Water and awareness

The perception of environmental problems in Hungary, especially of challenges about water.

In the survey carried out in the first quarter of 2013, Forsense focussed on the Hungarian population’s responsiveness to problems in connection with water, their water awareness. The survey covered the topic from global to local, with the help of four questions.  

On the basis of the results it can be pointed out that Hungarian society is responsive to water problems, on a global, national and local level as well. Both the lack of water threatening as a potential international source of conflict (water and peace), and the question of water limpidity (sanitation) are major stressed problems among future environmental challenges.

The connections of the survey show that, in addition to the obvious perception of water problems and challenges, in some points certain differences between the attitudes of different demographic groups can be observed. Women’s problem responsiveness to everyday dangers is much more evident, while men react more responsively to challenges based on global, news or scientific information. Further segments are formed by the differences in types of dwelling, age, education as well as lifestyle.

Global problems of nature 

Environmental problems of the next 20 years challenging mankind are in the focus of the first question. Those answering it chose the first three “challenges” from the list, in order of importance.

Most people consider extreme weather conditions to be the greatest challenge – probably on the basis of their own home experiences. Every second person mentioned this problem, moreover, every fourth respondent put it in the first place. The phenomenon is connected with the topic of global warming as well, so the problem of natural disasters having a background theoretically similar to this one, is worth mentioning. More than a third of those questioned specified it as a phenomenon dangerous for mankind. The rate of people worrying about decreasing agricultural areas was also high. At the same time, if we look at the frequency of answers given to all possibilities, it can be seen that, although the question was related to a problem of whole mankind, the majority of respondents answered on the basis of their own local experiences and fears. For that reason, of course, rising sea levels and the extinction of animal and plant species were much rarely mentioned.

According to the type of dwelling, few differences were registered by the survey concerning the problems at the beginning of the list, which means that respondents gave quite similar answers apart from what type of settlement they lived in. It is still striking that those living in big cities consider the pressing back of natural environment a greater problem, while people living in villages think natural disasters and extinction of animal and plant species a greater one.

There were three factors where educational level went together with the changes of opinion. One of them is the role of natural disasters. The more educated somebody is, the less chance he/she gives to them in the next 20 years to mean great problems for mankind. A phenomenon similar to this one can be observed concerning the extinction of animal and plant species, which is considered a greater threat by less educated people. At the same time – although there is no considerable difference between the opinions of different groups – pressing back of natural environment is considered a greater danger by better educated people (which is probably connected with the urbanity or postmodern environment awareness of more qualified respondents).

Although different age groups have different opinions in judging certain questions, tendency-like difference of opinions as above cannot be observed. On the other hand, it is remarkable that the rate of questioned not answering was the lowest in the 40-59 age group.

The different attitude to flora and fauna of men and women is shown plastically by their answers. More men think the pressing back of natural environment (+7%) and rising sea levels (+8%) to be threatening problems. Women are more responsive to problems threatening everyday life more directly, so in their case it was more frequent to worry about extreme climatic conditions (+12%) and fear of natural disasters similar to them (+12%).

The most significant social economic challenges facing mankind

In the second question, the survey focussed on the greatest challenges of the next 20 years, concerning economic-environmental problems of human civilization.

Showing their knowledge of the examined topic, most people, almost every second questioned person considered the lack of water suitable for human consumption to be prospectively the greatest problem, and every fifth person thought it the Number 1 challenge. One third of the respondents mentioned environmental and air pollution as well while the frequency of mentioning the other seven problems was continuously falling. The chart shows plastically how strikingly the problem of water shortage rises from the others. Due to Hungary’s geopolitical situation, its distance from war zones, a significant break can be seen at the end of the list as well: few people mentioned war conflicts as sources of danger. The attitude to the problem of overpopulation is also striking. Although it is not mentioned frequently, many people mention it as the Number 1 problem.

According to their place of living, there is no significant difference in the rate of those who fear from global water shortage. This rate is equally high in all four groups.

Among people living in the capital the rate of those worrying about financial crash is higher compared to the other settlements. (35%, which is 8% higher compared to all respondents); village dwellers fear from mass migration of third world’s population at a higher rate (+7%), and the rate of those worrying about virus danger is also higher among village dwellers (+5%).

