A World Bank report alerts us to the crisis in water quality polluted by nitrogen, excess salt and emerging pollutants such as plastic. This is what will shake up the Sustainable Development Goals (2015-2030), in particular Goal 6 dedicated to universal access to drinking water in 2030. Humanitarian Challenge presents these two reports here. This is a huge challenge for water stakeholders preparing for the 9th World Water Forum in March 2021 in Dakar.
Simultaneously in August 2019, the International Courier published “Soon a world without water”, it resumed the publication of the New York Times (7.8.2019) presenting a mapping of the World Resources Institute on the dangerous reduction of water supply. This decrease will now affect a quarter of the world’s population by 2030!
WASHINGTON, World Bank Press Release (also available here), August 20, 2019 – The world is facing an invisible water quality crisis that reduces the potential economic growth of heavily polluted areas by one-third and threatens human and environmental well-being, concludes a report released today by the World Bank entitled Quality Unknown: The Invisible Water Crisis.
Using new data and methods, this study demonstrates how the combination of bacteria, wastewater, chemicals and plastics can remove oxygen from the water supply and turn water into poison for humans and ecosystems. To shed light on this issue, the World Bank has developed the world’s largest database on water quality based on field data collected at monitoring stations, using remote sensing techniques and the automatic learning process.
According to the report, the lack of clean drinking water reduces economic growth by a third. Its authors call for immediate attention at the global, national and local levels to be paid to these dangers that threaten both developed and developing countries.
“Clean water is an essential factor for economic growth. Deteriorating water quality hinders economic growth, worsens health problems, reduces food production and exacerbates poverty in many countries,” says David Malpass, President of the World Bank Group. “Governments must urgently take action to combat water pollution so that countries can grow more quickly in an equitable and environmentally sustainable manner. »
When biochemical oxygen demand – a measure of the quantity of organic pollution in water and an indirect measure of overall water quality – exceeds a certain threshold, GDP growth in downstream regions declines by up to one-third due to impacts on health, agriculture and ecosystems.
Nitrogen is one of the main causes of poor water quality: it is spread as fertilizer on agricultural land and ends up in rivers, lakes and oceans where it is transformed into nitrates. Children exposed to nitrates from an early age suffer from growth and brain development problems that affect their health and, later, their ability to earn a living as adults. Runoff and discharge into water of each additional kilogram of nitrogen fertilizer per hectare is likely to increase the level of stunting in children by up to 19% and reduce their adult incomes by about 2% compared to children not exposed to these products.
The report also notes that agricultural yields are declining as a result of increased salinity of water and soil resulting from more intense droughts, storm surges and increased water extraction. The amount of food that humanity loses each year due to salt water would feed 170 million people.
The report recommends that countries take various measures to improve water quality: environmental policies and standards; accurate assessment of pollutant loads; effective enforcement systems; water treatment infrastructure facilitated by incentives for private investment; provision of reliable and accurate information to households to encourage citizen participation; etc.
N. B Funded in part by the Global Water Security and Sanitation Partnership (GWSP), a multi-donor trust fund based within the World Bank’s World Water Expertise Centre, the report can be downloaded at worldbank.org/qualityunknown
“Water stress threatens a quarter of humanity”
In addition to this observation by the World Bank, the work of the World Resources Institute shows the importance of water stress on a global scale.
What does it mean when we talk about water stress? Water stress is a situation where the demand for water exceeds the available resources. According to WHO, countries affected by water stress are those with an annual per capita water availability of less than 1,700 m3. Below 1,000 m3/inhab/year, we talk about water scarcity. The water stress indicator can also be found in percentage. He then makes the connection between the need for water and the available resources.
What does this report tell us?
- The World Resources Institute (WRI) has found that global water withdrawals have more than doubled since the 1960s, partly due to increasing demand.
- New data from WRI’s Aqueduct tools reveal that 17 countries – where a quarter of the world’s population lives – face “extremely high” levels of water stress, where irrigated agriculture, industries and municipalities withdraw on average more than 80% of their availability.
- 12 of the 17 countries most vulnerable to water stress are in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). However, many possibilities remain unexploited. In this region, about 82% of the region’s wastewater is not reused.
- Finally, India is currently the country most affected by this problem due to its surface and underground waters.
A few figures on France: :
France is far from being spared by this phenomenon since it is classified among the countries where water stress is “medium-high” (see ranking and score chart below).
Domestic use: 2,09
Medium – High (20-40%)
Water stress: country classification, World Resources Institute (2019):
However, the report concludes with this reassuring conclusion: “Water stress is only one aspect of water security. As with any challenge, its prospects depend on the direction chosen by countries. Many countries with relatively high water stress have secured their water resources through appropriate management. “Many challenges remain to be met. We are rather sceptical about this conclusion and we call on the contrary to mobilize to save water from the evils that threaten it.
For more information on water and its current challenges, consult the 2019 Water, Hygiene and Sanitation Barometer, produced by the NGO Solidarités International: here.