What is freshwater?

Freshwater is one of the most essential resources on our planet. It is defined as water that contains minimal amounts of dissolved salts, making it suitable for drinking, agriculture, and various industrial processes. Unlike salt water, which makes up about 97.5% of the Earth’s water and is found in oceans and seas, freshwater comprises only about 2.5% of the total water supply on our planet. Despite its scarcity, freshwater is essential for sustaining life on Earth and it plays a vital role in supporting almost all human activities.


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Sources of freshwater

Freshwater can be found in several natural sources:

  • Surface water: Rivers, lakes, streams, and ponds are the most common sources of surface freshwater. These bodies of water are easily accessible and provide water for drinking, irrigation, and recreational activities.
  • Groundwater: Stored in aquifers beneath the Earth’s surface, groundwater is tapped through wells and springs. It is a significant source of freshwater for agricultural and municipal use.
  • Glaciers and ice caps: Although less accessible, glaciers and ice caps store the majority of the Earth’s freshwater. As these ice formations melt, they release freshwater into rivers and lakes.

The water cycle

Freshwater is continuously replenished through the natural water cycle, which includes the processes of evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and runoff. Solar energy causes water from oceans, rivers, and lakes to evaporate and form water vapor. This vapor rises into the atmosphere, cools, and condenses into clouds. When the clouds become heavy, they release precipitation in the form of rain, snow, or hail, replenishing freshwater sources on the ground.It is, however, not a given that the rate of replenishment is the same as the rate of use. Human activity can use more freshwater than is replenished, leading to a deficit.

Importance of freshwater

Freshwater is indispensable for many parts of human life:

  • Drinking: Human bodies are composed of about 60% water, making hydration critical for health and survival.
  • Agriculture: Freshwater is used for irrigation to grow crops that feed the world’s ever-growing As the population grows, so will the demand for water.
  • Sanitation: Access to clean water is essential for hygiene and preventing diseases. Especially in combination with rapid urbanization as a result of population growth, the role freshwater plays in sanitation becomes more critical.
  • Industry: Many industrial processes require freshwater for cooling, cleaning, and as a raw material.


Challenges facing freshwater resources

Despite its importance, freshwater resources are under threat due to many factors, such as:

  • Overuse: Excessive withdrawal of water for agriculture, industry, and domestic use can deplete freshwater sources.
  • Pollution: Contaminants from agricultural runoff, industrial discharges, and untreated sewage can pollute freshwater, making it unsafe for consumption and ecosystems.
  • Climate change: Altered weather patterns can lead to droughts, reducing the availability of freshwater, or floods, which can contaminate clean water supplies.



Freshwater is a precious and limited resource that is crucial for life on Earth. Understanding its sources, importance, and the challenges it faces is essential for ensuring its availability for future generations. We must protect this vital resource and ensure that it continues to sustain life on our planet.

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