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Fresh Water

Building freshwater resilience in a time of rising demand and growing uncertainty

As The Rockefeller Foundation now looks at designing multi-year and bold new programs in health and agriculture, what we have learned—and will continue to learn—about water will be an important part of how we approach our other work going forward. We also see the need for new innovative financing mechanisms in the water sector, and our Zero Gap team is poised to carry this forward. Going forward, the Foundation’s future investments in the water sector will happen through these larger bodies of work.


Fresh water is both an elemental human need and a central resource for economic and social development, serving everything from household demands to agriculture, industry, and energy production. One third of the world’s rivers and aquifers—supporting 1.6 billion people—are severely water stressed, meaning that more than 75 percent of their available water is being used. At current rates, human water use will double every 20 years due to population growth, industrialization, and urbanization. Meanwhile, the gap between supply and demand is widening. By 2030, global water demand is expected to exceed supply by 40 percent.2

Water management systems around the world are struggling to adapt to changes in water use and availability. Growing water stress is already prompting major transformations in antiquated water policy, creating a rolling series of opportunities to transform water management practices in a way that builds resilience in the freshwater systems themselves, and the communities that depend upon them.


Our Strategy

The Rockefeller Foundation’s Fresh Water initiative aimed to improve management of fresh water, enabling more efficient use and allocation of water by individuals, sectors, and governments. Our goal was to build freshwater resilience globally—that is, the ability of freshwater ecosystems and dependent communities and industries to thrive in the face of change, such as extended droughts, land use change, and excessive withdrawals.

We put forth a vision in which we make better use of the water we have; in which water is allocated more equitably; and natural freshwater ecosystems and the communities and industries dependent upon them are resilient in the face of shifting supplies. In support of this vision, we made select grants to leading institutions around the world to explore what it would mean to manage water differently, including through the integration of principles of resilience (aware, diverse, integrated, adaptive, self-regulating).

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