A new report from the United Nations warns of the dangers of the increasingly polluted state of rivers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. According to the report, this pollution poses a serious disease risk to more than 300 million people.
Currently, about 3.4 million deaths are caused every year by water-borne pathogens — including cholera, typhoid, some strains of hepatitis and diarrhoeal disease, says the United Nations Environmental Program.
The problem mainly stems from the lack of water treatment and the presence of human waste in the water itself. The report estimated that 164 million in Africa, 134 million in Asia, and 225 million in South America were at risk for water-borne diseases.
UNEP chief scientist Jaqueline McGlade expressed concern over these serious findings: “The increasing amount of wastewater being dumped into our surface waters is deeply troubling. Access to quality water is essential for human health and human development. Both are at risk if we fail to stop the pollution.”
The report noted that the increase in risk was due to factors like factory waste, runoff from agricultural chemicals like pesticides and fertilizers, and untreated sewage. Indeed, even in the U.S., where there is widespread access to clean water, 80% of serious hazardous waste sites have negatively impacted nearby ground water.
In some of the countries listed in the report, a shocking 90 percent of the population relies on rivers and lakes for their drinking water.
Water pollution also adversely affects freshwater fisheries, which employ about 21 million fishermen and create around 38 million jobs in the industry. Agriculture is also at risk since salinity pollution from wastewater threatens irrigated crops.
The good news: there is hope. “There is still time to tackle water pollution,” said the UNEP.
Of water treatment technology and the restoration of wetlands, McGlade said:”It is now time to use these tools to combat what is slowly becoming one of the greatest threats to human health and development around the world.”