The water challenge

The water challenge

Rivers, wetlands and lakes are often referred to as the planet’s circulatory system, transporting for thousands of kilometres the water that people and ecosystems depend on around the world.

Fresh water makes up less than 1% of the planet’s surface—but this freshwater sustains all life outside the ocean. Access to water is already limited for a quarter of the world’s population, and the decline of biodiversity, damaged wetlands and contamination are putting even more pressure on our freshwater and groundwater resources—with critical implications for water quality, sustainable supply and food production worldwide. Climate change is also affecting water systems more than any other ecosystems, creating an even greater sense of urgency to protect, revive and maintain the world’s rivers.

We depend on water for all economic activities. It’s necessary for food production, manufacturing, livelihoods, energy, health and all other activities we take to make global progress and achieve growth.

What is sustainable development?

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” – World Commission on Environment and Development

We also depend on this water for our own lives. Lack of safe water and sanitation kills millions of people worldwide each year, and draws millions of others into vicious cycles of poverty, disease, low education and low socioeconomic development.

Challenges such as growth of urban centres, rapidly changing technology and climate change place increasing complexity and uncertainty around water security—and we need to remain committed to developing knowledge and practical approaches for protecting, restoring and sustainably managing river systems.

We know that water is crucial for all life on the planet, and we know that a water-secure world is essential to sustainable development. By investing in water security, we can create resilient and healthy rivers, catchments and dependent communities around the world—and contribute to a sustainable water future.

What we know

More than 650 million people still live without safe water

The water and sanitation crisis is the second biggest killer of children under 5 worldwide

70% of freshwater used by humans goes into agriculture—particularly rice, cotton and sugar

Rapidly growing urban populations are creating more challenges around sustainable water use and provision

Lack of clean water has an inherent relationship with poverty

To grow a kilogram of rice consumes 2,497 litres—but it’s not just direct use of water that comes from rivers. ‘Embedded’ water also goes into manufacturing products, establishing services and sustaining economic activities.

Facilitating Integrated River Basin Management approaches can have a valuable impact on overcoming the global water crisis.