The world faces an invisible crisis of water quality. Its impacts are wider, deeper, and more uncertain than previously thought and require urgent attention.
While much attention has focused on water quantity – too much water, in the case of floods; too little water, in the case of droughts – water quality has attracted significantly less consideration. Quality Unknown shows that urgent attention must be given to the hidden dangers that lie beneath the water’s surface:
Water quality challenges are not unique to developing countries but universal across rich and poor countries alike. High-income status does not confer immunity – challenges with pollutants grow alongside GDP. And as countries develop, the cocktail of chemicals and vectors they contend with change – from fecal bacteria to nitrogen to pharmaceuticals and plastics, for example.
What we think of as safe may be far from it. Water quality is complex and its impacts on health and other sectors are still largely uncertain. Worse, regulations guiding safety standards are often fragmented across countries and agencies, thus adding to this uncertainty. This report shows that some pollutants in water have impacts that were previously unknown and occur at levels below established safe norms.
The forces driving these challenges are accelerating. Intensification of agriculture, land use changes, more variable rainfall patterns due to climate change and growing industrialization due to countries’ development all continue to grow. This means increasing number of algal blooms in water which are deadly for humans and ecosystems alike.
Poor water quality threatens growth, harms public health and imperils food security
Using new data, this report demonstrates the importance of water quality across a range of sectors and how its impacts cut across nearly all of the SDGs. Poor water quality stalls economic progress, stymies human potential and reduces food production:
Water pollution endangers economic growth. The release of pollution upstream acts as a headwind that lowers economic growth downstream.
When Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) – a measure of how much organic pollution is in water and a proxy measure of overall water quality – passes a certain threshold, GDP growth in downstream regions is lowered by a third.
In middle-income countries – where BOD is a growing problem because of increased industrial activity – GDP growth downstream of highly polluted areas drops by half
There are a number of reasons for this, including:
Nitrogen in water shortens people and shortens their lives. Much of the nitrogen applied as fertilizer eventually enters rivers, lakes and oceans where it transforms into nitrates. Nitrates in water are responsible for fatally inflicting Blue Baby Syndrome, which starves infants’ bodies of oxygen. This report finds that those who survive the consequences of early exposure to nitrates can be condemned to long-term damages throughout their lives – they grow up shorter and earn less than they would have otherwise. Stunting is a red flag indicator for the risk of physical and cognitive deficits.
Nitrate exposure in infancy: wipes out much of the gain in height seen over the past half-century in some regions and harms children even in areas where nitrate levels are deemed safe.
While an additional kilogram of nitrogen fertilizer per hectare increases agricultural yields by as much as 5%, the accompanying run-off and releases into water can increase childhood stunting by as much as 19% and decrease adult earnings by as much as 2%. This suggests a stark trade-off between using nitrogen to boost agricultural output and reducing its use to protect children’s health.
Salinity diminishes agricultural productivity. Saline waters and soils are spreading throughout much of the world because of increasing rates of water extraction, droughts and rainfall shocks, sea-level rise, and poorly managed irrigation systems. This report shows that agricultural yields fall almost exactly in line with increased salt concentrations in water. That is to say – more salt in the water means less food for the world.
This report also reveals that enough food is lost due to saline waters each year to feed 170 million people every day – that’s equivalent to a country the size of Bangladesh. Such a sizable loss of food production to saline waters means food security will continue to be jeopardized unless action is taken.
Even as these impacts are being felt, emerging pollutants are entering the world’s waters – their impacts are still unknown but present a hazard that may further exacerbate existing problems.
The outlook is stark – but change is possible. Increased awareness, strengthened prevention and smart investments using new technology are needed to turn back the tide of water pollution.
The challenge is daunting, but it is not insurmountable. Solutions exist for countries at all stages of development. The way forward requires a mix of approaches that focus on information, prevention and investment:
Information is both a resource and a rallying cry. The first step to tackling the water quality challenge is recognizing the scale of it. The world needs reliable, accurate and comprehensive information so that new insights can be discovered, decision-making can be evidence-based and citizens can call for action. Encouraging and enabling this information and its sharing is critical to getting water pollution under control.
Prevention is better than cure. While sunlight may be the best disinfectant, legislation, implementation and enforcement are also crucial to scrub the world’s waterways of pollution. Information and transparency must be coupled with well-designed, effectively implemented and scrupulously enforced regulations for firms and individuals to adhere to water quality guidelines.
Invest in what works. Pollution that cannot be prevented must be treated. Wastewater treatment has a vital role to play – it is crucial for a country’s health, food security and economy by helping remove pollution and debris. Investments in wastewater treatment are a down payment on a cleaner future.
This report was funded in part by the Global Water Security & Sanitation Partnership, a multi-donor trust fund based at the World Bank’s Water Global Practice.
