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Wastewater, The New Gold?

The 2021 edition of the United Nations World Water Development Report (UN WWDR 2021) entitled ‘Valuing Water ’ groups current methodologies and approaches to the valuation of water.

In this document researchers state that wastewater, once treated, becomes an invaluable resource that can meet the growing demand for clean water and other raw materials.

Wastewater is an invaluable resource

"Wastewater is an invaluable resource because the total amount of clean water on the planet is limited and the demand is growing,” said Guy Ryder, UN-Water Chair and Director-General of the International Labour Organization. Reducing the total amount of untreated wastewater by half and increasing the total amount of safe water that can be reused will help achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

""All it takes is to carefully manage and reuse wastewater from homes, factories, farms, and cities. Together, let's reduce waste and improve wastewater treatment to meet the needs of a growing population and fragile ecosystems".

In the foreword to the report, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova pointed out, "The 'World Water Development Report' shows that improving wastewater treatment is more about reducing pollution at the source, removing pollutants from wastewater, restoring reclaimed water, and use it for by-products. . . . Increasing social acceptance of wastewater use is critical to advancing this process.”

The world total amount of wastewater is increasing

A large proportion of wastewater is discharged into the environment without being collected or treated, and this is particularly the case in low- and middle-income countries, where on average only 8% of household and industrial wastewater is treated, whereas in high-income countries in countries, this proportion has reached 70%.

As a result, in many parts of the world, water contaminated with bacteria, nitrates, phosphates and solvents is discharged directly into rivers and lakes, and eventually into the sea, negatively impacting the environment and public health.

In the near future, the total amount of wastewater that needs to be treated will increase substantially, especially in cities in developing countries with rapidly growing populations. "The wastewater generation will be one of the biggest challenges developing countries will have to face as informal settlements (slums) grow," the report states.

A city like Lagos (Nigeria) generates 1.5 million cubic meters of wastewater every day, most of which is discharged directly into Lagos Lake.

Pathogens from human and animal waste have polluted nearly one-third of Latin America's rivers, threatening the lives of millions.

Wastewater causes great harm

In 2012, about 842,000 deaths in low- and middle-income countries were related to water pollution and inadequate sanitation. Lack of treatment also allows tropical diseases like dengue and cholera to spread freely.

The eutrophication of freshwater and coastal marine ecosystems is accelerated by dissolved solids and hydrocarbons from industry and mining, and nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium from intensive agriculture.

An estimated 245,000 square kilometres of marine ecosystems - the size of the UK - are currently affected by this phenomenon.

Direct discharge of untreated wastewater also contributes to the spread of toxic algal blooms and the loss of biodiversity.

The presence of hormones, antibiotics, disinfectants, endocrine disruptors in wastewater is a growing concern and is likely to present new challenges as their impact on the environment and human health is currently unclear .

Reclaimed water is an unused resource

Pollution reduces the supply of clean water, which is already insufficient due to climate change and many other factors.

However, many governments and policymakers focus only on the challenges of water supply, especially in times of water scarcity, while ignoring post-water governance, which are closely related.

The collection, treatment and safe utilization of wastewater is the basis for building a circular economy and balancing the relationship between economic development and sustainable resource utilization. In fact, reclaimed water is largely an untapped resource that can be reused many times.


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