World’s Fresh Water Threatened as Never Before New Report Tracks Emerging Threats, New Solutions

November 10, 2001, OAKLAND, CA – Ten to twenty thousand people die every day from water-related diseases; worldwide, half of all wetlands have already been lost to development and conversion. Global climate change will wreak potential havoc on the world’s freshwater.

In short, across the globe, the world’s scarce fresh water is being threatened as never before. To make matters worse, the traditional methods long-used to ensure our supply of water – dams, reservoirs, and pipelines – are actually adding to our woes. The good news is there are solutions. A new assessment released this week by the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security (Oakland, California) lays out these global threats and offers ways to solve them by breaking with the destructive patterns of the past. The report was funded by the UN Environment Programme.

“The aim of this new assessment is to look ahead at four critical emerging threats to the world’s freshwater resources,” stated Dr. Peter H. Gleick, director of the Pacific Institute of Oakland, California and the report’s lead author. “And when we do, the picture is not pretty. Growing populations, increasing water pollution, and the wild-card of climate change all point to an upcoming crisis.”

Freshwater is essential for human survival, for agriculture and for the survival of our planet’s plants and animals. But pollution, climate change, water-related disease, and the destruction of natural systems all threaten the purity and availability of our most precious resource. Despite the pressing nature of these threats, water institutions and policymakers have, so far, been largely unable to develop the tools and approaches needed to address these problems.

“Governments have failed to adequately address these problems. The impacts of water-related diseases on the world’s children, and the coming risks of climate change are especially threatening. Changing weather patterns may dump too much water into barren areas and leave our massive networks of dams and reservoirs with only drops. We’ve got to prepare for tomorrow today.”

Despite the challenges we face, there are solutions to the problem. First among these is a realization that sustainable use of freshwater requires a new dialogue on the ultimate ends to be served by water management. The most crucial solution is a rethinking of how we use and manage our scarce resources,” said Dr. Gleick. “We must look at ways to increase our efficiency of use, instead of just building more dams and reservoirs. Improving the efficiency of our water systems, taking real steps to stem global warming, and opening the policy debate over water to new voices can all help turn the tide.”

Download or purchase this report

Emerging Threats to the World’s Freshwater Resources Fact-Sheet

Among the major concerns raised by the report:

  •  Two-thirds of the world’s population is at risk of water-related diseases. Even today, there are 250 million cases of water-related diseases reported every year, and between 5 and 10 million deaths, mostly of children.
  • Water-related diseases, like cholera, malaria, dengue fever, and dysentery, will continue to rise in the future unless these basic needs are met.
  • The impacts of climate change on water are already apparent. Climate change, also called global warming, is already evident,and impacts on water resources are being ignored by water policymakers.
  •  Freshwater pollution – In both the developing world and in industrialized nations, water pollution and contamination is a growing problem.
  • The world’s wetlands are disappearing at an alarming rate. Half of the world’s wetlands have already been lost. The report highlights with new satellite maps, for example, Iraq’s recent destruction of the unique freshwater marshes where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet.


The Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security is an independent, nonprofit research center working on issues at the intersection of sustainable development, environmental protection and global security.

Dr. Peter H. Gleick is one of the world’s leading scientific experts on fresh water problems and solutions. He is the author of the “The World’s Water” (published by Island Press, Washington) and serves on the National Academy of Sciences Water Science and Technology Board. He was elected an Academician of the International Water Academy of Oslo, Norway in 1999.