Fresh Water

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


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% of their available water is being used.1 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 aims to improve management of fresh water globally, enabling more efficient use and allocation of water by individuals, sectors, and governments. Our goal is 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.

Our guiding principles for building freshwater resilience are:

  • Limited Use. Set a limit on total volume of water withdrawal, adjusted annually or seasonally according to water availability
  • Adaptive Allocation. Allocate water to users as a percentage of total available water (shares) rather than in fixed quantities
  • Transparent Exchange. Enable water trading between users to ensure it is put to its most productive and efficient use.
  • Environmental Integrity. Reserve sufficient water to maintain environmental flows necessary for ecological resilience
  • Social Inclusion & Equity. Ensure inclusivity of the needs and voice of the poor and vulnerable and safeguards for their protection in water allocation decisions and transfers

Our work is focused on ensuring resilience principles are incorporated into water management policies and investments around the globe. Ultimately, our vision is a world where rural communities, cities, agriculture, industry, and freshwater ecosystems are resilient to changing water availability and demand.

1. Chartres, C. and Varma, S. Out of Water. From Abundance to Scarcity and How to Solve the World’s Water Problems (USA: FT Press, 2010).
2. The 2030 Water Resources Group. 2009: Charting Our Water Future.

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