World Bank: Water pollution a global health threat

A woman washes used plastic bags for re-use at the shores of a river on June 24, 2014 in Nairobi. Concern is growing over widespread plastic waste that is threatening marine life with conservative yearly estimates of $13 billion in financial damage to marine ecosystems, according to two reports issued at the inaugural meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly, where over 1200 participants, 160 national delegations, 90 ministers and 40 events 23 - 27 June 2014, Nairobi, Kenya.(Photo by SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images)

A recently released World Bank report paints a grim picture of the state of the world’s water supply The report, “Invisible Crisis of Water Quality” warns that poor water quality is a threat to humans and environmental well-being.

Plastic waste is pictured along a river bank in Jakarta on August 1, 2019. – Global concern over plastic pollution has been spurred by shocking images of waste-clogged rivers in Southeast Asia and accounts of dead sea creatures found with kilos of refuse in their stomachs. [Photo by BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images]
The study was conducted using the world’s largest global database on water quality and gathered data from monitoring stations, remote sensor technology and machine learning tools. The World Bank says without urgent action, water quality will continue to deteriorate, impacting human health, massively reducing food production and, consequently, stalling economic progress.

The application of nitrogen as a fertilizer in agriculture was singled out as a contributing factor to poor water quality.

Chemical fertilizers, nitrogen fertilizer K. [Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images]
Nitrogen enters rivers, lakes and oceans where it transforms into substances known as nitrates. Nitrates are harmful to young children, affecting their growth and brain development.

The study states that for every additional kilogram of nitrogen fertilizer per hectare that enters the water supply as nitrates, the level of childhood stunting can increase by as much as 19 percent, compared to those who are not exposed.

Increased salinity in water, a consequence of more intense droughts, storm surges and rising water extraction, also comes under scrutiny, as a factor that is making land less agriculturally productive.

The report estimates that the world is losing enough food to feed 170 million people each year – the equivalent of the population of Bangladesh – due to increasing salinity, or salt content of water.

A woman washes used plastic bags for re-use at the shores of a river on June 24, 2014 in Nairobi. Concern is growing over widespread plastic waste that is threatening marine life with conservative yearly estimates of $13 billion in financial damage to marine ecosystems, according to two reports issued at the inaugural meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly. [Photo by SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images]
The World Bank wants the international community to address the dangers which it says are facing both developed and developing nations.

The report has made a raft of recommendations to countries to take necessary actions to improve water quality, including improving environmental policies and standards; accurate monitoring of pollution levels; effective enforcement systems; water treatment infrastructure supported with incentives for private investment; and reliable, accurate information disclosure to households to inspire greater civic engagement.