Final observations

Neither the impacts of climatic change on water resources nor the possibilities offered by ground-water to mitigate drought are new. What is new is the global dimension of the environmental change and its permanency. Compared to the climatic changes of the past, the present change is taking place in a world where many vast areas are densely populated, with a high water demand. Even if the climate were not to change, a water crisis will still occur. Increased average temperature during the last few decades overshadows the impact of anthropogenic activity and its impact on water resources which are larger than those caused by any recent past climate change (Vorosmarty et al. 2004; Bouwer et al. 2006). Indeed in many areas the lack of water reflects a decrease in rainfall (i.e. climatic change), but often the underlying reason is an increase in consumption (Falkenmark & Lannerstad 2005).

In order to overcome the present and future water and environmental problems it is necessary to try to predetermine the problems through focused research, based on a good set of meteorological and hydrological data, which at present are far from satisfactory. The protection and restoration of ecosystems that provide critical water resources, such as those protecting recharge areas, wetlands and mountain forests is critical. There is a need to reduce the gap between the water supply and demand with more efficient irrigation systems, training of farmers, recycling of waste water, water conservation through public awareness and groundwater legislation for better groundwater management. Another key point is international co-operation, both in research and in the rational distribution of water resources.

These actions are widely agreed by national and international bodies and by the agencies that work for the environment and water resources (Vrba & Verhagen 2006). Some of these actions, such as transboundary management of resources, are complex, and can only be implemented slowly. Installation of monitoring networks is less difficult provided the will is there, but data needs may never be satisfied (Vorosmarty & Sahagian 2000; Shiklomanov 2004b; Di Matteo & Dragoni 2006).

The authors, while they assume full responsibility for any errors and imprecisions, thank Gian Maria Zuppi warmly for his painstaking review of the manuscript.

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