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Wastewater an increasing threat to health and economy

A new report from UN-Water describes the damage being done to ecosystems and biodiversity as “dire” and warns that wastewater will increasingly threaten human health, economic activity, and water security if left unaddressed. Only 20 percent of global wastewater is currently being treated, with low-income countries being the hardest hit by contaminated water supplies and disease.

The report, “Wastewater Management: A UN-Water Analytical Brief,” looks at some of the problems caused by neglecting wastewater management and presents the benefits that can be gained through better policies and practices.

“We will irreversibly damage the natural environment and miss cost-effective opportunities to improve health if we fail to seize the opportunities that better wastewater management can bring,” the report states. “It is clear that wastewater needs to be more fully recognized within the overall water cycle, as one of the greatest untapped opportunities to enhance sustainable development.”

Highlights from the UN-Water wastewater report:

Doubling urban populations
– Urban populations are projected to nearly double in 40 years, from the current 3.4 billion to over six billion people – but already most cities lack adequate wastewater management due to aging, absent or inadequate sewage infrastructure.

Biodiversity reduced by one-third
– Excessive nutrients in water, especially nitrates and phosphates, are estimated to have already reduced biodiversity in rivers, lakes and wetlands by about one-third globally, with the largest losses in China, Europe, Japan, South Asia and Southern Africa.

No toilet for 2.5 billion
– An estimated 2.5 billion people use unimproved facilities as the primary means of sanitation.

Untreated industrial waste
– 70 percent of industrial discharges in developing countries are dumped untreated. Many countries even lack a basic register of industrial discharges, and they are therefore unable to quantify the problem.

Lack of funds for treatment
– Between 2002 and 2025, there is an annual global shortfall in funds for municipal wastewater treatment of $56 billion.

Read the full UN-Water wastewater report here.

World Water Day, on March 22 this year, has the theme “Water and Sustainable Development.” Visit the World Water Day site on UN-Water online to learn more about how water links to every part of our lives.

by Simon