The Freshwater Challenge

A calm stretch of river in dimming light with desert shoreline and blue sky

The Freshwater Challenge—the world’s largest initiative to restore degraded rivers, lakes, and wetlands and to protect vital freshwater ecosystems—aims to ensure 186,411 miles of degraded rivers and more than 864 million acres of degraded wetlands are committed to restoration by 2030. It also includes conserving intact ecosystems. 

In a major boost to global efforts to mitigate climate change and adapt to its worsening impacts on societies and economies, 39 countries have committed to the Freshwater Challenge. The six countries that launched the initiative at the UN 2023 Water Conference in New York are Colombia, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Gabon, Mexico, and Zambia.

The champions and new members—including Botswana, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Canada, Chad, Chile, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Fiji, France, Finland, Gambia, Germany, Iraq, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nepal, Netherlands, Niger, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Republic of Congo, Senegal, Slovenia, Spain, Tajikistan, Tanzania, United Arab Emirates, Uganda, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Zimbabwe—contain over 30% of the world’s renewable freshwater resources and are home to almost 2 billion people.

Healthy freshwater ecosystems are critical to mitigating and adapting to climate change. They are seen as the foundation for a water-resilient future. Peatlands are the world’s largest terrestrial carbon store, while river sediment deposited on the sea floor can also sequester large quantities of carbon. Connected floodplains and healthy wetlands can reduce the impact of extreme floods and build resilience to ever-increasing droughts. Yet one-third of the world’s wetlands have been lost over the past 50 years, and we are still losing them faster than forests. Rivers and lakes are the most degraded ecosystems and climate change is exacerbating the already unprecedented threats.

Learn more about WWF's work on freshwater.