United Nations study examines global challenges in obtaining clean water

March 23, 2010 | General RCAP News

A United Nations report says that use of bottled water is increasing worldwide, but it takes more than three quarts of water to produce one quart of bottled water. In the United States alone, production of bottled water takes an additional 17 million barrels of oil. 

Worldwide, 200,000 million liters of bottled water are produced every year, also creating an enormous waste problem from discarded plastic bottles.   The report was released March 22 on U.N.-designated World Water Day by the global body’s Environmental Program.   Titled “Sick Water? The Central Role of Wastewater Management for Sustainable Development,” the report focuses on global water challenges, especially in developing countries, where the problem of securing clean water is most acute. But the report also identifies examples of more affluent methods of water consumption such as bottled water that have high costs on both the production and post-production ends.   The report says transforming wastewater from a major health and environmental hazard into a clean, safe and economically-attractive resource is emerging as a key challenge in the 21st century.   Unless decisive action is taken, according the report, this challenge will continue to intensify as the world undergoes rapid urbanization, industrialization and increasing demand for meat and other foods.   Urban populations are projected to nearly double in 40 years, from a current 3.4 billion to over six billion people – but already most cities lack adequate wastewater system due to aging, absent or inadequate infrastructure.   Among the solutions the report proposes to reduce dirty water are investing and re-investing in natural purification systems, which include wetlands, mangroves and salt marshes.   Studies in the Mississippi Valley indicate that the value of a restored wetland may be as high as more than $1,000 a hectare if its full range of services, from water filtration to recreational use, is factored in.   Establishing markets and economic instruments for such services could offer the kind of financial incentives that favor conservation and restoration over draining wetlands for farmland.   Achim Steiner, U.N. Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP), said: “If the world is to thrive, let alone to survive, on a planet of six billion people heading to over nine billion by 2050, we need to get collectively smarter and more intelligent about how we manage waste including wastewaters.”   “But the report also points to the abundant Green Economy opportunities for turning a mounting challenge into an opportunity with multiple benefits. These include the savings from reduced fertilizer costs for farmers and incentives for conserving ecological infrastructure such as wetlands alongside new business and employment opportunities in engineering and natural resource management,” said Steiner.   A recent report by the UNEP Green Economy Initiative underlined the economic benefits of investing in clean water. It argues that every dollar invested in safe water and sanitation has a payback of $3 to $34 depending on the region and the technology deployed.   Download the full “Sick Water? The Central Role of Wastewater Management for Sustainable Development” report (PDF)   Visit the Sick Water? website