Assessing Freshwater Quality

The world is facing a water quality challenge due to serious and increasing water pollution, both in developed and developing countries. This poses a growing risk to public health, food security, biodiversity and other ecosystem services. It is urgent to assess where water quality is inadequate or under threat and to incorporate the need for good water quality into the concept of water security.

Observational data, as it is provided by GEMS/Water, is required to assess and understand the global and regional patterns of water quality, both in the past and in the present. The knowledge derived from such assessments is essential for developing, monitoring and evaluating sustainable water resources management strategies that will help decision makers to implement policies to protect vital ecosystem services and work towards the achievement of the many water-related targets in the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. These evidence informed policies include source control, waste treatment, ecosystems management and new forms of local and global government.

The twin goals of the GEMS/Water Programme are to improve water quality monitoring and assessment capacity in participating countries. Data from participating countries is made available within the GEMS/Water online database GEMStat. GEMS/Water data has fed into the first phase of the World Water Quality Assessment: A Snapshot of the World’s Water Quality: Towards a Global Assessment (follow the link under Further Resources to download the complete report). Among its important findings are:

  • Severe pathogen pollution already affects around one-third of all river stretches in Latin America, Africa and Asia. The number of rural people coming into contact with unsafe surface waters may range into the hundreds of millions on these continents.
  • Severe organic pollution already affects around one-seventh of all river stretches in Latin America, Africa and Asia and is of concern to the state of the freshwater fishery and therefore to food security and livelihoods.
  • Severe and moderate salinity pollution affects around one-tenth of all river stretches in Latin America, Africa and Asia and is of concern because it impairs the use of river water for irriga-tion, industry and other services