Wageningen University & Research / International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

Pollution-driven water scarcity for ecosystems and human uses worldwide

Sunday 26 August | 09.00-10.30 | Room: NL Music Hall

A growing worldwide population strongly increases the demands for clean water of various sectors (agriculture, domestic, industry). However, both the availability and the quality of water resources will be affected by socio-economic developments, climate change and increasing extremes (e.g. droughts and floods). Increasing intensification of agriculture, industrialisation and urbanisation and will contribute to water quality deterioration, particularly in developing countries. This will increase pollution-driven water scarcity for ecosystems and various sectors, challenging sustainable management of clean accessible water for all, one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

To meet the SDGs, we need to understand regional hotspots of water scarcity, both in terms of water quantity and quality. This session focuses on the modelling of causes, impacts and solutions to reduce the gap between the supply and demand of clean water to ecosystem functioning and societal needs. Presentations and discussions will focus on the identification of water quality hotspots posing risks to human uses and ecosystems with results from models which are policy-relevant. In addition, we will discuss model assessments of solutions options to improve water quality and focus on trade-offs and synergies between various SDGs in terms of water quality issues.

Gold standard events are committed to ensure the gender balance in speakers/panellists and young professional representation in the session.


9:00    Introduction: pollution-driven water scarcity for human uses and ecosystems     
Dr. Michelle van Vliet (Wageningen University)  

9:10     Urbanization: an increasing source of river pollution in the 21st century?
Dr. Maryna Strokal (Wageningen University)  

9:25    Global water quality modelling assessments and the SDGs  
Dr. Martina Flörke (Center for Environmental Systems Research, University of Kassel)

9:40    Global water quality challenges and grey-green solutions
Prof. Dr. Charles Vörösmarty (City University of New York)

9:55    Interactive discussion and wrap-up
lead by Dr. Simon Langan and Dr. Yoshihide Wada (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis) 


An introduction was given on the concept of pollution-driven water scarcity by Dr. Michelle van Vliet (Wageningen University) showing the need to include water quality requirements for sector water uses and ecosystems in water scarcity assessments. Dr. Maryna Strokal (Wageningen University) presented sources of river pollution in the 21st century and concluded that increased sewage connection will increase river pollution if the waste is not treated. Dr. Martina Flörke (CESR, University of Kassel) showed the usefulness of global water quality modelling assessments to improve understanding of the impacts and linkages between water quality/pollution issues in relation SDG6 and other SDGs (e.g. SDG2,7,12,15). The final speaker Prof. Dr. Charles Vörösmarty (City University of New York) discussed two pathways to reduce global water quality treats: gray vs. green solutions. While the traditional approaches have been grey, there is a lot of potential for using green and blending it with gray engineering to help achieving water security.

The discussion was facilitated by Dr. Simon Langan (IIASA). From the presentations, discussion and panel feedback there were a number of areas of consensus. These ranged from growing issues developing in the future due to climate change and increased urbanisation, the need to consider multiple pollutants and multiple policies and management interventions to bring around sustainable solutions. There was also consensus on the utility of considering mixing gray and green infrastructures and investments within given water systems.  Furthermore there was a widespread agreement on the need to further develop and enhance the methods, tools and scaling of existing modelling approaches. Particular reference was made to evaluating the costs and benefits of gray-green infrastructure and its management set within the context of sustainability.


  • Develop and test methods for hydro-economic analysis of pollution-driven water scarcity and solution options
  • Develop and enhance models to work at multiple nested scales (global to transboundary) for multi-pollutants with a particular focus on future outlook.

  • Establishment of community of practice for global and regional water quality modelling assessment (e.g. Wageningen global water quality modelling workshop
  • Development of concept and framework of pollution-driven water scarcity  (https://www.nature.com/articles/ngeo3047) using multi-pollutant models (https://www.wur.nl/en/Research-Results/Chair-groups/Environmental-Sciences/Water-Systems-and-Global-Change-Group/research/Water-pollution-assessments-1.htm)