Water is a huge and growing global challenge.

It is essential to all human activity and a fundamental driver of all socio-economic growth yet less than one per cent of the world’s fresh water is accessible. By 2050, nearly half of the world’s population will be living in areas where water is scarce and 90 per cent of all population growth will happen in regions where there is currently no sustainable access to water.

In this short video, Professor Steven Loiselle of Earthwatch explains the need for global freshwater research:


Why is the quality of fresh water important?

  • More people die from poor quality water annually than from all forms of violence, including war.

  • As water quality declines in some regions, more than 50 per cent of native freshwater fish species and nearly one third of the world’s amphibians are at risk of extinction.

  • One litre of petrol spilt can contaminate a million litres of fresh water to below World Health Organisation standards for drinking water.

  • The greatest single service freshwater ecosystems provide is water purification and the assimilation of wastes, valued at US$ 400 billion worldwide annually.


Huangpu River, Shanghai
Human settlements have always developed around a ready supply of fresh water.


Why is FreshWater Watch important?

  • Eutrophication is the response of an aquatic ecosystem to the excessive addition of nitrates and phosphates. This can lead to the growth of harmful algal blooms, increased turbidity and oxygen depletion of the water, fish kills, and an overall decline in biodiversity.

  • Before the global increase of industry at the turn of the 18th century, the only sources of nitrogen in fresh water were bacteria, volcanoes and lightning strikes.

  • Use of nitrogen fertilisers has increased by 600 per cent in the last 50 years.

  • Up to 30 per cent of nitrogen used in agriculture ends up in our fresh water.

  • Human activity trebled the amount of phosphorus released to the biosphere between 1960 and 2000, principally from runoff from agriculture and poorly treated domestic wastewater.

  • Phosphate concentrations have increased by 300 per cent since 1960, which has led to a massive increase in harmful algal blooms, damaging fisheries, ecosystems and human health.

  • Reduction of excess phosphorus in the soil could take decades leading to long term problems of eutrophication in freshwater and coastal environments.

Learn more about the freshwater challenge and find out how you can contribute.