In this guide, we consider which cities and countries across the world might have the best fresh water supplies and resources.
We look at measurables such as total amount of fresh water resources, how clean and safe tap and drinking water is, and other quantity and quality related factors for fresh water supplies in a given region or area.
It’s worth noting that the freshwater supplies of a city is one of the factors that contributes to how sustainable or green a city is.
*Note – this guide contain general information only, and not professional advice
Summary – Cities & Countries With The Best Fresh Water Supplies & Resources
There’s a number of ways to define the ‘best’ water supplies, and determine what criteria they might be judged by
‘Best’ involves a number of factors such as:
Quantity of water (volume and capacity),
Renewal of water (whether it renews naturally, and the renewal rate),
And, access to water (whether water can be accessed from a physical or economic perspective).
Read more about global water issues in this guide
In terms of total volume of internal renewable fresh water resources, Brazil, the US, Canada and China are some of the countries with the most water
In terms of per capita renewable internal fresh water resources, Greenland, Iceland, Guyana, and Suriname are some of the countries with the most water
Some of the biggest surface water sources in the world are the African Great Lakes, Lake Baikal in Russia, the North American Great Lakes, and the Amazon River
37 of the world’s biggest ground water aquifers are spread all over the world
Some of the countries with the cleanest and safest tap water includes the developed world, including but not limited to UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Northern and Western Europe, the US and Japan [although, there’s several ways to measure water quality, specific States or provinces within these countries may test differently for the different criteria of water quality]
There’s about 187 countries world wide where tap water is deemed unsafe for tourists, but of those countries, some countries may have tap water that locals use.
Places such as Central America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East might be deemed high-risk for tap water in general
Some of the countries with the most poorly managed water resources are in developing or underdeveloped countries. These countries also tend to be places where there is a lack of basic access to clean and safe drinking water, and sanitation and hygiene.
But, regions or States/provinces in developed countries aren’t immune. Many regions of developed countries might face issues with water pollution or contamination. Cities like Cape Town also face water scarcity issues, and subsequent water problems.
Some of the cities with the most sustainably managed water supplies in terms of efficiency, resiliency and quality are Rotterdam, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Berlin – just to name a few
What we can observe from the data, is that it’s mostly not accurate enough to look at water supplies on a country wide level. It’s more accurate to look at supplies on a city, town or region specific level, as each geographic location can have different water quantities, quality, access, etc. that are accessible to them, different qualities of water, and so on
*Note – A qualified expert is the only person who can give a professional opinion on whether a water sample shows safe results, or whether water is safe to drink, consume or use. Additionally, people should make the decision to consume or use water at their own risk, and after doing their own due diligence
Cities & Countries With The Most Fresh Water Resources & Supplies – Total Volume Of Renewable Fresh Water Resources
Renewable fresh water resources refer to resources that are renewed or refilled by ‘precipitation, groundwater recharge, and surface inflows’.
In terms of a long term average of available fresh water, in cubic kilometres, the countries with the highest volumes of fresh water supplies are (accurate as of the year 2011):
Brazil – 8,233
The United States – 3,069
Canada – 2,850
China – 2,840
Colombia – 2,132
[European Union] – 2,057
Indonesia – 2,019
Peru – 1,913
India – 1,911
Congo – 1,283
Venezuela – 1,233
Bangladesh – 1,227
Myanmar – 1,168
Read more of the top countries in the Wikipedia.org resource in the Sources list.
According to worldatlas.com: ‘The freshwater in Brazil accounts for approximately 12% of the world’s fresh water resources’
6 countries (Brazil, Russia, Canada, Indonesia, China and Colombia) have 50 percent of the world’s freshwater reserves (livescience.com)
What should be noted though, is that just because a country has high volumes of fresh water resources, it doesn’t mean they don’t experience water scarcity issues.
Water may be distributed unequally across the different States/provinces, and cities and towns across the country.
Variables such as finances, how the water resources are managed, and so on, can all impact how much water a region within a country ultimately has access to for drinking and non drinking purposes.
Cities & Countries With The Most Fresh Water Resources & Supplies – Per Capita/Per Person
In terms of per capita renewable internal fresh water resources, in cubic metres, the countries with the highest water supplies are (data accurate as of 2014, and 2007 in the case of Greenland):
Greenland – 10,662,187 (as of 2007)
Iceland – 519,265
Guyana – 315,701
Suriname – 178,935
Bhutan – 108,476
Papua New Guinea – 100,796
Gabon – 87,058
Canada – 80,423
Solomon Islands – 76,140
Norway – 74,359
New Zealand – 72,510
Which Factors Can Impact Freshwater Location & Availability In The World?
Geography and climate (especially rainfall) can be two of the main factors that impact how much natural water there is in one place, and how often it might replenish itself
Engineering, regulation, water pollution, competition for resources, and overall water management strategies may impact how much water is available to use in any one area, amongst a host of other factors
Biggest Sources Of Surface Water In The World
Fresh water is naturally found in both surface water, and ground water.
