Water securityWater pollution across three continents poses health risks to hundreds of millions
Water pollution has risen across three continents, placing hundreds of millions of people at risk of contracting life-threatening diseases like cholera and typhoid. Pathogen and organic pollution rise in more than 50 percent of river stretches in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Asia hit hardest by rise in severe pathogen pollution, with up to a half of all river stretches affected. Up to 323 million people on three continents at risk of infection from diseases caused by pathogens in water.
Water pollution has risen across three continents, placing hundreds of millions of people at risk of contracting life-threatening diseases like cholera and typhoid, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) warned yesterday.
The worrying rise in the pollution of surface waters in Asia, Africa and Latin America also threatens to damage vital sources of food and harm the continents’ economies, says UNEP in its latest report, Snapshot of the World’s Water Quality. By making access to quality water even more difficult, water pollution also threatens to breed further inequality, hitting the most vulnerable – women, children and the poor – the hardest.
Jacqueline McGlade, Chief Scientist of UNEP, said, “The increasing amount of wastewater being dumped into our surface waters is deeply troubling. Access to quality water is essential for human health and human development. Both are at risk if we fail to stop the pollution.
“Luckily it is possible to begin restoring rivers that have already been heavily polluted and there is clearly still time to prevent even more rivers from becoming contaminated. It is vital the world works together to combat this growing menace.”
UNEP says that population growth, increased economic activity, the expansion and intensification of agriculture, and an increase in the amount of untreated sewage discharged into rivers and lakes are the main reasons behind the troubling rise in surface water pollution in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
Pathogen pollution and organic pollution rose in more than 50 percent of river stretches from 1990 to 2010 on all three continents, while salinity pollution has risen in nearly one third, the UN report finds.
Severe pathogen pollution, the rise of which is largely down to the expansion of sewer systems that discharge untreated wastewater into surface waters, is estimated to affect around a quarter of Latin American river stretches, around 10 to 25 percent of African river stretches and up to one-half of Asian river stretches.
In some countries, more than 90 percent of the population relies on surface waters as their source of drinking water. These waters — which are also used to prepare food, to irrigate crops and for recreation – pose a major threat to human health when contaminated.
About 3.4 million people die each year from diseases associated with pathogens in water, like cholera, typhoid, infectious hepatitis, polio, cryptosporidiosis, ascariasis, and diarrheal diseases. Many of these diseases are due to the presence of human waste in water.