Assessment of World Water Quality to Meet the Global Water Quality Challenge


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

We now know that economic 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 failing to adequately treat the new wastewater flows they generate.

Increasing water pollution in these countries poses a risk to public health, food security, and the economy:

  • The poor in developing countries are particularly affected by water pollution of surface waters. Many poor people use local surface waters for bathing and clothes washing, and sometimes as a direct water supply. Destitute farmers are sometimes forced by their situation to use polluted water for irrigating their subsistence crops. The poor, therefore, are often the social group most affected by diseases caused by contact with contaminated water.
  • Many municipalities tap local surface waters for water supply and when this water supply is polluted the costs of water purification are very high.

  • Fish from inland fisheries play a key role in the food security of developing countries. The harvest from inland fisheries accounts for 25 to 29% of fish harvested for direct human consumption and most of this consumption is within developing countries where fish make up a large fraction of animal protein in diets. Hence, it is of great concern that inland fisheries are directly threatened by deteriorating water quality.

  • The inland fishery also makes an essential contribution to the "Green Economy" - Data compiled by the World Bank, FAO and World Fish Centre indicate that around 58 milllion jobs are provided by the inland fishery; hence degrading water quality threatens both food security and the local economy.

In response to the growing global water quality challenge, UNEP together with The Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Leipzig, Germany, CESR, University of Kassel, Germany, the UN-Water Group and GEMS/Water will carry out this global water quality assessment. This Assessment will be a key step in helping policymakers, stakeholders, and scientists better understand the extent and type of water quality problems around the world. It will also be a major awareness-raising exercise and will be provide capacity building in coping with the water quality challenge.

CESR as the analystical partner is responsible for:

  • Supporting the analysis of water quality data from global, regional and national databases and sources;
  • Establishing of key indicators/indices in water quality, inland fisheries, etc., at national and/or regional scales;
  • Identifying of major data gaps that need to be filled to make a more authoritative estimate of the above indicators;
  • Carrying-out model-based estimations, production of relevant maps and report and
  • Defining and organizing a peer-review process for the global assessment in collaboration with UNEP and UFZ.

Funding agency

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Project duration

June 2013  −  May 2015

Project management

Martina Flörke

Project staff

Marcus Malsy
Klara Reder


Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