Global public opinion poll measures views on freshwater challenges.

A woman reaches for a hose from a water tanker in Rajasthan, India. Temperatures on this day in 2016 exceeded 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Photo © J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue

By Brett Walton, Circle of Blue – March 15, 2023

As the world’s weather flips more rapidly between the poles of too wet and too dry, the general public is taking notice.

Fifty-eight percent of people who responded to a global public opinion survey on freshwater supply and pollution said that water shortages were a “very serious” problem. A larger share – 62 percent – said the same about water pollution.

How have they been affected by water shortages? Three in 10 respondents said “greatly.”

“We’re looking at citizens who are deeply concerned with water and feel the impact of climate change,” said Perrine Bouhana, director at GlobeScan, the polling firm that conducted the survey.

The survey results indicate growing public awareness and vulnerability to the challenges of water supply and pollution. The polling data is being released a week before the United Nations hosts its first global water conference since 1977, an effort to rally support for the goal of safely managed water and sanitation for all people.

According to the survey, concern over freshwater shortages was highest in Latin American countries, with Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil at the top of the rankings. Just behind was South Africa, whose urban residents have witnessed shortages in recent years due to a combination of unfortunate weather and utility mismanagement.

Residents of Asian countries like China, Japan, Hong Kong, and South Korea were the least concerned about water shortages.

Italy and the United States registered the biggest jump in concern over water shortages since 2020. Both countries have experienced notable droughts in that time period.

“People are beginning to make those links between climate and nature and then link them with water,” said Alexis Morgan, global water stewardship lead at WWF.

The GlobeScan survey was conducted online in the summer of 2022 with the participation of about 1,000 people in each of 31 countries. In total, 29,293 people, from six continents, submitted responses.

The survey revealed divergent attitudes toward water among sexes and generations. Women were more likely than men to express concern over water shortages and pollution, just as younger people were more worried than their elders.

The GlobeScan results mirror the generational split in the United States over environmental issues. A survey conducted by Pew Research in April 2021 found that Gen Z and Millennials were more concerned about land, air, and water pollution than older generations.

Water is also more prominent in the public eye than its peer issues. A Gallup poll from 2022 found that water pollution is the biggest environmental concern among American adults. Water pollution ranked higher than air pollution, species extinction, and global warming.