A coupled human–natural system analysis of freshwater security under climate and population change

Jim Yoon, Christian Klassert, Philip Selby, Thibaut Lachaut, Stephen Knox, Nicolas Avisse, Julien Harou, Amaury Tilmant, Bernd Klauer, Daanish Mustafa, Katja Sigel, Samer Talozi, Erik Gawel, Josue Medellín-Azuara, Bushra Bataineh, Hua Zhang, and Steven M. Gorelick

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2020431118


Limited water availability, population growth, and climate change have resulted in freshwater crises in many countries. Jordan’s situation is emblematic, compounded by conflict-induced population shocks. Integrating knowledge across hydrology, climatology, agriculture, political science, geography, and economics, we present the Jordan Water Model, a nationwide coupled human–natural-engineered systems model that is used to evaluate Jordan’s freshwater security under climate and socioeconomic changes. The complex systems model simulates the trajectory of Jordan’s water system, representing dynamic interactions between a hierarchy of actors and the natural and engineered water environment. A multiagent modeling approach enables the quantification of impacts at the level of thousands of representative agents across sectors, allowing for the evaluation of both systemwide and distributional outcomes translated into a suite of water-security metrics (vulnerability, equity, shortage duration, and economic well-being). Model results indicate severe, potentially destabilizing, declines in freshwater security. Per capita water availability decreases by approximately 50% by the end of the century. Without intervening measures, >90% of the low-income household population experiences critical insecurity by the end of the century, receiving <40 L per capita per day. Widening disparity in freshwater use, lengthening shortage durations, and declining economic welfare are prevalent across narratives. To gain a foothold on its freshwater future, Jordan must enact a sweeping portfolio of ambitious interventions that include large-scale desalinization and comprehensive water sector reform, with model results revealing exponential improvements in water security through the coordination of supply- and demand-side measures.

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