Climate change and global challenges
The whole world has been severely affected by climate change and the Covid-19 epidemic. The natural character of the whole world has also changed due to the rise in global temperature. Given the current situation, all the people of the world are in a state of panic about the horrors of the coronavirus. The world has been devastated by hundreds of disasters since the 1960s. More than 50 million people have become destitute. Many people have died. And most of the disasters are accompanied by constant climate change.
In 2020, 4 crore people became homeless due to deteriorating weather and climate change. At the same time, the adverse effects of the weather are becoming more extreme due to climate change from this year. This year it will break the record and stand at 5 crore. Many people have to leave their country. This number is double the current refugee population in the world. Not just any particular country or people, people all over the world are facing the harmful effects of climate change. Especially in the last 20 years, this effect has spread from Asia, Europe, Africa to the Americas.
Increasing use of fossil fuels is warming the weather, forcing more people to flee their homes due to unexpected floods or storms. Besides, factors like crop damage and drought are also making this trend more evident. Politicians in rich countries are fearful of increasing pressure on their country’s infrastructure due to the influx of environmental refugees from other countries.
Carbon emissions play the biggest role in climate change. Low-income countries are also deprived of 100 billion a year in promised compensation for carbon emissions. Asia has the highest number of people displaced due to environmental reasons. In countries such as China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia, millions of people live in low-lying coastal areas or in delta-adjacent areas. More and more people are at risk of flooding due to population growth and urbanization, and the rapid rise in sea level is being added to this.
People have already witnessed extreme weather, drought or heavy rains, cyclones. That is to say, the destructive form of climate and nature is gradually becoming manifest. Mankind is being blamed for this hostile behavior of nature. People are taking care of nature in many ways. Rivers are being occupied and the mountains are being cut indiscriminately. Houses are being built on agricultural land. In this way, oppression on nature is going on in various ways, due to which nature is becoming hostile. We are ruining all our own achievements. As a result, there has been severe inflammation.
The world’s population is constantly growing. There is no end to the discussion and criticism about population growth. It is time to take stock of what new steps can be taken or how human suffering can be reduced. With the increase in population, new problems have been added. It may seem unbelievable but it is true that every day around 25,000 people in the world die due to eating habits and malnutrition. In addition, the world is facing many adverse reactions including shortage of potable water, air toxicity, depletion of resources, housing problems and the destruction of the Ozone layer.
At the root of this is population growth. The temperature in the capital Dhaka has risen due to rapid population growth. A study has identified 25 high-risk areas in Dhaka as a result of rising temperatures. These areas have been named ‘Hit Island’. The performance of the people of this area is decreasing day by day with the increase of various diseases.
Assistance is needed to increase the capacity of CVF countries to deal with the dual threat of epidemics and disasters, especially those affected by the increased frequency of climate-related disasters. Climate-risk countries contribute the least to global greenhouse gas emissions, but they suffer the most. 2021 is a very important year for climate issues as the United States returns to the Paris Agreement. The COP-26 conference on climate change in Scotland next November is expected to yield some good results on climate change. The main goal of COP-26 is to address the impact of climate change and to educate the world about its harmful effects. Bangladesh has also participated in this climate change prevention project.
In ancient times there was a close relationship between man and nature. Ever since man came in contact with civilization, he has learned to strike at nature. Over time, man began to wreak havoc on nature. The problem of environmental pollution is increasing day by day. The trees were not spared from the victims of cruelty. As a result, fear is constantly concentrated in our habitable world. We look for different ways to get rid of it. But if we let nature be like that, we would not have to suffer this consequence in our lifetime.
Blinded by the fascination of speed, people have cut down the forest and set up houses, sometimes they have driven away the animals there. In recent times, mountains are being cut down and forests are being cleared somewhere. Deforestation is endangering the lives of many people. Even though the seasons are changing, these incidents add to our anxiety. But trees can be very resistant to prevent global warming. If the environment does not survive, the problems of the world will intensify. Animals, human beings will face loss of everything. The main reason is the indifference of the people.
A closer look reveals that this apathy has a significant effect on the depraved market economy. Rivers, hills, soils, forests are all instruments of income growth in the eyes of that market. In order to earn income from these sources, natural resources are being destroyed, centuries-old trees are losing their lives or the source of the boundless beauty of nature is being endangered. In the past, there was a connection between man and nature, which is why in many places forests have survived because those who grew up in contact with plants can realize the contact with nature by finding ways to do the necessary work without harming the plants.
Climate change is responsible for recent disasters. We have to fight hard to save the world from increasing global warming. World leaders must take strong action, including global initiatives, to leave a sustainable future for the next generation. The international community has a special responsibility to assist countries at risk of climate change in their adaptation and mitigation efforts.
It’s not fair to single out the five countries in the Greta Thunberg UN children-climate case
The Greta Thunberg UN case decision just came out today. You might remember that back in 2019, Greta and other children brought a headline case before the UN to prove that climate change affects children’s rights, and it’s a hard issue of law and rights — something that has been long resisted in the area of human rights law when it comes to the environment. The environment has always been one of those peripheral issues for human rights law and that’s why today’s decision is groundbreaking. In a historic ruling that came out today, the UN Child Rights Committee has found that a State party can be held responsible for the negative impact of its carbon emissions on the rights of children both within and outside its territory.
