Water pollution an ‘invisible threat’ to global goals, economists warn

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Children drinking water from a tap. Water pollution will affect water sustainability
Children drinking water from a tap. PHOTO/COURTESY

By Reuters,
Water pollution threatens nearly all the globally agreed development goals to end environmental destruction, poverty and suffering by 2030, economists warned in a report on Tuesday, citing the largest-ever database on the world’s water quality.

The World Bank report warned of the ripple effects of water pollution on the health, economies, education and agriculture of rich and poor countries alike.

“This study was a huge wake-up call to us about the quality of water worldwide. The world tends to focus on water quantity such as floods and droughts, but this report focuses on the more invisible threats – the effects of pollutants impacting global water quality,” said Richard Damania, World Bank economist.

The 193 United Nations member states agreed on Sept. 25, 2015 to a lofty 15-year agenda of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with 169 targets aimed at helping everyone live healthier, more prosperous lives on a cleaner planet.

SDG 6 refers to clean water and sanitation for all, but the U.N. World Water Development Report found about three out of 10 people – 2.1 billion – did not have access to safely managed drinking water at home in 2015. In sub-Saharan Africa, coverage was only 25 percent.

“Chemical contamination such as arsenic in Bangladesh, mercury in Maputo and fluoride in parts of Kenya are major concerns,” said Neil Jeffery, the CEO of water rights group Water Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP).

“Clean water brings dignity. Entire communities are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty, with a lack of basic water and sanitation impacting health, school attendance and livelihoods,” Jeffery told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The World Bank report used satellite data and artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyse nitrogen, salt and oxygen levels – water health markers – of water globally. Ripple effects of consuming pollutants include childhood stunting, infant mortality, lowered economic activity and food production.

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