World’s water quality under threat unless environmental targets boosted

The world could soon be facing severe water quality issues unless we find a different way of tackling wastewater management, a new study has found.

Researchers at Utrecht University examined how achieving the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to halve the proportion of untreated wastewater entering the environment by 2030 would affect the world’s river water quality.

They found that this alone would not be enough, as even if the goal was achieved, water quality issues would continue to persist in some areas of the globe.

Clean water is essential to life, but is increasingly under threat due to population growth, economic development and the climate crisis.

body river surrounded by dress

Each year, an estimated 829,000 people worldwide die from diarrhoea after using contaminated water for drinking or sanitation purposes.

Lead author Edward Jones explained how river water quality would be affected if the SDG was reached: ‘Our simulations show that, for a large part of the year, water quality in several regions would still exceed critical thresholds for human uses and ecosystem health. This is especially the case for developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.’

The research team have developed a high-resolution global water quality model to help fills in gaps of water quality knowledge, especially in places where observations are lacking.

As well as helping to identify problem areas for water quality, it can also identify the source of pollution.

‘For instance, large-scale irrigation systems for agriculture drive salinity issues in Northern India, while industrial processes are more responsible in eastern China. Conversely, the domestic and livestock sectors drive organic and pathogen pollution worldwide,’ Jones added.

However, finding a solution to this issue is more difficult and is likely to be expensive too, but is vital to protect both personal and environmental health.

Jones said: ‘Even achieving the current SDG target will pose serious economic challenges, as expansion of wastewater treatment can be an expensive process.

‘Yet the cost disadvantages of inadequate water quality for sectoral uses must also be considered. Ultimately, however, we also need to reduce our pollutant emissions and develop new approaches towards wastewater management.

‘As such, with this paper we hope to underline the water quality problems we’re facing and firmly place these issues back on the political agenda.’

Photo by kazuend


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Help us break the news – share your information, opinion or analysis
Back to top