The world faces an invisible crisis of water quality that is eliminating one-third of potential economic growth in heavily polluted areas and threatening human and environmental well-being, according to a latest World Bank report.
According to the report, the invisible water crisis shows, with new data and methods, how a combination of bacteria, sewage, chemicals, and plastics could suck oxygen from water supplies and transform water into poison for people and ecosystems.
To shed light on the issue, the World Bank assembled the world’s largest database on water quality gathered from monitoring stations, remote sensing technology, and machine learning.
The report found that lack of clean water limits economic growth by one-third and calls for immediate global, national, and local-level attention to these dangers which face both developed and developing countries.
“Clean water is a key factor for economic growth. Deteriorating water quality is stalling economic growth, worsening health conditions, reducing food production, and exacerbating poverty in many countries,” World Bank Group President, David Malpass said.
“Their governments must take urgent actions to help tackle water pollution so that countries can grow faster in equitable and environmentally sustainable ways.”
“When Biological Oxygen Demand – a measure of how much organic pollution is in water and a proxy measure of overall water quality – crosses a certain threshold, GDP growth in downstream regions drops by as much as a third because of impacts on health, agriculture, and ecosystems.
“A key contributor to poor water quality is nitrogen, which, applied as fertilizer in agriculture, eventually enters rivers, lakes and oceans where it transforms into nitrates. Early exposure of children to nitrates affects their growth and brain development, impacting their health and adult earning potential.
“The run-off and release into water from every additional kilogram of nitrogen fertilizer per hectare can increase the level of childhood stunting by as much as 19 percent and reduce future adult earnings by as much as 2 percent, compared to those who are not exposed,” it stated.
The report also found out that as salinity in water and soil increases due to more intense droughts, storm surges and rising water extraction, agricultural yields fall.
“The world is losing enough food to saline water each year to feed 170 million people,” it added.
The report recommended a set of actions that countries can take to improve water quality. These included environmental policies and standards; accurate monitoring of pollution loads; effective enforcement systems; water treatment infrastructure supported with incentives for private investment; and reliable, accurate information disclosure to households to inspire citizen engagement.
“This report shows that agricultural yields fall almost exactly in line with increased salt concentrations in water. That is to say – more salt in the water means less food for the world.
“This report also reveals that enough food is lost due to saline waters each year to feed 170 million people every day – that’s equivalent to a country the size of Bangladesh. Such a sizable loss of food production to saline waters means food security will continue to be jeopardized unless action is taken.
“Even as these impacts are being felt, emerging pollutants are entering the world’s waters – their impacts are still unknown but present a hazard that may further exacerbate existing problems,” it added.