Worrisome as the drought that's parched regions around the world is, a new global study from Council Associate Partner Veolia and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) finds rapidly deteriorating water quality will affect far more people and put the planet at large at risk.
The first-of-its-kind study – The Murky Future of Global Water Quality -- finds the world on a path toward rapidly deteriorating water quality in many countries:
- Up to one in three people will be exposed to a high risk of water pollution in 2050 from increased amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous
- Up to one in five people will be exposed to a high risk of water pollution reflected by increased levels of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD)
Not science fiction
"The global water crisis is not science fiction," notes Ed Pinero, senior vice president, sustainability, at Veolia North America. "The evidence of drought in the United States and in many parts of the world --- lack of rain or snowfall, drying rivers and lakes, water shortages and water restrictions -- is real enough. Now we’re seeing how the impacts of high levels of organic pollutants can affect our health and society."
Rapidly deteriorating water quality over the next several decades, the study suggests, will increase risks to human health, economic development and thousands of aquatic ecosystems in developed and developing economies alike.
Claudia Ringler, deputy division director of IFPRI’s Environment and Production Technology Division, says the study demonstrates how water quality issues compound water quantity problems and amplifies the need to simultaneously address both issues.
“The massive algal bloom in Lake Erie that triggered serious health concerns last year over safe drinking water is a very real example,” says Pinero. “When both water quantity and water quality are at risk, it’s a recipe for even greater challenges because poor water quality further reduces the amount of available water.”
The study found that the regions most affected include densely populated, large agricultural production centers. The largest levels of these pollutants are discharged in northern and eastern China, and parts of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Midwestern U.S., central Europe and central-eastern South America also generate high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous loads.
The study outlines sustainable solutions for agriculture and well as for cities and industry. Among them:
- More aggressive investment in wastewater treatment
- Increased recycling and reuse
- Green infrastructure
- Governance models based more on watersheds and less on traditional political borders