In terms of surface water sources, some of the biggest in the world are:
[Of all the surface water in the world in lakes, swamps, and rivers, there is] 29% in the African Great Lakes, 22% in Lake Baikal in Russia, 21% in the North American Great Lakes, and 14% in other lakes. Swamps have most of the balance with only a small amount in rivers, most notably the Amazon River
[Of all the surface water in the world …] The American Great Lakes account for 21 percent, Lake Baikal in Russia holds about 20 percent … Lake Victoria, which spreads across the African countries of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, is the second largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area … Africa’s Lake Tanganyika is the second deepest freshwater lake, and holds the second largest volume of fresh water. It’s the longest lake, and extends across Burundi, Zambia, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo
Brazil – The Amazon Region in Brazil contains over 70% of the total fresh water in Brazil.
Russia – Lake Baikal, the largest and deepest freshwater lake in the world, is located in Russia. Baikal holds up to approximately 1/5 of fresh water in the world.
United States – Approximately 77% of the fresh water is surface water and 23% is underground … There are thousands of lakes in the US, including the world-famous Great Lakes.
China – Poyang Lake which is situated in Jiangxi Province is the largest freshwater lake in China
Largest Ground Water Sources In The World, & Where They Are Located
The jpl.nasa.gov resource in the sources list at the bottom of this guide has a graphic/map that shows where the 37 largest ground water sources are located across the world.
They are spread out over many different countries.
Interestingly, huffingtonpost.com.au writes:
Twenty-one of those aquifers have exceeded their sustainability “tipping points,” meaning they lose more water every year than is being naturally replenished through processes like rainfall or snow melt
Out of those 21, eight were found to be “overstressed,” meaning there is “nearly no natural replenishment” to restore water used by humans
Cities & Countries With The Best Drinking Water & Tap Water (Cleanest, Safest & Best Quality)
… tap water is safest in the developed world, including: UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Northern and Western Europe, the US and Japan
Some of the major countries where you can drink tap water include:
Refer to the dailymail.co.uk resource in the sources list for the full list of safe tap water countries
thewaterdeliverycompany.com lists the top 9 countries with the cleanest tap water:
Finland (According to the United Nations, Finland ranks amongst the best in the world for its tap water quality)
Switzerland (because of good rain, melt from glaciers, and good water policy)
Canada (because of geography, and a regulated filtration process)
Scandinavia & Finland
hydrotech-group.com also mentions that:
Germany has one of the most ‘safe and most inspected’ water products in the world
[Although Greenland has one of the cleanest water sources in the world] the inhabitants of Greenland use mainly processed water from local lakes and rivers
thetravel.com mentions that Voss in Norway has clean water – Voss is the bottled water you see in some places.
Factors That Can Affect Drinking Water & Tap Water Quality
There’s many factors that can impact water quality, but some of the major ones might be:
Levels of water pollution and contamination to surface water and ground water storage sources
Levels of salinity in fresh water storage sources
Whether the water is naturally filtered by geography such as soil, clay, rock, and surrounding environment
How the water is treated, purified and filtrated by man made technology (how many levels of filtration it goes through, and water is removed or added from the water)
How stringent quality control is i.e. testing and monitoring quality of the water
Whether the water is contaminated in the public supply pipes (via leaching)
Whether there is a government ministry or body dedicated to achieving and monitoring water goals
Whether there is a Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, or other Water Acts in place to specify guidelines for fresh water
Whether the water in a region has received an international ISO water quality certificate
castlewater.co.uk has this to say about tap water quality:
The purity of tap water really comes down to two things – the source it originates from and the level of filtration it goes through before it gets to our taps
[Storage sources regularly being topped up with rain water and effective water treatment/filtration technology can both lead to clean tap water]
How To Find Out The Drinking Water Quality In A City
Type into a Search Engine – ‘drinking water quality in [insert your state or city name here]’
You should be able to find an official government water quality reporting site, a water quality index, and other relevant water quality resources and information.
If you rely on third party assessments of tap water or drinking water, such as non government online resources, it is at your own risk.
Always refer to the official assessment of the water quality from a government or similar professional body first, and also do your own due diligence before consuming or using water in any region in any country around the world.
Differences Between Online Information Relating To Tap Water Quality, & Government Information
There can often be differences in information about water quality between online resources, and official government resources.
Just one example of this is with Latvian tap water:
We found at least one unofficial online resource that mentioned Latvian tap water is clean and safe
BUT, an embassy for the republic of Latvia states ‘It is recommended not to drink water straight from the tap. The water should be boiled or filtered through a special water cleaner before drinking.’ (mfa.gov.lv)
Cities & Countries With The Worst (Potentially Unsafe) Drinking Water Or Tap Water
Tap water that is listed as dirty or unsafe may be unsafe for everyone, or it may just cause problems for tourists and visitors (whose bodies aren’t adapted to the water).
Make sure you read the government’s tourism website or water quality websites for some clarification on this.
