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Water pollution, impacts and sustainable solutions

May 21,2024 - Last updated at May 21,2024

Fresh water, the elixir of life, is facing a growing threat worldwide through water pollution. This threat jeopardises not only our access to clean and safe drinking water but also the health of aquatic ecosystems and all biodiversity that depends on water for survival. In this article, we will explore the causes, consequences and potential solutions to address the menace of water pollution, particularly in a country like Jordan which is often considered one of the most water-scarce nations in the world and where Jordan’s water withdrawal exceeds replenishment, leading to water stress, exacerbating in time, which makes the future of next generations at risk.

It is true that earlier civilisations in our region of the world, like the Phoenician, Greek, Roman and Islamic have damaged the eco systems in the Mediterranean, North Africa and Western Asia, but the severity of the industrial revolution that started around the middle of the 18th century is unmatched in history, probably excluding the eras of great extinctions. Modern industries release a cocktail of chemicals and pollutants into water bodies, including heavy metals, solvents and toxic substances.

Industrial facilities, vehicles, power plants and other sources release various pollutants into the atmosphere that include particulate matter, gases and volatile organic compounds. Once released into the air, transported over long distances by wind and air currents. Eventually, settle onto the Earth’s surface by dry deposition, or by wet deposition when carried by atmospheric moisture, such as rain, snow, or fog, and deposited onto the Earth’s surface. This is often referred to as “acid rain” when it involves acidic pollutants like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. Acid rain can lower the pH of water bodies, making them more acidic, thus harm aquatic life, particularly sensitive species like fish and amphibians.

Once these pollutants reach the water bodies, pollutants like heavy metals (e.g., mercury, lead), can contaminate water, making it unsafe for aquatic life and potentially harmful to human health if the polluted water is used for drinking, agriculture or recreation. Certain airborne pollutants, like nitrogen compounds, can contribute to nutrient pollution in water bodies. This excess nutrient can lead to algal blooms, oxygen depletion and disruptions in aquatic ecosystems.

The use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers in agriculture can lead to run-off that pollutes rivers and lakes. Nutrient pollution, particularly excess nitrogen and phosphorus, can promote harmful algal blooms. Improperly treated sewage and wastewater discharge can introduce harmful bacteria, viruses, and pollutants into water sources, posing significant health risks. Mining operations can release heavy metals and other hazardous materials into rivers and groundwater, causing severe water contamination. Urban areas with impervious surfaces like concrete and asphalt can lead to increased storm water run-off, which carries pollutants into water bodies.

As for health implications contaminated water is a breeding ground for waterborne diseases like cholera and dysentery. Long-term exposure to polluted water can lead to chronic health problems, including cancer and organ damage. Polluted water can lead to mass fish kills, as many species are sensitive to changes in water quality. Water pollution can harm aquatic plants and animals, reducing biodiversity, disrupting food chains and can negatively impact fisheries and tourism industries, leading to economic losses. Treating waterborne diseases and health issues related to water pollution imposes significant costs on healthcare systems.

Solutions to Mitigate Water Pollution include enforcing laws to limit release of pollutants into water bodies improving wastewater treatment facilities, encouraging farmers to reduce use of pesticides and fertilisers and promote organic farming. Protect natural watersheds and wetlands by filtering pollutants before reaching larger bodies of water.

Other actions include environmental education through raising public awareness about water pollution through educational programs. Invest in advanced water filtration and purification technologies to remove contaminants from water sources. Promote the use of green infrastructure, like rain gardens and permeable pavements, to manage storm water. Guide residents how to safely package and transport their household chemicals like paint, solvents, pesticides, cleaning products and batteries. Collected household chemicals should be carefully sorted and transported to licensed disposal facilities where they are treated or disposed of according to environmental regulations.

Efficient water management plays a vital role in building environmental sustainability. Implementing water-saving technologies such as low-flow fixtures, rainwater harvesting systems and greywater recycling. Green roofs involve covering building rooftops with vegetation, which can absorb rainwater, reduce run-off and filter pollutants.

In conclusion, water pollution is a pressing global issue that endangers human health, the environment, and economies. Clean and safe water is a fundamental human right, and it’s our collective responsibility to protect this precious resource. By enforcing regulations, adopting sustainable practices in agriculture, industry, water efficiency and raising public awareness, we can safeguard our water sources and ensure a healthier, more sustainable future. Water is life, and it’s high time we treat it as such by actively combating water pollution.

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