Water pollution has become a major concern worldwide, especially in developing countries where around 3.2 million children die each year as a result of unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation. Access to adequate wastewater treatment facilities in the developing countries is very limited. For example, only 209 of India’s 3,119 towns and cities—less than one in ten—have even partial sewage systems and treatment facilities.
As a result water bodies in developing nations are often used as open sewers for human waste products and garbage, which is evident at the Ganges River in India which receives over 1.3 billion liters of domestic waste, along with 260 million liters of industrial waste, run off from 6 million tons of fertilizers and 9,000 tons of pesticides used in agriculture, and thousands of animal carcasses.
The reason behind the absence of adequate water treatment facilities and regulations in developing countries is the lack of finances available for funding infrastructure that can regulate water pollution. This in turn reduces the amount of clean water available for human consumption, sanitation, agriculture and industrial purposes, in addition to various other ecosystem services. A decrease in the amount water available for use holds devastating environmental, health, and economic consequences that disrupt a country’s social and economic growth.
Environmental and Human Health Costs
Unsafe water, lack of sanitation facilities and poor hygiene are the leading causes of mortality and morbidity in developing countries because contaminated water carries various diseases such as cholera, intestinal worms, and diarrhea. It is estimated that up to half of all hospital beds in the world are occupied by victims of water contamination.
Furthermore, dirty water (standing in puddles or stored) provides a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes that go on to spread diseases such as malaria and encephalitis. The UN estimates that 60% of global cases of malaria and 80% of malaria deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa (nearly 1 million per year) are related to inadequate water storage facilities.
Economic Implications of Water Pollution
It is estimated that around $7.3 million is spent on healthcare for waterborne diseases alone. Furthermore, large amounts of money are lost due to the deteriorating health of a country’s population with many citizens unable to attend school or work due to health issues. Above all, water pollution and lack of sanitation holds a significant burden on women.
Teenage women are unable to attend schools that lack adequate sanitation and are often entrusted in collecting groundwater for their families due to the lack of a constant water supply. Women embark on 3-4 hour treks in order to collect contaminated water, which they carry back to their homes. This deprives them from the possibility of attending school or holding a permanent job thus further reducing a family’s income.
Water quality is also important for various industries (such as power generation, metals, mining, and petroleum) that require high-quality water to operate. Lower quality water could impact and limit the choices of technology available to developing countries.
Reductions in water quality have the dual effect of not only increasing the water stress to industrial companies in these areas but also increase the pressure to improve the quality of the industrial wastewater. This in turn increases the costs spent on environmental rehabilitation and remediation.
Tackling the Challenge
Water quality is gradually becoming the leading problem throughout the developing world. Drinking water sources are under increasing threat from contamination, which holds widespread consequences for the health, and the economic and social development of various countries. Governments in the developing nations, as well as donor nations and organizations, should strengthen efforts to provide adequate water services for their citizens.
Water policies must be redefined and be strictly implemented, and water programs should be better integrated into a country’s cultures and values than they have been in the past. Water programs are not required to be large scale and financially intensive, and can be simple and financially viable.
An example of such a program is water.org’s use of the “micro loans” system. This system entails providing micro loans to local families to allow them to build adequate piping systems and sanitation facilities within their homes. This will allow for an increase in the family’s income due to better health and less time spent on water collection. If the governments of developing countries adopt such a system, it will provide them with a simple yet efficient solution to the water pollution dilemma that will also produce massive payback for the country.
Therefore it is evident that although water pollution can be lessened through the help of donor nations and organizations, the key to addressing these issues lies within the developing countries themselves. Governments must realize that action must be taken immediately because if water pollution continues to grow, the future will be very bleak.