The countries that are bearing the international public slap in the face in this case, however, (Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey) are not the biggest emitters and polluters. They were selected as a target of the case not for the worst climate impacts, but simply because they have ratified the additional Protocol of the UN Child Rights Convention, so a case against them can be brought; the biggest emitters haven’t. So it’s a bit like a “catch whoever you can”, and that should be born in mind in the discussion.
The countries in the UN Greta case are the classical international law countries (Europe and Latin America) who have agreed that their human rights practices can be reviewed and challenged. The biggest carbon emitters, on the other hand, haven’t agreed to accept cases.The US hasn’t even ratified the Child Rights Convention, as the only country in the world, let alone the Additional Protocol for direct cases.
The case is very important as a test case and one which develops the nexus between human rights law and climate. It develops the principles of the reasoning and the legal parameters — that’s the take-away. We should remember that the five singled out countries are not the bad guys when it comes to climate change.
Global War Against Climate Change
Climate change has affected the entire globe and the process is accelerating at a dangerous pace, while severely affecting the environment, causing glaciers to melt, ice on rivers and lakes to break. It is a fact that the number of climate-related disasters has tripled in the last 30 years. Whereas, out-of-pattern flooding is also affecting plant growth and wildlife.
Meteorologists have predicted that global warming will accompany the loss of sea ice, at the same time, sea levels will increase due to rapid and intense heatwaves across different regions; adding that if the effects of climate change could not be mitigated now, the phenomenon will continue for decades to come and make it impossible to reverse the process. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has also predicted that temperatures could rise by 2.5 to 10 percent over the next century, while this systematic change can already be observed in different regions.
Owing to climate change, the effects of temperature have begun to affect the pattern of seasons, with hot and cold rains and floods affecting different regions. The most developed regions of the world like the US and Europe are experiencing the worst heatwaves, with record-breaking summers every year. This changing pattern of climate gives us an idea about the changes that will affect the countries where people are already facing difficulties irregular weather patterns. The lives of the citizens of poor and developing countries are in severe danger as they do not have access to alternative means of coping with climate change.
One of the problems faced by the world due to climate change is that with low humidity and strong winds, forest fires are becoming a more common phenomenon, which is intensifying the situation and multiplying the effects of global warming and climate change. Another side of the story is also very threatening as there has been a regular increase in cold weather across the globe since 1980, which is affecting the ecosystem as well as the agriculture sector. In extreme cold, trees stop growing and become inactive to conserve energy. While massive rainfalls and floods have also made human life more difficult, damaging infrastructure and road networks.
Let me quote few examples which are eye-openers for everyone across the globe. Cyclones Idai and Kenneth which came in March 2019, took the lives of more than 1000 people across Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Mozambique in Southern Africa, and left millions without food or basic services. Australian wildfires which burnt more than 10 million hectares, killed at least 28 people and millions of native animals. East Africa drought in 2011, 2017, and 2019 have repeatedly wiped out crops and livestock, they have left 15 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia in need of aid. South Asia floods during last year along with landslides have displaced 12 million people from their homes in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Dry Corridor in Central America as Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua are seeing their typical three-month dry seasons extended to six months or more leaving 3.5 million people, in need of humanitarian assistance.
The decline in groundwater level can be another problem while with increasing climate change, large amounts of hot water will vapor out and there is also a possibility of sea-level rise due to rapid showers of rain. Between 2006 to 2016, the rate of global sea-level rise was 2.5 times faster than it was for almost all of the 20th century.
The developing countries are facing the worst food shortages while many are living in starvation due to droughts. The basic commodities of life are becoming rare for a large population which may lead the world towards a civil war-like situation. As a side effect of climate change and ensuing floods, natural disasters, water issues, drought, starvation, extreme cold, and hot weather, people would start migrating from their home towns leading to an exodus of economic migrants.
The international community will have to join hands to cope with this global problem. Owing to modern technology, we are fully aware of the changes which are expected shortly so precautionary measures need to be taken in advance. International organizations also need to play a positive role in defeating this global threat not only to humans but to marine and wildlife as well. The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that adapting to climate change and coping with damages will cost developing countries $140-300 billion per year by 2030.
Few steps may be taken to control the effects of climate change; the irrigation system needs to be improved by introducing sprinkler and drip irrigation at a larger scale, mass-scale plantation drives, effective programs like early warning systems, preparedness, and management including response and rehabilitation to natural disasters in most affected regions, targeted media awareness campaigns highlighting the threats of climate change and its implications, capacity building of institutions working on climate change with solutions to their infrastructural issues and last but not least, affected governments to take bold decisions to prepare the nations to effectively combat the negative impacts of climate change.
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