We live on a resource-limited planet where pressures on water usage are increasing rapidly and pose mounting challenges for sustainable water management. In addition, climate change is anticipated to cause many water-stressed regions to become even drier and the frequency of extreme events, both droughts and floods, to increase and exacerbate the disaster risk of the society. The capacity of society to mitigate against such problems and, where possible to adapt to them, is currently constrained by the limits of our understanding and knowledge of the complex coupling of natural and anthropogenic systems that operate on the multiples scales of water stress and the unavailability of this science to management decision-making. The global scientific community needs to rapidly evolve the knowledge base that will enhance our capacity to enable communities to become more resilient, and manage the water system more sustainably in the face of the many interacting drivers of water supply and demand.
Water stress is a key component of water security and is influenced both by natural hydro-meteorological processes as well as the many complex facets of our wider societal footprint, such as land-use or water abstraction (for agriculture or industry) which in-turn are governed by patterns of consumption or population change. We currently have an inadequate understanding of the critical interactions between natural processes and human activities over a wide range of temporal and spatial scales, as well as across different regions. Managing regional water security remains challenging as the science enabling confident forecasts of rain-fed water supply over (seasonal) timescales that are most useful in decision-making is also highly immature. Furthermore, we have a limited set of management approaches, both physical and behavioural, that will enable society to become more resilient to water stress in future decades.
To tackle such problems requires a significant directional change in the science we need to undertake. We need to develop novel, transferable, approaches to the delivery of freshwater security in order to facilitate decision making for wicked problems that inevitably involve trade-offs (e.g. between ecosystems services and livelihoods or lifestyles). Research is therefore needed to address the coupling of natural and anthropogenic systems operating on the multiples scales of water stress as well as the complexity of the associated decision-making processes.
Recognising this, and the value of interdisciplinary and comparative approaches, the Belmont Forum and G8HORCs are calling for research groups from at least three different countries involving both natural and social sciences to co-design and develop, in conjunction with users, medium sized regionally-based projects that tackle either one or both of the following work packages: