PhD Scholar at Department of Economics, University of Sheffield, UK
“Water is life’s mater and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water”
(Albert Szeny-Gyorgyi , 1937 Nobel Prize for Medicine, 1893-1986)
Water is one of the most important things that are used by human beings on our planet. Despite human consumption, water is highly used in agriculture (the production of a ton of grains requires one thousand tons of water), livestock industry (the production of a ton of beef needs fifteen thousand tons of water), paper industry (three hundred litres of water is required for one kilogram production of paper), and steel industry (one metric ton production of steel needs about two hundred thousand litres of water).
Statistical figures reveal that about more than 70% of the surface of the Earth is covered with water. However, a large proportion of this water is not suitable for human consumption. This even be further alarming when we look at water resources in prospect of freshwater as freshwater is very unevenly distributed across the world. The website of the Government of Canada’s Environment Department reveals that almost 2-7 billion people will likely be suffered by the shortage of water by the middle of this century. Developing nations are likely to be affected more severally by the shortage of water as well as water pollution, where already almost the 80 percent of health illness are, directly or indirectly, related with water. Already around 20% population of the world does not have access to safe and fresh water.
Water Pollution: A serious threat to water is ‘water pollution’. Water pollution means anything to add water which makes water dirty and unsafe not only for drinking and other human uses such as swimming, irrigation, and industrial use but it also makes water harmful for other creatures on the Earth such as marines, animals and plants.
Polluted water has multidimensional effects on both environment and the public’s health. Examples of these effects include diarrhea, skin rashes, the infections caused by salmonella and cholera bacteria, leukemin cancer, toxic to marine life, effects on the production of micro-organisms and photosynthetic plants, and so on. Further, polluted water can affect ones reproductively and development abilities if one continually drinks polluted water for a relatively longer time period. It is also very likely that polluted water has strong and significant effects on the balance of nature, which can eventually affect human beings further in much diversified ways. Water pollution is one of the main reasons behind a decline in freshwater.
The Aim: Given the consequences of and concerns about water pollution, in this note, I make an attempt to explore the fundamental sources of water pollution with a specific focus on how the pollution of water can be control, or at least, reduced effectively.
Sources of Water Pollution
There are several causes of water pollution. These causes can be classified into two categories: direct or point causes and indirect or nonpoint causes. Both direct and indirect causes can add number of strange substances in water. Examples of these substances are organic, inorganic, radiological and biological. Direct or point contact is the contact in which the pollutant/contaminant directly enters into the water at its occurring place. On the other hand, the indirect (nonpoint) cause of water pollution is defines as the contact in which the impurity occurs elsewhere and then later on, gradually, enters into the water through natural means.
Agriculture Waste: To meet the increasing demand for agricultural products, it is very common across the world to use more sophisticated cultivation methods and chemicals, such as fertilizers and pesticides, to get the higher yield. Although the use of chemicals and heavy machineries has increased the yield beyond over beliefs, the use of these chemicals is one of main causes of water pollution. Agrochemicals, such as, among others, fertilizers, organic manure, growth hormones, and nutrient solution, pollute water significantly when they enter into the water through rains.
Agriculture sector is not only the cause of water pollution but it is also significantly affected by contaminated water. Being a cause of water pollution, the agriculture sector mainly affects water by loss of soil due to poor agricultural methods used in developing countries. Further, agriculture sector also results in a loss of net soil by salinization and waterlogging of irrigated land. Finally, agricultural waste significantly causes water contamination when this is washed into the water.
Being a victim of polluted water, the yield and other activities of agriculture sectors are strongly affected by using dirty and polluted wastewater as well as contaminated groundwater. No doubts, the use of polluted water not only infects the yield of crops but also it transmits number of diseases to workers those work in farms or fields and to consumers those consume these contaminated products.
Industrial Waste: Another significant source of water pollution is the waste discharged by industries into the water. Certainly, industrial waste contains several types of chemical which affect water badly. In fact, industrial waste causes a variety of water contaminations that ranges from a simple nutrients or organic matter of water pollution to a very complex one such as toxic poisons. Industrial waste includes asbestos, lead mercury, nitrates, phosphates, sulphur, and oils which heavy damage water, making it unsafe and unhealthy. This is evenly harmful for both human beings and other mammal.
Besides large industries, small-scale business units, particular in urban and highly under-developed areas, are the major source of water pollution. India and China are examples of this, where small-scale business units are increasing due to easy available financing and government supports to increase economic growth.
Domestic Sewage: Domestic sewage is another important source of water pollution. Domestic sewage contains household waste which affects water in many ways. Leftover foods, synthetic detergents used to wash clothes and to clean toilets, animal and human excreta are few examples of household waste. All of these doubtlessly cause water pollution. Most of the domestic sewages are dissolved and contain organic and nutrients. Leftover foods and vegetables and fruits waste are at top of the list of waste that contains organic materials. Chemical soaps and different types of powders used in cloth washing also contain significant percentage of organic. Thus, untreated domestic sewage significantly contributes in water pollution.
Oil and Gas Waste: For a long time in past, we have been assumed that the hydrological process of mixing and dispersing dilutes oil waste discharged into the water to safe levels, and thus, there is no need to take any further measures. However, it is much apparent today that while it is very likely that quick dilution does occur, importunate background contamination does come to pass in the water. These persistent contaminations lead to cause sediment and organic organisms that affect water purity very badly.
