International Initiative on Water Quality (IIWQ)
The global water quality challenge & SDGs
Water quality is one of the main challenges that societies will face during the 21st century, threatening human health, limiting food production, reducing ecosystem functions, and hindering economic growth. Water quality degradation translates directly into environmental, social and economic problems. The availability of the world’s scarce water resources is increasingly limited due to the worsening pollution of freshwater resources caused by the disposal of large quantities of insufficiently treated, or untreated, wastewater into
rivers, lakes, aquifers and coastal waters. Furthermore, newly emerging pollutants like personal care products and pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and industrial and household chemicals, and changing climate patterns represent a new water quality challenge, with still unknown long-term impacts on human health and ecosystems.
The United Nations General Assembly (RES/64/292) in 2010 recognized – “access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right” – essential for our lives and well-being. As improved sources of water do not always ensure water quality suitable for direct human consumption, more efforts are required to provide access to safe and clean water. In addition to the serious impact on human and ecosystem health, lack of access to safe, clean and affordable drinking water and sanitation is a growing burden on countries’ economic and social development. Increased access to safe water and sanitation services leads to disease prevention, enhanced human health, gender and income equality, improved educational outcomes and higher economic productivity.
Water pollution, resulting from human activities, disturbs aquatic ecosystems not only in structure but also in function, affecting and modifying the integrity of these systems. Clear evidences are eutrophication (high loads of nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen) and acidification, putting more pressure on water resources systems. Water pollution thus constitutes a serious threat not only to securing enough water of good quality for human needs and activities, but also to meeting the ecosystem requirements and maintaining environmental flows.
Many developing countries are lacking adequate wastewater infrastructure with only 10% of the wastewater being processed through appropriate treatment and most sewage not being collected. This problem is even severe in growing cities of Asia and Africa. Improved wastewater management is required to prevent diseases as well as losses in biodiversity and ecosystem resilience. There is an urgent global need for sustained investment to improve wastewater management and infrastructure as well as a shift in world water policies to emphasize that wastewater is a resource whose effective management is essential for the future of water security.
Because of the potentially high risks emerging pollutants present for human health and the environment, these contaminants represent a new, complex aspect of the global water quality challenge. Emerging pollutants broadly include pharmaceuticals, personal care products, pesticides, industrial and household chemicals, metals, surfactants, industrial additives and solvents that are not generally monitored and may have a negative impact on human and environmental health. Scientific knowledge and understanding on their effects, fate and accumulation is still limited, as well as efforts on monitoring and regulating emerging pollutants in water resources and wastewater. Due to the complexity of their forms, mechanisms of actions and potential persistence in the environment, there is an urgent need to strengthen and promote scientific knowledge on emerging pollutants and to implement effective approaches to monitor, assess and control them.
In developing countries, poor water quality and water pollution are the most crucial and serious water problems. A very low level or inexistent, wastewater collection and treatment coverage is a common challenge in most developing countries, in addition to lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation for large portion of their populations. Water quality problems remain unsolved and serious in developing countries due to poor wastewater management, lack of political will, underinvestment, inefficient allocation of water, land-use changes, population growth and the absence of awareness of policy-makers on critical linkages of water quality with other development aspects such as health, poverty, gender inequality, environmental degradation, and food security. Consequently, there is a crucial need to increase investments, strengthen wastewater management plans, create awareness at the political level, reform water allocation systems, and better plan rural and urban changes affecting water quality issues as well as to encourage governments to take action to address pressing water quality challenges and to incorporate water quality policies into national development goals.
Water quality in SDGs
The 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) bring water quality issues to the forefront of international action by setting Goal 6 specifically aiming to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” to respond to the pressing challenges posed by water quality issues.
Water quality is addressed also under other SDGs such as the goals on health, poverty reduction, ecosystems and sustainable consumption and production, recognizing the links between water quality and the key environmental, socioeconomic and development issues (Goals 1, 3, 12, 15 and Targets 1.4, 3.3, 3.9, 12.4, 15.1). The clear focus on water quality in the SDGs demonstrates growing attention on the urgent need to improve water quality worldwide.