Contaminated water kills more people than wars and violence

Contaminated and polluted water kills more people than all forms of violence including wars, according to the UNEP. Cleaning wastewater would hence make sense even from an economic point of view, not to mention humanitarian.

contaminted water
Do we really want children in the developing world to get used to toxic water?
The world actually face a water crisis, both of quantity and quality, caused by continuous population growth, industrialization, food production practices, increased living standards and poor water use strategies. It is hence essential that wastewater management is considered part of integrated, ecosystem-based management that operates across sectors and borders, freshwater and marine.
Kiling billions of people
The report defines wastewater as a combination of fertilizer runoff, sewage disposal and other animal, agricultural and industrial wastes. Ninety percent of wastewater discharged daily in developing countries is untreated, contributing to the deaths of some 2.2 million people a year from diarrheal diseases caused by unsafe drinking water and poor hygiene. At least 1.8 million children younger than 5 die every year from water-related diseases, the report says.
One solution would be for the West to channel aid into cleaning wastewater. Do you think that would be a sustainable way of both saving lives, cleaning up the environment and making sure aid is used properly? It would actually save more lives than if we could, miraculously, stop all wars.

35 thoughts on “Contaminated water kills more people than wars and violence

  1. Good post. Water pollution is a major global problem which requires ongoing evaluation and revision of water resource policy at all levels (international down to individual aquifers and wells). It has been suggested that it is the leading worldwide cause of deaths and diseases,[1][2] and that it accounts for the deaths of more than 14,000 people daily.[2] An estimated of 580 people in India die of diarrheal sickness every day.[3]Some 90% of China's cities suffer from some degree of water pollution,[4] and nearly 500 million people lack access to safe drinking water.[5] In addition to the acute problems of water pollution in developing countries, developed countries continue to struggle with pollution problems as well. In the most recent national report on water quality in the United States, 45 percent of assessed stream miles, 47 percent of assessed lake acres, and 32 percent of assessed bays and estuarine square miles were classified as polluted.[6]

    Water is typically referred to as polluted when it is impaired by anthropogenic contaminants and either does not support a human use, such as drinking water, and/or undergoes a marked shift in its ability to support its constituent biotic communities, such as fish. Natural phenomena such as volcanoes, algae blooms, storms, and earthquakes also cause major changes in water quality and the ecological status of water. Thanks.@ SUSAN.

  2. “One solution would be for the West to channel aid into cleaning wastewater. Do you think that would be a sustainable way of both saving lives, cleaning up the environment and making sure aid is used properly?”

    Yes, I really do! I come from a country wherein drinking tap water is a no-no whatever part of the country you may be in. If wastewater could turn into potable water, well then, that would be a wonderful way to make good use of whatever little resourced we have left.

    Interesting piece. Thanks for this.


  3. Some thoughts: 1. Integrated pest management and other aspects of chemicals policy might prevent contamination of water as well as hazards to farmers, workers, and the public. 2. Oral rehydration therapy was viewed for some time as an alternative to expensive investment in clean water. I think this was a great mistake. 3. There are periodic reports of struggles over the privatization of water supplies. I cannot imagine that introducing profit-making companies to the control of water is going to do anything but make contamination problems worse for impoverished people.

  4. As a child, my father insisted on conserving water. He insisted that we shut the faucet when we weren't using water — no keeping the water running while washing the dishes — and we didn't need t fill the tub to the top for a bath. This has stayed with me throughout my life. So while we need to find ways to treat water, we also need to conserve the potable water that we have.

  5. I am with Susan. I thought there were organizations show were undertaking waster water clean ups with relatively small machines for villages. So many needless deaths around the world that could easily be prevented.


    1. Rob, UNEP is one such organisation and they are the ones highlighting the huge problems with contaminated water in the developing world. We all know that it's easily prevented. However, the catch is to get developing countries to do so. How do you think they can be persuaded to spend money on cleaning up the water?

  6. If you need to have it checked or not depends in what country your organic garden is. When I lived in London there were for instance problems with tap water in there being contaminated on and off. But in a country like Sweden the water is as clean as bottled water.

  7. I could be wrong, but i thought there were a couple of organisations that focus on this issue. Of course that is not many and your article highlights the need to get the basics right for those on other countries as a priority.

    1. Glad we are of the same opinion Susan. UNEP is one such organisation and they are the ones highlighting the huge problems with contaminated water in the developing world.

  8. Super Preetum because the problem will not be solved until developing countries take responsibility and stop arguing that they can't afford it since they are now developing their economies. The argument that the West didn't face such problems when they industrialized doesn't hold. It's just bad luck when it comes to timing for countries now starting to grow.

    Good idea to regulate multinational investment agreements to include pollution.

  9. This is a sound idea, Catarina. I had no idea the statistics were this bad. The county of Los Angeles and even surrounding counties water supply is supplied by recycled water efforts. I agree that leaders should make this a priority for the betterment of mankind.

  10. I agree with Catherine and Sherryl – this is a great post about such an important issue with a viable potential solution. It is sad that something that is more attainable than stopping wars that can save so many lives is not being considered. "At least 1.8 million children younger than 5 die every year from water-related diseases" is a very unsettling statistic.

