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Preserving water quality around the world

Apr 01, 2010

Clearing the Waters: A Focus on Water Quality Solutions, a UNEP publication, highlights how best to protect the limited freshwater resources and improve water quality. It quantifies the issues and uses case studies to illustrate both problems and solutions for meeting basic human and ecosystem needs for water.

Clearing the Waters: A Focus on Water Quality Solutions

Publisher: UNEP, 2010

The past few decades have focused on the importance of water quantity in meeting basic human and ecosystem needs for water. Water quality is as important as water quantity for satisfying human and environmental needs, and yet has received far less investment, scientific support, and public attention. Water quality impacts human health, water quantity, livelihood, and economic activity, and climate change.

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Every day, millions of tons of inadequately treated sewage and industrial and agricultural wastes are poured into the world’s waters.

Every year, lakes, rivers, and deltas take anthem equivalent of the weight of the entire human population–nearly seven billion people – in the form of pollution. Every year, more people die from the consequences of unsafe water than from all forms of violence, including war. And, every year, water contamination of natural ecosystems affects humans directly by destroying fisheries or causing other impacts on biodiversity that affect food production. In the end, most polluted freshwater ends up in the oceans, causing serious damage to many coastal areas and fisheries and worsening our ocean and coastal resource management challenges.

Clean, safe, and adequate freshwater is vital to the survival of all living organisms and the smooth functioning of ecosystems, communities, and economies. But the quality of the world’s water is increasingly threatened as human populations grow, industrial and agricultural activities expand, and as climate change threatens to cause major alterations of the hydrologic cycle.

Widespread lack of adequate disposal of human waste leads to contamination of water – worldwide, 2.5 billion people live without improved sanitation (UNICEF and WHO 2008), and over 80% of the sewage in developing countries is discharged untreated in receiving water bodies (UN WWAP 2009). Meanwhile, growing populations will potentially magnify these impacts, while climate change will create new water quality challenges.

Effective solutions to water quality challenges exist and have been implemented in a number of places. It is time for a global focus on protecting and improving the quality of the world’s freshwater resources. There are three fundamental solutions to water quality problems:

  • Focus on pollution prevention
  • Expand and improve water and waste water treatment
  • Restore, manage and protect ecosystems

That challenge requires bold steps internationally, nationally, and locally to protect water quality. Directing local, national, and international priorities, funding, and policies to improve water quality can ensure that our global water resources can once again become a source of life.

Part 1 of the report provides an overview of current major water quality contaminants and the human activities that affect water quality. Part 2 details the impacts that poor water quality has on the environment, human health, and vulnerable communities, and quantifies the economic costs of poor water quality. Part 3 of the report offers insights into specific solutions available to address water quality problems, and Part 4 explores the wide range of mechanisms through which the solutions can be achieved. Part 5 details key recommendations to improve and protect water quality for the international community, national governments, communities and households.

The decisions made in the next decade will determine the path we take in addressing the global water quality challenge. That challenge requires bold steps internationally, nationally, and locally to protect water quality. Directing local, national, and international priorities, funding, and policies to improve water quality can ensure that our global water resources can once again become a source of life. Clean water is life. We already have the know-how and skills to protect our water quality. Let us now have the will. Human life and prosperity rest on our actions today to be the stewards, not polluters, of this most precious resource.

Source : UNEP
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