About the Global Water Quality Challenge

The last decades have seen an observable improvement in water quality of surface waters in many parts of the developed world. But major new developments are triggering a new “global water quality challenge” affecting developing countries in particular, but also developed countries.

  • We now know that development is leading to intensifying degradation of water quality over many parts of the world, especially in developing countries. Ironically, water pollution is increasing in developing countries because of the progress being made in expanding public water supplies, but the failure to adequately treat the new wastewater flows they generate. Increasing water pollution in these countries poses a risk to both public health and to food security because of its impact on fisheries.
  • New factors are threatening water quality such as the increasing discharge of endocrine disruptors and other dangerous chemicals to freshwater systems.
  • Meanwhile, water quality has become a global issue as a result of growing linkages with global driving forces and global processes such as climate change.

But the good news is that there are many options for dealing with the global water quality challenge ranging from ecological wastewater treatment to new forms of local to global water governance. What is needed now is a concerted programme to better understand the global state of water quality problems and the best way to solve them.

At UNEP, the Office of the Chief Scientist is working with the Division of Environmental Policy Implementation (DEPI) and the Global Environmental Monitoring Programme for Water (GEMS/Water) on activities for coping with the global water challenge:

  • With the support of the Office of the Chief Scientist and DEPI, a Scientific Panel on “Water quality challenges and responses” was convened by UN-Water and the Global Water System Project on the occasion of World Water Day, 22 March, 2010. The Panel issued the "Nairobi Scientific Communiqué on Water Quality Challenges and Responses"  which lays out an agenda for action on the global water quality challenge.
  • DEPI is convening an international process to develop water quality guidelines for ecosystems which will serve as a benchmark for actions to protect water quality. This work is in cooperation with the Office of the Chief Scientist and UN-Water.
  • GEMS/Water is working with the Office of the Chief Scientist and DEPI to organize a global water quality assessment together with a major effort to close the water quality data gap. These undertakings will help policymakers, stakeholders, and scientists better understand the extent and type of water quality problems around the world. They will also provide information for making better decisions about policy options within a country and donor priorities.
  • The UNEP Chief Scientist has chaired the Scientific Advisory Committee of the first GEF International Waters Science Conference in Bangkok, September, 2012 which helped set the investment agenda for environmental protection of international waters.