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The water pollution crisis


  • Pollution, pollution,
  • You can use the latest toothpaste,
  • And then rinse your mouth with industrial waste.

Tom Lehrer, lyrics from his 1965 song Pollution

The effects humans have on the water cycle and fresh water supply described one aspect of the global water crisis, specifically the water shortages that afflict many arid and densely populated areas. The global water crisis also involves water pollution, because to be useful for drinking and irrigation, water must not be polluted beyond certain thresholds. According to the World Health Organization, in 2008 approximately 880 million people in the world (or 13% of world population) did not have access to improved (safe) drinking water ( World Health Statistics, 2010 ) ( [link] ). At the same time, about 2.6 billion people (or 40% of world population) lived without improved sanitation ( [link] ), which is defined as having access to a public sewage system, septic tank, or even a simple pit latrine. Each year approximately 1.7 million people die from diarrheal diseases associated with unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene, e.g., hand washing with soap. Almost all of these deaths are in developing countries, and around 90% of them occur among children under the age of 5 (see Figure [link] ). Compounding the water crisis is the issue of social justice; poor people more commonly lack clean water and sanitation than wealthy people in similar areas. Globally, improving water, sanitation, and hygiene could prevent up to 9% of all disease and 6% of all deaths. In addition to the global waterborne disease crisis, chemical pollution from agriculture, industry, cities, and mining threatens global water quality. Some chemical pollutants have serious and well-known health effects; however, many others have poorly known long-term health effects. In the U.S. currently more than 40,000 water bodies fit the definition of “impaired” set by EPA (See Figure [link] ), which means they could neither support a healthy ecosystem nor meet water quality standards. In Gallup public polls conducted over the past decade Americans consistently put water pollution and water supply as the top environmental concerns over issues such as air pollution, deforestation, species extinction, and global warming.

map of proportion of population using improved drinking water sources in 2008
Proportion of Population by Country Using Improved Drinking Water Sources in 2008 Improved drinking water sources, e.g., household connections, public standpipes, boreholes, protected dug wells and springs, and rainwater collections, are defined as those more likely to provide safe water than unimproved water sources, e.g., unprotected wells and springs, vendor-provided water, bottled water (unless water for other uses is available from an improved source), and tanker truck-provided water. Source: World Health Organization

map of proportion of population using improved sanitation facilities in 2008
Proportion of Population by Country Using Improved Sanitation Facilities in 2008 Improved sanitation facilities, e.g., connection to public sewers or septic systems, pour-flush latrines, pit latrines, and ventilated improved pit latrines, are defined as those more likely to be sanitary than unimproved facilities, e.g., bucket latrines, public latrines, and open pit latrines. Source: World Health Organization

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Source:  OpenStax, Principles of biology. OpenStax CNX. Aug 09, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11569/1.25
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