threats over a broad range of scales, from global to local. Here we present the first worldwide synthesis to jointly consider human and biodiversity perspectives on water security using a spatial framework that quantifies multiple stressors and accounts for downstream impacts. We find that nearly 80% of the world's population is exposed to high levels of threat to water security. Massive investment in water technology enables rich nations to offset high stressor levels without remedying their underlying causes, whereas less wealthy nations remain vulnerable. A similar lack of precautionary investment jeopardizes biodiversity, with habitats associated with 65% of continental discharge classified as moderately to highly threatened. The cumulative threat framework offers a tool for prioritizing policy and management responses to this crisis, and underscores the necessity of limiting threats at their source instead of through costly remediation of symptoms in order to assure global water security for both humans and freshwater biodiversity.

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