• Are We Facing a Water Pollution Crisis?

Are We Facing a Water Pollution Crisis?

Sep 16 2019 Read 880 Times

A new report from the World Bank (WB) reveals that the world may be facing an “invisible” water quality crisis. Although water scarcity is a much-publicised issue amid concerns around global warming, the pollutants contained within our water supplies may be another considerable problem in need of urgent attention.

Caused by both climate change and a swelling global population, poor water quality has multiple debilitating consequences. As well as endangering human health and causing the proliferation of illness and disease, it also inhibits food growth and hamstrings national and international economies. As a result, the WB is urging governments around the globe to take action.

A comprehensive study

The report, published last month, comprises the largest study of global water supplies ever undertaken. Innovative online water quality monitoring techniques allowed the authors to analyse how a mixture of bacteria, chemicals, plastic and sewage affect the composition of water and detract from its nutritional benefits.

Using satellite imaging equipment and artificial intelligence, the researchers surveyed areas of significant plastic pollution and blue-green algal blooms, interpreting their results with the help of the latest technology. One particular metric they used to determine water quality was its biological oxygen demand (BOD), which contrasts oxygen content against organic pollutants contained within the water samples. The results were not encouraging.

All at risk

The research showed that both rich and poor countries were susceptible to dangerously low levels of water quality, though for different reasons. Rising population levels and extreme weather events put pressure on water supplies in countries across the globe, but the contaminants found in the samples tested differed significantly.

In developing countries, for example, improper wastewater practices and poor hygiene standards mean that faecal bacteria are the main offender. However, as national wealth increases and overall standards improve, agriculture is the biggest culprit, with the run-off from fertiliser use leaching into waterways and upsetting natural ecosystems with an imbalance of ammonia and nitrogen.

Devastating consequences

The ramifications of this poor-quality water are significant. On the one hand, unclean drinking supplies can compromise public health, especially in impoverished countries which are ill-equipped to deal with the consequences. Meanwhile, overly saline water inhibits crop cultivation, exacerbating concerns around food security, while the study also showed that national GDPs can drop by as much as 33% due to contaminated water’s impact on agriculture, ecosystems and health.

“Deteriorating water quality is stalling economic growth, worsening health conditions, reducing food production, and exacerbating poverty in many countries,” said David Malpass, President of the WB. “Their governments must take urgent actions to help tackle water pollution so that countries can grow faster in equitable and environmentally sustainable ways.”

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