The study that mapped water availability and quality down to the regional level shows 3.4 billion people live in areas of severe "water threats," the BBC reported Wednesday.
"What we've done is to take a very dispassionate look at the facts on the ground -- what is going on with respect to humanity's water security and what the infrastructure that's been thrown at this problem does to the natural world," study leader Charles Vorosmarty from the City College of New York said.
"What we're able to outline is a planet-wide pattern of threat, despite the trillions of dollars worth of engineering palliatives that have totally reconfigured the threat landscape," Vorosmarty said, referring to the dams, canals, aqueducts and pipelines employed by the developed world to safeguard drinking-water supplies.
Conserving water through reservoirs and dams works for people, but not nature, the researchers said, and they urged developing countries not to follow the same path.
Instead, they say governments should invest in water-management strategies that combine infrastructure with "natural" options such as safeguarding watersheds, wetlands and floodplains.
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