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World Bank: water quality needs to be politically prioritized, and should be treated as an urgent concern for public health, the economy, and ecosystems.

Water is at the heart of global 2030 Agenda, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, and the 2015 Paris Agreement. It plays a central role in securing human rights, supporting economic development, mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change (IPCC, 2008; IPCC, 2018), improving human well-being and health, achieving most of the SDGs (UNHLPF, 2018). Anthropogenic factors such as climate change, non-inclusive water management (UN, 2019), environmental degradation, increasing industrial and consumer demand, old infrastructure and poor finance, hinder the progress towards achieving most of the SDGs (UN, 2018). The common effort is needed to address increasing global and local water challenges and risks. Most of the studies and policy options focus on the quantitative dimension of the global water problem. Recent World Bank Report: “Quality unknown: The invisible water crisis” brings the laser focus to the qualitative dimension of the issue. The impacts of water quality on

economies, societies, and environment may be equally, or more, important, – the study finds. The Report contains perhaps the largest database on water quality to inform policy-makers and direct investing where is needed most. Results in this report demonstrate how the impacts of water quality cut across nearly all SDGs and affect economic performance and well-being.

Importantly, the study finds that both, countries with advanced and developing economies, face an invisible crisis of water quality and an overall global water quality risk. Developing countries suffer from high levels of water pollution potentially eliminating one-third of economic growth in heavily polluted areas and threatening human and environmental well-being. Developed economies experience water quality problems due to the regulatory framework that lag behind the pace of emergence of new contaminants. The United States alone receives notices for the release of more than 1,000 new chemicals into the environment each year — or around three new chemicals per day.

The invisible character of the water quality problem is determined by such factors as (i) poor waste regulatory frameworks, lagging behind the actual pace of the new chemicals commercialization, (ii) poor or lacking information disclosures on water quality, (iii) poor deployment of new technologies that can provide the essential level of monitoring, data collection, and transparency to inform stakeholders including regulators, investors, consumers and interest groups about the actual state of affairs in water sector and its impact on achieving the SDGs and the areas where most effort is needed to be taken in order to address the adverse impacts on health, environment, and economy. All the factors are strongly present in developing countries and produce adverse effects on their economies and human well-being. World Bank underscores the potential of frontier technologies such as blockchain to improve water quality in several aspects such as monitoring and implementation of the water quality guidelines and regulations.

The study emphasized the role of other policies in improving water quality such as smart spatial planning, effective land-use policies, waste management.

The economic potential of wastewater management and treatment is currently not reflected in policies and levels of private investment worldwide. According to the report, more than 80 percent of the world’s wastewater—and more than 95 percent in some developing countries—is still released into the environment without treatment. There is an urgent need to increase investment in wastewater treatment plants, especially in heavily populated areas. These investments need to be accompanied by appropriate incentive structures that monitor performance, penalize profligacy, and reward success. Moreover, the large gap in public sector resources suggests the need for new models that attract private investments.

Effective and integrated land-use policies and smart spatial planning are also critical for protecting water supplies and water quality. Forests and wetlands act as natural buffers that absorb excessive nutrients that would otherwise pollute waterways. Effective and integrated land-use policies that preserve critical forests, wetlands, and natural biomass, particularly in the vicinity of high-value water resources, are therefore key to protecting water supplies. The findings from this report show that long-term costs have been underestimated and underappreciated.

There is a big room for policy research and improvement in a field of water quality, its cross-cutting impacts on the SDGs mutual dependence and supportiveness between policies to achieve internationally agreed climate policy goals and the SDGs.

By Katsiaryna Serada

Read the full report

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