There were two problem groups where we can see the connection between the direction of answers and education. The more educated somebody is, he/she thinks food shortage the less serious challenge: the rate of mentioning this problem among people with 8 years of education is 44%, while it is only 25% among people with degrees. The tendency concerning viruses and epidemics is even more striking. 37% of the lowest educated people mentions it a threatening problem, while only 13% of people with degrees says the same.

The results of different age groups are similar to those of the first question: they judge several questions in different ways but, unlike in the case of the previous group, there are no tendency-like differences.  

The most significant difference is between the opinion of men and women again. A lot of men worry about mass migration of the third world’s population (+15% compared to women) and overpopulation (+10%). Much more women mentioned environmental and air pollution (+11% compared to men) and the question of diseases, epidemics and viruses (+12%) as problems.

Problems causing war conflicts

The examined environmental challenges as potential sources of conflict stood in the focus of the third question.

On the basis of three mentioning, according to nearly two third of those questioned, water shortage may cause conflicts or/and wars among countries in the near future. Exhaustion of energy sources was mentioned by 60% of all questioned people, although most people mentioned this problem in the first place. The high mentioning rate of the latter option is not surprising, as beside perceiving rising energy prices on a daily basis, people regularly hear about serious political and war conflicts as well. However, such a definite perception of probable conflicts related to water shortage is remarkable, even though this problem is highlighted in the programmes of educational channels and on some thematic websites.

In the case of a following survey it will be worth examining what relations are shown between such an intensive social perception of the problem and awareness of daily water consumption, and, setting out from this, what forms of information are worth applying to increase awareness.

This time, there is even more insignificant difference among the opinions of different socio-demographic groups. In the case of each source of problem there is one or maximum two social groups where there are somewhat more people who think the given problem a serious challenge. In the case of water shortage, these are people with higher education, and young people have the same opinion on basic energy sources. Village dwellers with maximum 8 years of education are afraid of food shortage as a potentially war causing problem, the lack of arable land was marked by many old people, while the exhaustion of mineral resources was chosen by people living in the capital.The last issue of the survey was water problems relevant to Hungary.

Water problems of Hungary

The extremely high number of mentioning in the first place and the summary of the three choices show that people consider water pollution in Hungary a great source of danger. More than a third of respondents marked this problem in the first place from the six choices., and it was mentioned by two third of questioned altogether. Both personal perception of people living in the polluted areas, and the fact that in the first days of the year the media dealt with the problem of arsenical water on a large scale probably contributed to this result.  

Water supplies drying up, floods, desertification and areas getting marshy are considered a challenge nearly at the same rate (between 35-40%).  Much less people (14%) perceive the drying up of rivers due to overconsumption in the neighbouring countries as a serious challenge.

In the breakdown according to dwelling place, the answers of people living in villages are remarkable: they marked several problems in higher rate than the other groups. More than 70% consider water pollution a significant problem, and the mentioning frequency of drying up of underground water supplies and desertification is also the highest in this group. These rates are not surprising since because of the personal involvement mentioned above, in the country (in some areas) the perception of water problems is more intensive.

We can see a similar, significantly higher rate compared to the average only in one case: One third of those living in the capital worry about drying up of waters flowing through the country, while this rate was only 25% among all questioned people.

Relation between educational level and emphasizing the importance of a problem can be seen only in one case: areas getting marshy and drying out of lakes are considered a great problem mainly by people with degrees (44%). This rate is gradually decreasing, in the case of people on the lowest educational level it is merely 30%.  

Between men and women there are two questions with greater deviation. Women perceive water pollution to be a problem to a greater extent (+10%) than men (72-62%). The difference is even more outstanding in the other case: inland waters are judged a more problematic question by women (46-31%).

Deepening the knowledge of these problems and more detailed segmentation will be possible in the course of a more focussed examination of the most important topics and directions.

Methodology

Forsense conducted a questionnaire-type public opinion poll between 24 January and 3 February 2013 in the course of which 1000 randomly chosen adults were inquired with the help of CATI method. The database of telephone subscribers constituted the basis of sampling, the defining of respondents was carried out with multi-viewpoint layered random selection, errors resulting from sampling were corrected with the help of cell matrix weighing. The composition of the sample, according to the most important socio-demographic factors (sex, age, settlement type of dwelling place) corresponds to the rates of Hungarian adult population. Data published here can deviate from the result we could have received by inquiring all adult inhabitants in the country with a maximum of plus-minus 3.1 per cent points.