What goes around must come around – OPINION – The Hindu
Wastewater management receives too little social or political attention
- Wastewater is often an afterthought — flushed and forgotten — whether from household or commercial use
- The 2017 United Nations’ Water Development Programme’s World Water Development Report (WWDR) – Wastewater: The Untapped Resource makes clear that we can no longer afford this disconnect.
- The report, to be officially released today on World Water Day, notes that more than 80% of the world’s wastewater — over 95% in some least developed countries — is released into the environment untreated
- Relevant to Asia-Pacific
- Untreated wastewater poses a threat to both human health and our aquatic ecosystems, and is a challenge that is particularly acute in Asia-Pacific.
- This region is in the midst of a profound urban shift that is straining its already limited infrastructure and capacity to effectively treat wastewater
- As of 2009, an estimated 30% of urban dwellers in the region lived in slums, low-income areas, where wastewater is often discharged into the nearest surface drain or informal drainage channel.
- Socioeconomic factors typically determine access to efficient wastewater management services that can more effectively deal with such pollution loads.
- The WWDR estimates that for every $1 spent on sanitation, society benefits by an estimated $5.5, and notes that “neglecting the opportunities arising from improved wastewater management is nothing less than unthinkable in the context of a circular economy”.
- Untapped resource
- A circular economy is one in which economic development and environmental sustainability are interdependent, with a strong emphasis on minimising pollution, while maximising reuse and recycling.
- When safely treated, wastewater can be a source of water, energy, nutrients and other recoverable materials that is both affordable and sustainable.
- The extraction of wastewater by-products such as salt, nitrogen and phosphorous has proven lucrative in Asia-Pacific. In Southeast Asia, revenues from fertilizer have paid for the operational costs of the systems to extract them several times over.
- the World Economic Forum warned that the water crisis would be the greatest global risk faced by people and economies over the next 10 years. The problem is particularly severe in Asia-Pacific — two-thirds of the world’s population live in areas that experience water scarcity for at least one month per year and about 50% of these people live in China and India.
- The Singapore example
- Singapore, for example, is using reclaimed water, branded “NEWater”, to serve up to 30% of its needs
- While largely used for industrial purposes, the water is potable and demonstrates what can be accomplished through innovative policy approaches.
- More effective and efficient management of wastewater requires greater support of municipalities and local governments, which often lack the human and financial resources they need to enforce environmental rules and improve infrastructure and services.
- As we pursue the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the 663 million people around the world who still lack improved sources of drinking water put into perspective the urgency of our mission.
- ustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 specifically focusses on water and sanitation, with Target 3 addressing water quality, but the availability of water is a cross-cutting issue upon which every aspect of development hinges.
- water is life, and without a sustained commitment to improving and benefiting from effective wastewater management, that precious resource, and the billions of lives it nourishes, are in peril.