wastewater treatment is crucial for human health and ecosystems

Effective wastewater management systems are vital to preserving human health. On the occasion of World Health Day , we recall the importance of increasing access to safe sanitation systems.

Globally, contaminated water poses significant risks of diarrhea, infections and malnutrition, causing 1.7 million deaths a year, half of them in children. 90% of these deaths occur in developing countries and mainly due to ingestion of human or animal fecal pathogens.

Globally, the volume of wastewater will increase with population growth. And as the global economy and income expand, the content of hazardous chemicals, poisons, and waste associated with modern lifestyles will also increase. The problem is particularly acute in densely populated areas that lack treatment facilities.


An example is the Ravi River in Pakistan. This body of water supplies around 500 million people, roughly equivalent to the population of Canada, the United States, and Russia combined. The Ganges, in addition to providing water for cooking, bathing, irrigating crops and maintaining livelihoods, has great spiritual and cultural value for many people.

A study January 2018 published in Water Research found that the concentration of fecal coliforms in water is strongly related to the population density upstream, and the river receives approximately 100 times more wastewater per capita in urban populations in the rural ones.

                                                                         The Ganges, the sacred and most polluted river in Pakistan

According to the organization Ravi Action , sewage treatment plants in the Ganges are expensive and can easily overflow during monsoons; 30% were not operational in 2013, and others used less than 60% of installed capacity. Additionally, they cannot treat toxic waste from heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, or personal care products; they are often shut down due to power outages and are often idle due to high maintenance and operating costs.

The Ganges case portrays the challenges faced by most developing countries. The process of wastewater treatment in Pakistan requires a constant and reliable power supply, which is not available in many developing countries.

In addition, it is necessary to invest in the infrastructure to bring the water to be treated to the treatment plants. Both stages are crucial to ensure that polluting waste does not reach the environment.

“The urgency to invest, not only in sewers, but in wastewater treatment has never been greater. Building more sewers without the respective water treatment will worsen the pollution of rivers ”, warns Birger Lamina, specialist in wastewater at the UN Environment.

                                                                                             Treatment plant in Lucknow, Pakistan

Leaving no one behind

Effective wastewater treatment is essential for good public health. In 2010, the United Nations recognized “the right to clean and safe drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential to a full life.” and all human rights.

More than 80% of the world’s wastewater is discharged into the environment without treatment, a figure that reaches 95% in some less developed countries. Today, only 26% of urban services and 34% of rural sanitation and wastewater services effectively prevent human contact with excreta throughout the sanitation chain and can therefore be considered safe.

Good health and well-being are included in Sustainable Development Goal 3 , which includes these goals:

  • By 2030, end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, waterborne diseases and other communicable diseases.
  • By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water, and soil pollution

UN Environment is collaborating with partners to prevent degradation and pollution caused by wastewater, through the Global Action Program for the protection of the marine environment from activities carried out on land.

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