Perhaps, oil spills primarily across through the people’s mind when they talk about the issue of water pollution. Indeed, oil and gas leakages are a serious threat to water, particularly seawater. Oil spills not only damage the water and be the cause of death of sea creature and birds living offshore but also have long-lasting affect on sea water. The occurrence of BP (UK), Exxon Valdez (USA) and Presitage (Spanish) oils spills have caused water pollution at large scale. These sorts of disasters not only pollute water but also play significant role to decline the income of people living near to coasts. In addition to oil and gas spills and waste, nuclear waste is another serious threat to water pollution. For instance, radiation remains active for about 5000 years that come out from nuclear waste.
Fixes of Water Pollution
Technical Fixes: A technical fix means to find an engineering or technology based solution to water pollution. Numbers of technical methods do exist, which are affective in removing bacteria and other contaminants from the water. Despite existing of several technical, scientists and researchers are actively involved in devolving new technical methods and implementing different technology-based strategies to tackle water pollution. In this regard, the latest development is the use of nanotechnology. In particular, this technology is applied in four key segments of water business. These key segments are monitoring of water, desalinization of water, purification of water and the forth one – and more vital – is the treatment of contaminated water or wastewater. It is very likely that the use of nanotechnology would significantly help us in reducing water related issues in general and water pollution in particular. However, the issues such as distribution, availability and affordability of the nanotechnology seem still unsolved.
Behavioural Fixes: Behavioural fixes of water pollution refer to the fix which does take place through the change in the behaviour of general people. Any solution to the issue based on the change in public’s perception about and attitude towards the issue would be very effective and result-oriented. Doubtlessly, the significant proportion of water and air pollution is just the result of our bad behaviour towards environment. If we look at our standards of living, we observe that most of practices for living are dirtier in inherent as compared to those of other creatures are on the Earth. While our distant ancestors on our planet too pollute water, the mount of that pollution is much less than the amount that we do. We pollute water through many small activities in our daily life.
The issue of water pollution can be effectively tackled through changing in our own behaviour. We can control or at least reduce water pollution by doing several small changes in our living standards. For instance, we should avoid if it is possible or reduce the level of our use of soaps and detergents that contain high amount of toxics and other contaminants. We can reduce the level of pollution by keeping our machinery in good working conditions. The reduction in water pollution can also be achieved by leaning up beaches and waterways and avoiding the use of plastic bags and salt to de-ice our roads and footpaths. These are the few examples of how changes in our behaviour can help keeping water safe and healthy.
Administrative Fixes: Administrative or management fixes are the fixes that are the results of best management practices. Water-friendly management practices are referred with the name of the Best Management Practices ((BMPs) in USA and Canada. With regards to water pollution, the BMPs are those that help to reduce or prevent water pollution. These practices are applied before as well as after the activities which is highly related with water pollution. Like technical fixes, the selection of the practices is very hot issue. The appropriate selection of these practices is necessary to reduce water pollution effectively and efficiently. A general belief is that at first stage, the BMP should be specified and then it should be applied to a pollutant object. At second stage, the results of the BMP should be observed and then in lights of these observations (new information), the BMP should be re-tuned to get reliable and better results. This all is called iteration process.
Regulatory Fixes: A regulatory fix occurs with the results of regulations. Governments and authorities make rule and regulations for reducing water pollution. Several acts and legislations exist both at national as well as at global level to control water pollution. Some of examples of those are already discussed above. Green Tax and carbon tax is another example of regulatory fixes. Along with national and global levels, rules can also be defined at local levels to protect water from pollution. The theory of economic suggests that taxation is the most effective and efficient method to protect water from being polluted. Government can tax on products those productions or consumption can cause water pollution.
This note provides a brief discussion on water pollution sources, with a specific focus on fixes of water pollution. Agriculture waste, industrial discharges and domestic sewage are the principle drivers of water pollution. Oil and gas spills also significantly contribute in water pollution. Growing population, the development of small-scale industries in rural areas, and unplanned urbanization are also a serious threat to water pollution. Further, several human activities in daily life are directly related to water pollution.
The note also discusses many methods and approaches that are generally used to reduce water pollution. Technical fixes are most effective in doing treatment of wastewater and controlling water pollution. It is also explored that changes in general public’s behaviour towards environment are important to reduce water pollution. Likewise, the best management practices are significant in decreasing water-related issues. Taxation, rewards and penalties have also a significant role to play in controlling water pollution.
I conclude my discussion with the following remarks. Although the public’s awareness of water pollution is much higher nowadays than in the past, there is need to develop more sophisticated methods and find new ways to reduce water pollution. Further, available technologies for contaminated water treatment are expensive and limited in their use. Thus, there is a crucial need to formulate the methods and practices that are affordable, easy available and more effective in reducing water pollution. To harvest better performance of the fixes of water pollution, regulator authorities should have to make more clear and transparent regulations. In sum, policy statements must be applicable and understandable alike. I write this note with an aim to contribute my part in spreading the awareness about one of the most challenging issues of the 21st century: Water Pollution.
Abdul Rashid is M. Phil and MAS in economics and currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Sheffield, UK. He can be reached at email@example.com