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 trends are going in the opposite direction in many other parts of the world. We now know that development is leading to intensifying degradation of water quality especially in developing countries. The increase in water pollution in these countries poses a risk to public health, food security, and livelihoods. Also, 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.

This new “global water quality challenge” affects developing countries in particular, but also developed countries. The good news is that there are many options for dealing with this challenge ranging from ecological wastewater treatment to new forms of water governance.

Needed now is a concerted programme to better understand the global state of water quality problems and the best way to solve them. For this reason UNEP in cooperation with GEMS/Water has launched a “World Water Quality Assessment”. The aim of the assessment is two-fold: first, to identify current and future problem areas of freshwater quality in surface waters, especially in developing countries; and second, to evaluate policy options for addressing water pollution. The assessment includes a concerted push with GEMS/Water to establish the water quality data base needed for tracking progress in protecting surface waters, as well as for testing and using models to evaluate policy measures. The first stage of the Assessment will last two years and provide a preliminary overview of water quality hot spot areas in the world and the threats of water pollution to public health and fish production.

With the support of the Chief Scientists Office 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. Later, the Chief Scientists Office articulated the scientific aspects of the World Water Quality Assessment Programme in cooperation with the Division of Environmental Policy Implementation (DEPI) (Thomas Chiramba), the Global Environmental Monitoring Programme for Water Quality (GEMS/Water) (Norberto Fernandez), and the Division of Early Warning and Assessment (DEWA) (Patrick Mmayi).