Precipitation inequality exacerbates streamflow inequality, but dams moderate it
Access to clean water is a fundamental human right, yet millions worldwide face the dire consequences of water scarcity and inadequate sanitation. Water inequality, characterized by disparities in access and availability of water resources, has emerged as a critical global challenge with far-reaching social, economic, and environmental implications. Using a globally representative observational streamflow dataset and Gini coefficients, this study investigates how streamflow inequality, which has a large impact on inequality of water availability, varies spatially and temporally, and its relationship with different underlying catchment characteristics. This study finds that watersheds in arid climates exhibit a higher degree of streamflow inequality than polar and equatorial ones. Africa experiences the highest streamflow inequality, followed by Australia, while South America experiences relatively lower streamflow inequality. Around 19.6 % of the catchments in Australia display an increasing trend in streamflow inequality, pointing to worsening conditions. Conversely, South America experiences a decreasing trend in streamflow inequality in 18.3 % of its catchments during the same period. It is also found that a more evenly distributed precipitation within the catchment and higher dam storage capacity corresponds to more evenly distributed streamflow availability throughout the year. This study enhances our understanding of streamflow inequality worldwide, which will aid policy formulation to foster sustainable development.
Science of The Total Environment