Biggest Global (Fresh) Water Issues & Problems, & Solutions

Biggest Global (Fresh) Water Issues & Problems, & Solutions

Global fresh water issues and problems generally fit into one of two broad categories.

In this guide, we identify these categories, and also the specific water problems associated with them.

We also look to identify potential short term and long term options and solutions to address them.


Summary – Biggest Global Water Issues & Problems, & Solutions

* Note – this guide also does not cover natural disasters that involve water, such as river floods. 


Biggest Global Water Issues & Problems – Quantity & Quality Of Water

1. Quantity Of Water

Read more about the causes and effects of quantity related water problems in this guide.

There’s many factors that can lead to water stress or water scarcity, but some of the main ones are:

  • A city or town not having a high natural volume or capacity of available fresh water resources 
  • A dry and/or hot climate (and increasing surface temperature and decreasing or variable rainfall levels) 
  • Natural events like droughts
  • Increasing demand placed on water resources – can be caused by factors such as population growth and increase in water required for economic activity
  • Lack of finances to invest in climate independent fresh water generation technology, such as desalination or water recycling
  • Poor or inadequate governmental or institutional management of freshwater resources

Some of the key factors that need to be taken into account when assessing water quantity related problems may include, but aren’t limited to:

  • The total volume (and capacity) of available internal fresh water resources (surface water, and ground water sources)
  • Demand on those resources – withdrawal and consumption rates
  • Renewal/replenishment rates (usually from hydrological cycle, taking into account rainfall, evaporation, inflow and stream flow rates into surface water and groundwater, percolation rates through soil and rock into ground water aquifers, and so on) of those resources compared to how quickly they are being depleted or emptied
  • Ability to increase resource capacity (like building a new dam for example)
  • Ability to generate fresh water (via desalination technology for example)
  • Ability to treat and re-use water, or to recycle waste water, storm water, and other types of water
  • The volume and capacity of available shared water resources
  • The volume and capacity of external/transboundary water resources

When there are limited available internal fresh water resources, or when the withdrawal or consumption rate (demand) is higher than the rate that those resources are being recharged/replenished, there is usually water quantity issues like high water stress, water scarcity and water shortages.

Read more about water quantity related issues like water availability, stress, scarcity, and shortage in this guide.

Different regions within a different countries can experience water scarcity and stress during different time periods.

Perth in Western Australia is an example of a city that has managed to address their water scarcity issues by securing drinking water in the short term. However, they are focussing on longer term sustainable strategies for non potable fresh water too (experts say waste water recycling could have potential to do this long term)

Cape Town in South Africa is an example of a city that experienced water scarcity and a water shortage event in recent years.


2. Quality Of Water

Quality of water refers to the condition of the water, and fresh water resources must be of adequate quality for the potable or non potable end use. 

Ocean water (salt water) for example is not of adequate quality to drink unless it’s treated with desalination.

Fresh water may become polluted or contaminated, or may become cross contaminated with salt water, and both of these things can make fresh water not suitable for drinking water or non potable uses.

Drinking water usually has to meet legislation or regulations (the Safe Drinking Water Act & Clean Water Act are examples), and/or water testing standards in developed countries.

Water that that is non potable, such as water used for irrigation to grow crops in agriculture for example might be tested for specific quality standards.

We’ve put together several guides with further information on some water quality related topics:


Solutions To Major Global Water Issues & Problems

1. Water Quantity

Read more about solutions to water quantity related problems in this guide.

There are many potential solutions for addressing water quantity related issues.

Some of the major ones may include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Better and more accurate tools that allow governments, farmers, and businesses to measure and track water usage, as well as indicators, stressors and triggers of water risk. Also, better data analysis that allows the short and long term sustainable management of fresh water resources, as well as estimating future forecasting for factors like demand, population growth, economic growth and so on
  • Restricting, rationing and controlling water withdrawals to protect baseline water levels, or so that withdrawals don’t outpace renewal rates
  • Increasing water capacity/volume e.g. building a new dam
  • Increasing water efficiency, and effectiveness of water use in the major water using sectors and activities – agriculture (irrigation in particular), industry (energy generation in particular), and household
  • Similarly to the point above, identifying and minimizing water waste and loss in the above sectors
  • Adapting to the local climate – if it’s a hot (high surface temperature) and dry (low or variable rainfall) climate for example, or if it has a strong frequency and intensity of natural events like droughts that impact rainfall. Cities and towns can get around this by using climate independent technology like desalination, waste/grey/storm water treatment and recycling, and so on (options that don’t depend on rain, aren’t affected by droughts, and other climate related factors) 
  • Diversifying to more than one source or type of water supply source – to diversify risk, and gain the benefits of different types of water supplies
  • In the long term – considering ways to decouple population growth and economic growth from an increase in water use/water withdrawals

Solutions to water quantity issues can be addressed on the global, national (with national policy), State (with State policy), city, sector and individual levels. They may also be addressed in a shared way when cities share water resources for example.

Cities and towns may also look to secure both potable and non potable fresh water supplies for the short and long term.


2. Water Quality

Read more about solutions to water quality related problems in this guide.













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