Published December 20, 2017 | Version v1
Dataset Open

Data from: How close do we live to water? a global analysis of population distance to freshwater bodies

  • 1. Aalto University
  • 2. VU University Amsterdam


Traditionally, people have inhabited places with ready access to fresh water. Today, over 50% of the global population lives in urban areas, and water can be directed via tens of kilometres of pipelines. Still, however, a large part of the world's population is directly dependent on access to natural freshwater sources. So how are inhabited places related to the location of freshwater bodies today? We present a high-resolution global analysis of how close present-day populations live to surface freshwater. We aim to increase the understanding of the relationship between inhabited places, distance to surface freshwater bodies, and climatic characteristics in different climate zones and administrative regions. Our results show that over 50% of the world's population lives closer than 3 km to a surface freshwater body, and only 10% of the population lives further than 10 km away. There are, however, remarkable differences between administrative regions and climatic zones. Populations in Australia, Asia, and Europe live closest to water. Although populations in arid zones live furthest away from freshwater bodies in absolute terms, relatively speaking they live closest to water considering the limited number of freshwater bodies in those areas. Population distributions in arid zones show statistically significant relationships with a combination of climatic factors and distance to water, whilst in other zones there is no statistically significant relationship with distance to water. Global studies on development and climate adaptation can benefit from an improved understanding of these relationships between human populations and the distance to fresh water.




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