Sick Water? A new report from UNEP

“Sick water? The central role of wastewater management in sustainable development” not only identifies the threats to human and ecological health and the consequences of inaction, but also presents opportunities, where appropriate policy and management responses over the short and longer term can trigger employment, support livelihoods, boost public and ecosystem health and contribute to more intelligent water management.”

Transforming wastewater from a major health and environmental hazard into a clean, safe and economically-attractive resource is emerging as a key challenge in the 21st century.


It is a challenge that will continue to intensify as the world undergoes rapid urbanization, industrialization and increasing demand for meat and other foods unless decisive action is taken says a new United Nations report released today. Urban populations are projected to nearly double in 40 years, from current 3.4 billion to over six billion people – but already most cities lack adequate wastewater management due to aging, absent or inadequate sewage infrastructure.


What is wastewater?

Wastewater is a cocktail of fertilizer run-off and sewage disposal alongside animal, industrial, agricultural and other wastes. 

The report says that the sheer scale of dirty water means more people now die from contaminated and polluted water than from all forms of violence including wars. Dirty water is also a key factor in the rise of de-oxygenated dead zones that have been emerging in seas and oceans across the globe.

Yet many of the substances that make wastewater a pollutant – for example nitrogen and phosphorus – can also be useful as fertilizers for agriculture. Wastewater can also generate gases to fuel small power stations or be used for cooking.

 The report notes that already some 10 per cent of the world’s population is being supplied with food grown using wastewater for irrigation and fertilizer and with better management and training of farmers this could be increased substantially.

The report, launched to coincide with World Water Day, goes so far as to say that the concentration of nutrients in wastewater “could supply much of the nitrogen and much of the phosphorous and potassium normally required for crop production. Other valuable micro-nutrients and organic matter contained in the effluent would also provide benefits”.

The full report can be found here.

  So how can you/we contribute to change this disturbing development?

That was our first though. As Mary’s post on the World Water Day on Monday presented us with some worrisome facts, it fuels the drive to contribute to positive change even more through responsible design.  

Mary mentioned the ecessive use of water resources to produce cotton – there is yet another challenge.

What about all the highly toxic chemicals from pesticides, tanneries and material development which, in a large number of developing countries, leak int the scares water resources and the eco-systems of the local community surrounding the production site?

We want your throughts on this problem – so either leave a comment or send us an email.

Source: UNEP, Sick Water?

Katrine is a contributing partner at Social Alterations. She brings expertise in strategy implementation and fashion management.

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