… there are 187 countries in the world where tap water is deemed unsafe or unpalatable for tourists.
… places such as Central America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East are deemed high-risk
[Places where you can’t drink tap water include:]
… Refer to the dailymail.co.uk resource in the sources list for the full list of 187 countries
Per thetravel.com, parts of the following countries may have unsafe drinking water:
Turkey in some locations – specifically out of the major cities (where water pipes are poor quality)
Hungary (outside of the major cities) (also, ‘around 30% of the country’s public potable water has failed to meet EU requirements)
Serbia (outside the major cities)
Bulgaria (18 out of 28 districts in the country were home to substandard levels of drinking water)
Mexico (around three-quarters of the population consume packaged water)
San Pedro de Atacama in Chile
Parts of Bhutan (only 44.3% of the Bhutanese water supply is safe for human consumption)
Parts of China
Parts of India
Parts of Jamaica
Cuba (majority of households in the country will customarily boil the tap water before drinking)
Per bestlifeonline.com, it may be best to avoid the tap water in all or parts of the following countries:
Nicaragua (only 59 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water)
In countries with potentially unsafe tap water, tourists may stick to consuming only bottled water that is marked safe to drink.
Locals in some of these regions may boil their water, use purification tablets, and/or purify it with a water purifier, or may rely on special deliveries from water trucks.
Countries & Cities With Clean Fresh Water Storage Sources
Before water is extracted, treated and delivered via taps to homes and buildings, it sits naturally in storage sources such as ground water and surface water.
Some of the countries with the cleanest water storage sources and natural water bodies (separate to the end product of tap water) are:
Chile (Puerto Williams reportedly has the cleanest water in the world, and some very clean water is also found in Torres del Paine)
Canada (specifically, Springwater near Toronto … achieved by unique mountain ecosystem around the city that makes water decontaminated flowing through several layers of soil, clay and sand)
Austria (has the Austrian Water Pact in place)
Iceland (has layers of volcanic sediment through which the water pours to the surface perfectly filtered … and doesn’t need additional chemical treatments)
From mappingmegan.com, some of the purest and cleanest water bodies and sources in the world are:
Crater Lake, US
Lake Malawi, East Africa
Gold Mines, South Africa
Puerto Williams, Chile
Yotei Mountain, Japan
Mount Emei, China
River Thames, England (regarded as the cleanest river in the world that flows through a major city)
Caragh River, Ireland
Tara River, Montenegro
Blue Lake, New Zealand
Yarra Ranges, Australia
Lake Vostok, Antarctica
Countries & Cities With The Most Poorly Managed Water Supplies
When assessing accessibility, availability and quality of drinking water, these countries have the most poorly managed water:
Nigeria (although, it’s fast improving)
Nepal (quality of water issues)
Ghana (access to water issues)
Bhutan (quality of water issues)
Pakistan (quality of water issues)
Congo (access to water issues)
Mexico (quality of water issues)
Cities & Countries That Might Manage Their Water Resources Most Sustainably (Resiliency, Efficiency and Quality)
The Arcadis Sustainable Cities Water Index list the cities that rank highest in terms of how sustainably they manage and maintain water, but also against their natural risk and vulnerability across three pillars of water sustainability – resiliency, efficiency and quality.
The top 30 cities overall are:
Rotterdam – 85.5%
Copenhagen – 85.4%
Amsterdam – 83.9%
Berlin – 82.9%
Brussels – 79.8%
Toronto – 79.6%
Frankfurt – 78.2%
Sydney – 77.1%
Birmingham – 76.4%
Manchester – 76%
Melbourne – 75.9%
Paris – 75.4%
Washington – 74.6%
New York – 72.9%
Houston – 72.6%
Boston – 72.2%
Philadelphia – 71.8%
Dallas – 71.3%
Madrid – 71%
Chicago – 70.9%
London – 70.4%
Singapore – 69.9%
Seoul – 69.5%
San Francisco – 67.6%
Tokyo – 66.9%
Istanbul – 66.9%
Los Angeles – 66.8%
Rome – 65.3%
Moscow – 62.8%
Hong Kong – 62.2%
… cities in North America tend to outperform other world cities when it comes to water quality, [but] U.S. cities are more exposed to natural risks than peers in Europe [and tend to rank worse in resiliency]
View the full list of rankings at the arcadis.com resource link in the sources list below
You can sort cities into the three above mentioned categories
Countries With Good Recycled Water & Waste Water Standards
Denmark (especially strictly observes the treatment of industrial waste water)
Germany (levels of waste water treatment is very high in specific parts of Germany)
Greenland (to treat waste water here, a special permit issued by the government must be issued)
Other Resources On Fresh Water Quality
4. Miaschi, John. “Which Country Has the Most Fresh Water?” WorldAtlas, Sept. 24, 2018, worldatlas.com/articles/countries-with-the-most-freshwater-resources.html
9. Various ‘Better Meets Reality’ guides