  11. Dear Catarina,
    This is indeed a worthy topic of discussion, and I am pleased to see so many commentators having responded positively to it already.
    I would like to bring a political economy question into play, and see how it goes down with readers:

    The problem of sane water is not uniform across the lands of Africa, Asia or elsewhere. In some cases there is a failure to take action at a local level, such as the construction of small dams and reservoirs to have the water in the first place. In other cases, it is the activities of multinational enterprises (MNEs) investing in these countries or areas, using large amounts of water at the expense of water available for residents for basis needs. How we tackle the latter is a major issue not only for the countries attracting such investments (Pepsi Cola company and the like), but the investing countries who are committed to millemium development goals but see the problem only in terms of general aid donations (which are of amounts that beggar any belief).

    The policies or programmes that can be implemented are several track – ranging from local initiatives at constructing common infrastructure that are not abused, and for raising awareness amongst the OECD and other groups of countries at whose initiatives these large costs are being imposed on small and developing countries.

    One more thing, I believe clean and sane water is not only a need but a human right, how else can we have any ability to express other basic human rights, such as decency ahd life.

  12. A hugely important and often overlooked issue, Catarina! Thanks for bringing this up! The ridiculous part is that it's usually cheaper to buy pop instead of filtered water, at least in South America. It's a weird phenomenon, which seems ascribed to the focus on importation and the glamour of foreign goods.

  13. Dear Catarina,

    Great initiative from your side. I am contributing towards this cause in a different way. What happens is once we construct a building with a life of 50-100 years, the pipe connection is laid in the beginning. During the water flow, mainly at the joints and bends, bacteria and fungi get accumulated and it goes on and on for years together.

    Recently signed by with a SWISS based pharmaceutical company to market their products in Asian and Middle East Countries. This company produces disinfectants. They have a patented product, which can be used in the flowing water to make the water zero bacteria 24×7. If it is an existing building, the water connection will have to be stopped for 8 hours and put the product in to the water tank and the pipes. Thereafter, all the taps have to be opened up and throw the water out. Thereafter everyday, a certain amount of this product has to be injected into the water tank, through a mechanized system and the water becomes zero bacteria.

    Currently I am in the process of getting approvals from the Ministry of Health, Drug Control Department, etc. of various countries including UAE, India, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

    Anyone interested in this product, may please get in touch with me directly at vijayakumar dot nair at yahoo dot com. My website is www dot dlvgroup dot com.

    With kind regards,


  14. Catarina,

    This is obscene in the extreme. The industrialized countries should put together a program whereby they provide a turn-key water purification and waste-water management operation to poverty stricken countries. By doing it this way, the urge by governments to siphon off the aid would be thwarted. As far as industrialized countries go, here in the US we need to stop subsidizing ethanol production which consumes enormous quantities of water with no net benefits.

  15. My first trip to India was at age 11. I became severely ill after consuming contaminated water. Couldn't agree more that this issue is a vital one and there is no greater nobiity than enhancing the quality of life or for that matter saving one. Agree with Iqbal, that it would be ideal for all leaders, including those in developing nations to prioritze and pursue their most coveted goals. It cannot be solely the responsibility of the West.

    1. Good comment Keyuri. The days when the West could afford to pay for sorting out all problems in the devoping countries are over. Nowadays growth is taking place in the developing world. And leaders there should priotitize cleaning up contaminated water.

  16. This is the heart breaking reality Catarina. Good job on helping to bring this issue to the forefront. You have a lot of readers. The least we can do is pass this on to help build awareness. Good job!

    1. Thanks Sherryl. Glad we are of the same opinion. Unfortunately the majorities of countries in the world ignore the issue. Not least since we just had a recession that wiped out a lot of money. Not to mention other priorities.

  17. A good thought-provoking post, Catarina.

    To be honest, I've never understood why countries don't do a LOT more about recycling waste-water. It's not difficult: Windhoek (the capital of Namibia) has been doing so since 1968 – and this is a city with a population (then) of about 100 000 people in a country of, then, around a million. The technology scales well and should be easy and affordable for pretty well any city.

    On top of this, there are a plethora of water filtration devices available at very low cost (Tata, for example, recently introduced one that they claim produces enough drinking water for a family of four for around 50 Euro cents a month).

    There is a view that future wars will be fought over water, rather than anything else, but it seems to me that there is no excuse for governments not to do a LOT more in this area than they are doing – the technology is understood, affordable and "green."

  18. Thanks Catarina, for bringing up a very important and serious, but often neglected, matter to people's attention.
    I wish all political leadership in the World, and especially in the developing countries reads your article.
    Clean drinking water is very basic human need. It is taken for granted in the developed countries, but unfortunately, the situation is fast deteriorating in most of the Third World countries, where most available water is not fit for human consumption.

    As a result, in many poor countries water-borne diseases have created national health crises.

    If articles like yours can create a better awareness of this problem, it would be a great service to humanity.

    What needs to be done is to develop appropriate and sustainable technologies for filtering, sanitizing and cleaning water for human consumption. Technologies that are affordable and can be readily adapted to the conditions in the poor developing countries.
    Thanks for bringing up this important issue . We all must pay attention to it.
    Keep up the good work.
    S. Zafar Iqbal

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