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UN Sounds Alarm Over Health, Ecological Impacts of Wastewater

NAIROBI, Kenya

Unregulated liquid waste discharges pose a serious threat to human and ecological health, UN-Water warned in a new report released on February 2nd.

The Rapid Assessment Report on Waste Water Management revealed that only 20 percent of wastewater is being treated globally, and rapid industrialization and population growth are making the problem worse.

“Wastewater has featured heavily in the discussions on the post-2015 development agenda. Countries have recognized that economic and sustainable development must incorporate water quality," said UN-Water Chair Michel Jarraud.

The report was produced by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-Habitat).

It warned that wastewater management has been neglected by governments and industries as they rush to commercialize drinking water production. Disjointed policies, low technology uptake and poor urban planning have compounded the challenge of unsafe effluent disposal.

While poor wastewater management is widespread in developing countries, Africa bears the brunt of the problem, the report said.

An estimated 547 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa lack access to basic sanitation, hence the high toll of communicable diseases and loss of GDP. In Kenya alone, 1 percent of the country’s GDP -- equivalent to $347 million USD -- is lost annually due to poor sanitation, the report said.

It said governments could invest in low-cost technologies and scale up public education to promote better liquid waste management in towns and cities.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner noted that wastewater can be converted into a resource through adoption of simple, affordable technologies.

“It is high time we turned the wastewater challenge into an opportunity,” he said. “Technology has made it possible to reclaim wastewater and use it to irrigate 20-45 million hectares worldwide.”

A number of mega-cities have already introduced on-site water treatment facilities to minimize the burden of communicable diseases.

UN-Habitat Executive Director Joan Clos stressed that local innovations and robust public private partnerships were crucial to strengthening municipal wastewater management.

“To be successful and sustainable, wastewater management must be an integral part of the critical levers of urban planning and legislation, resulting in productive, healthy and livable cities,” Clos said.

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