Coordinating the UN's work on water and sanitation

Towards a Worldwide Assessment of Freshwater Quality

28 November, 2016

The world is facing a water quality challenge. Serious and increasing pollution of fresh water in both developing and developed countries poses a growing risk to public health, food security, biodiversity and other ecosystem services. Pollution is strongly linked to economic development – with population growth and the expansion of agriculture, industry and energy production all in turn producing wastewater, much of which goes into surface and groundwater bodies uncontrolled or untreated. Despite recent preliminary assessments of the current worldwide water quality situation, the magnitude of the challenge is still unknown. Better information is required on where the issues lie and what is needed to effectively and efficiently take action to protect and improve water quality.

This Analytical Brief provides information about past assessments, outlines the challenge but also provides a plan for a world water quality assessment, which, if undertaken, would provide decision makers with the information they need to address this challenge. The Analytical Brief also explores the strong linkages between water quality and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 6, “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all,” includes a specific target (6.3) dedicated to water quality. Central questions include: ‘how can the water quality target be achieved?’; ‘How will worsening water pollution affect SDGs for health, food security, and biodiversity, among others?’; Or, conversely, ‘how can actions to protect and enhance water quality help meet other SDGs?’.