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Freshwater Access

Freshwater Access

Access to fresh water is essential for life. A lack of freshwater access can be a cause of conflict between communities.


5 - 8


Biology, Conservation, Health, Social Studies


Freshwater Pump

Considered by the United Nations as an essential human right, access to clean freshwater is both necessary for human life to thrive, and an increasingly fragile resource as more and more sources of clean freshwater fall under the threat of climate change.

Photograph by Nishasharma

All life on Earth depends on water, a vital natural resource. Natural resources—such as water, air, plants, wildlife, soil, and fossil fuels—are used by humans for the basic necessities of life, including food, drinking water, energy, and shelter. As a crucial resource for human life, access to freshwater has historically determined where civilizations began and thrived. Freshwater exists on Earth’s surface in lakes, rivers, and ice, as well as below the surface as groundwater. However, it is a limited resource; freshwater makes up only about three percent of all water on Earth.

Although freshwater is considered a renewable resource, the use of freshwater in some regions exceeds the ability of natural processes to replenish supplies. When the demand for freshwater cannot be met, it can lead to political tension and public-health problems. Distribution issues may arise when freshwater supplies, such as lakes, cross political boundaries. They can also occur when human activities upstream on a river adversely affect communities living downstream. Those activities can include dumping pollutants into the river or diverting large amounts of water away from where the water typically flows.

Ecosystems vary in the amount of water they hold. Places with hot and dry climates, like deserts, do not have as much freshwater as areas with cool, wet climates. North Africa and the Middle East, which are primarily desert environments, are two areas most affected by water shortages. Even in a water-rich ecosystem, such as one along a major river, the amount of available freshwater can be limited. Factors affecting water supplies in these areas include the amount of precipitation, as well as human activities, such as industry and farming, that can degrade water quality.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Last Updated

July 15, 2022

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