Water is an essential commodity upon which all life on Earth depends. For most nations, economic development is inextricably linked to the availability and quality of freshwater supplies. Although everyone uses water on a daily basis, we often take this vital commodity for granted – particularly in regions with a natural abundance of water. We forget that, in many regions, the availability of water is a matter of life and death. Vital Water Graphics provides a valuable and timely addition to existing literature on the state of the world’s water resources 36 years after the 1972 Stockholm Conference. The publication focuses on our most ‘vital’ and pressing water issues – issues that will determine the very future of life on Earth. These graphics, together with accompanying texts and maps, highlight how the quantity, quality and availability of fresh and marine waters play a major role in determining levels and patterns of poverty, land degradation, pollution, sanitation, health, and rural and urban development around the world.

Vital Water Graphics also documents water trends in our fast changing environment, with examples from the past two decades revealing present trends and providing potential scenarios for the future. By recounting the latest chapter in the history of our fresh and marine water resources, the publication demonstrates how rapidly they are being depleted and polluted – and how urgently we must work for their conservation.

By providing a clear synthesis between water usage and social, economic and environmental factors, Vital Water Graphics will contribute through UNEP’s Water Policy and Strategy to the implementation of Chapters 17 and 18 of Rio’s Agenda 21. We hope that this document will provide valuable messages for the public and the media, as well as an effective tool for decision-making in water use and management during the years to come.

Achim Steiner
United Nations Under-Secretary General
and Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme