In a report issued on World Water Day, U.N. agencies said global warming would “affect the availability, quality and quantity of water for basic human needs”, threatening the right to water and sanitation for “potentially billions of people”.
Moreover, according to UN, using water more efficiently in everything from daily life to agriculture and industry would help reduce planet-warming emissions and curb climate change – a potential benefit that has yet to be widely recognized.
The same UN report pointed to the underfunding of water infrastructure around the world, despite its importance. Poor water infrastructure is greater risk than coronavirus, says UN.
World bank also released a report on World Water Day, stating that the world’s wastewater – 80% of which is released into the environment without adequate treatment – is a valuable resource from which clean water, energy, nutrients, and other resources can be recovered.
The report calls for smarter wastewater management, including reuse and resource recovery, and looks at wastewater projects around the world which have paid dividends for people, the environment, and economies in the short and long-term.
Efficiently investing in wastewater and other sanitation infrastructure is crucial to achieve public health benefits, improve the environment, and enhance quality of life. Safely managed water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services are an essential part of preventing disease and protecting human health during infectious disease outbreaks, including the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Wastewater treatment offers a double value proposition, the report says. In addition to environmental and health benefits, wastewater treatment can bring economic benefits through reuse in different sectors. Its by-products, such as nutrients and biogas, can be used for agriculture and energy generation, and additional revenues generated from this process can help cover water utilities’ operational and maintenance costs.
Policymakers and businesses should also seek to manage water resources better to economise on the electricity and fuel needed to pump, clean and deliver water, the UN report said.
One of the main barriers in dealing with water issues is a lack of cooperation between government officials working on climate change and those tasked with managing water. For example, the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change does not mention water, the U.N. report noted. The national climate action plans submitted by countries under that pact generally acknowledge the importance of water, but few have so far presented and costed specific projects, it added.
“In this sense, wastewater should not be considered a ‘waste’ anymore, but a resource. This is at the core of a circular economy, an economic system aimed at minimising waste and making the most of resources. As cities continue to grow, future urban development requires approaches that minimise resource consumption and focus on resource recovery, following principles of the so-called circular economy,” said Diego Juan Rodriguez, the report’s author and a Senior Water Resources Management Specialist at the World Bank.
The report shows what’s possible when governments at all levels apply circular economy principles to their wastewater challenges. For example, in the city of La Paz, Bolivia, the national and municipal governments, as well as the water utility, with support from the World Bank and other development partners, are working together to incorporate circular economy principles in the design of the La Paz wastewater treatment plant. The goal is to address water pollution and public health issues caused by low levels of wastewater treatment and unregulated use in agriculture.
“We are happy to see that the necessary transformation is well under way – wastewater policies in many countries already include reuse and resource recovery, and we hope more countries will follow suit. Countries need to scale up action,” said Rodriguez.
The report was funded in part by the Global Water Security & Sanitation Partnership (GWSP) and the Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF).