Human pressures on river systems pose a major threat to the sustainable development of human societies in the twenty-first century. Previous studies showed that a large part of global river systems was already exposed to relevant anthropogenic pressures at the beginning of this century.
A relevant question that has never been explained in the literature so far is whether these pressures are increasing in time, therefore representing a potential future challenge to the sustainability of river systems. This paper proposes an index we call “Differential Human Pressure on Rivers” (DHPR) to quantify the annual evolution of human pressure on river systems. DHPR identifies a per-year percentage increment (or decrement) of normalized human pressures on river systems (i.e., ratio of annual values to long-term average).
This index, based on annual nightlights and stationary discharge data, is estimated for 2195 major river basins over a period of 22 years, from 1992 to 2013. The results show that normalized annual human pressure on river systems increased globally, as indicated by an average DHPR value of 1.9 % per year, whereby the greatest increase occurred in the northern tropical and equatorial areas.
The evaluation of DHPR over this 22-year period allows the identification of hot-spot areas, therefore offering guidance on where the development and implementation of mitigation strategies and plans are most needed (i.e., where human pressure is strongly increasing).