70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, so it is no coincidence that people traditionally speak of the ‘blue planet’.
However, the fact that the liquid element is critical for the survival of all living organisms, of the estimated 1,386 million cubic kilometres of water reserves on Earth, 97.5% is salt water.
Water scarcity already affects four out of every ten people, a figure that the UN predicts will reach a quarter of the world’s population by 2050, who will have to survive in countries with a chronic lack of clean water.
At the same time, a dozen countries accumulate more than half of the world’s freshwater reserves: between Brazil and Russia alone, almost a third is found.
Below are the ten countries with the largest freshwater reserves, based on statistics calculated in The World Factbook, a reference resource produced by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) with almanack-style information about the world’s countries.
The classification is done by total amount, so preference is given to large countries; if it were done per capita (amount of water for each inhabitant, consultable thanks to the Index Mundi data aggregator), the first classification would be Iceland and Greenland.
10 countries with largest freshwater reserves
The largest country in Latin America is also the one with the largest freshwater reserves, with some 8,233 cubic kilometers (km3), which is about 43,000 cubic meters (m3) per capita.
Undoubtedly, its aquatic wealth is mainly due to the Amazon, the longest and mightiest river in the world, which has more than 200 tributaries and alone accounts for a fifth of all the river water on the planet.
In addition, the southern zone of Brazil is located above the Guaraní aquifer, a mostly underground freshwater accumulation shared by several countries and located under the Paraná, Uruguay, Paraguay, Pilcomayo, Bermejo and Salado river basins.
This enormous amount of resources means that 12% of the planet’s freshwater resources are concentrated in Brazil.
The largest country on the planet is also the second with the largest reserves of fresh water, with a total of 4,067 cubic kilometres, which is about 29,000 m3 per person.
Although its number is almost half that of Brazil, Russia has more than 20% of surface freshwater resources, thanks in large part to its more than 2.5 million rivers and more than 2 million lakes.
But it is mainly thanks to one of them that Russia holds this position: Lake Baikal, in Siberia, which occupies an area of 31,494 km² and holds the title of the oldest and deepest lake on the planet. In this lake alone, more than 90% of Russian freshwater reserves accumulate.
The second largest country on Earth ranks third, although, unlike Russia, it’s more than 3,300 cubic kilometres of freshwater reserves are mainly due to the numerous aquifers that exist below the surface.
This means that, despite containing less than 1% of the world’s population, this North American country has 7% of the global renewable freshwater resources.
Of course, there are also significant amounts of surface water, especially in the Great Lakes, whose basin exceeds 240,000 km2, although jurisdiction over this reserve is shared with the next country on the list, the United States.
The North American giant controls a total of 3,069 cubic kilometres of fresh water, although due to its large population, this barely amounts to 8,800 cubic meters per capita.
In addition, the distribution is extremely uneven: while some areas of the country, such as the Great Lakes or the Northwest, have a huge water surplus, in others, such as California or Texas, droughts are becoming more common.
China has about 2,840 cubic kilometers of fresh water, but at the same time it has the highest population density on the planet, which means that there is barely 2,300 m3 per person.
In addition, as in the US, the distribution is very uneven across the territory: while the south of the country has always struggled against flooding, the north and center lack water.
Even so, the presence of large rivers such as the Yellow, the Yangtze or the Mekong means that between five and six per cent of the fresh water on Earth is found in China.
The second Latin American country on this list is Colombia, which with 2,132 cubic kilometres of water is also among the places with the highest aquatic resources per person, almost 46,000 cubic meters, more than Brazil.
Of course, its enormous reserves are due in large part to the same reason as its neighbour to the south: the Amazon and its tributaries are responsible for most of the country’s water surplus.
Although in this case we are not talking about a country, the fact that there are water practices and standards common to all EU member countries makes it possible to encompass all national capacities in a single capacity that reaches 2,057 cubic kilometres.
However, the distribution of this resource is also deeply unequal among the member states: while France has more than 200 cubic kilometres, the Baltic countries barely have around 10 and Denmark has less than 4.
The Indonesian territory, divided into different islands, has one of the highest precipitation rates on the planet, which is why its rivers are almost always at full capacity, especially in the rainy season, between November and March.
However, this geographical advantage has its hidden side in the continuous floods that regularly affect its cities, especially the capital, Jakarta. In total, they have 2,019 square kilometres, which means about 12,200 m3 of fresh water per capita.
India, one of the most populous countries on the planet, has just over 1,911 square kilometers.
The country has a large number of rivers, many of which are an important source of irrigation, especially the Ganges, sacred to the Indians and one of the most fertile basins in the world.
However, the huge population means that there is significant water stress, which may worsen in the coming decades: the Indians barely have 2,200 m3 of fresh water per capita.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
We close the list with the only African country that appears on it: the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Located in the tropical strip of the continent, it is the nation with the second largest extension of it, a short distance from the first, Algeria.
In total, it has more than 1,200 square kilometres of fresh water, which means more than 12,000 m3 per person.
Despite the fact that this amount represents more than 50% of the water reserves of the African continent, its potential is completely untapped due to the chronic social and economic difficulties that this country is going through 33 million people in rural areas still lack access to water of quality, and despite the sustained efforts of organizations such as UNICEF, only 52% of the population has access to a safe source of water.
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