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Journal Article

Salinisation: A major threat to water resources in the arid and semi-arid regions of the world


Williams,  William Dudley
Limnological River Station Schlitz, Max Planck Institute for Limnology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Max Planck Society;

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Williams, W. D. (1999). Salinisation: A major threat to water resources in the arid and semi-arid regions of the world. Lakes & Reservoirs: Research and Management, 4(3-4), 85-91. doi:10.1046/j.1440-1770.1999.00089.x.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-000F-C88C-7
Semi-arid and arid regions (i.e. drylands with annual mean rainfall between 25 and 500 mm) cover approximately one-third of the world's land area and are inhabited by almost 400 million people. Because they are a resource in short supply, waters in drylands are under increasing human pressures, and many are threatened by rising salinities (salinisation) in particular. Rising salinities result from several causes. The salinities of many large natural salt lakes in drylands are rising as water is diverted from their inflows for irrigation and other uses. The excessive clearance of natural, deep-rooted vegetation from catchments and the discharge of saline agricultural wastewater causes the salinity of many freshwater lakes, wetlands and rivers to rise. The salinisation of some fresh waters is caused by rising saline groundwaters. And in some regions, increasing climatic aridity may be a cause of salinisation. Whatever the cause, salinisation has significant economic, social and environmental impacts. They are usually deleterious and often irreparable. Decreased biodiversity, changes in the natural character of aquatic ecosystems, and lower productivity are frequent ecological effects. In some dryland countries, salinisation is viewed as the single most important threat to water resources. However, the extent and importance of salinisation as a global threat has been greatly underestimated. Recognition of this is the first step in any attempt to manage it effectively. The aims of the present paper, therefore, are three-fold. First, it aims to define the problem and indicate its extent; second, it aims to outline the causes and effects of salinisation; third, it aims to highlight the social, economic and environmental costs and comment on management responses. An overarching aim is to draw attention to the importance of salinisation as a phenomenon of global significance to waters in drylands.