The Effects of Industrial Pollution on Ecosystems and Human Well-Being Exploring the links between ecosystems and human well-being, this article looks at the effects of industrial pollution on water quality and their impacts. Informed by a recent UNEP report “Clearing the Waters: A focus on water quality solutions”, released on World Water Day, 22 March, 2010, and also by other UN reports, the article highlights pathways to arrive at the sustainable management of human activities and processes within ecosystems, for improved water quality globally. Humans are dependent upon ecosystem services such as air, water, food, and for provision of materials for development and construction. While the importance of ecosystems and their services cannot be underestimated, a wide range of human and natural processes have altered the way they function, eroding their capacity to deliver these vital ecosystem services for human well-being. Water is vital for life, but also supports ecosystems, e.g. inland water ecosystems 8
that provide a multitude of services, inof our time, threatening the stability and cluding water, fish, habitat, cultural and prosperity of the human population, and aesthetic values, and flood prevention, and hindering efforts aimed at: growth, social also supports non-consumptive on-stream and economic development, the eradication uses such as navigation. Although freshwaof extreme poverty and equity – all essenter ecosystems comprise tial for achieving the Milless than 1 per cent of the “Lack of effective management lennium Development planet’s surface, some 12 of water resources that ensures Goals (MDGs). While per cent of described spesustainable availability of many countries focus on cies live in freshwater and addressing problems of water remains the biggest more than 25 per cent of hunger and malnutrition, challenge of our time.” the worlds described verwater quality continues tebrate species depend on freshwater ecoto be degraded worsening per capita water systems at some point in their lifecycle. In availability. Governments still struggle in recent years, the biodiversity of freshwater their endeavour to ensure equitable and ecosystems has been degraded more than sustainable access to adequate quantities any other ecosystem, including tropical of water, of acceptable quality for human rainforests (MA , 2005b). and environmental uses today, more than The significance of biodiversity in an ever before. Water is linked to the multiple ecosystem and complex interrelations with challenges of climate change, energy and other components determines the structure food supplies and prices, and troubled fiand productivity of ecosystems, as well as nancial markets. contributing to their functionality. Poor water quality has many economic costs associated with it, including degradaWater and development tion of ecosystem services; health-related Lack of effective management of water recosts; impacts on economic activities such sources that ensures sustainable availabilas agriculture, industrial production, and ity of water remains the biggest challenge tourism; increased water treatment costs;
Photo: Jimmy Mohlin
the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger (WWAP, 2009). When water resources of acceptable quality can no longer be provided in sustainable quantities, the outcome can be overexploitation of aquatic ecosystems as people draw more for storage purposes, with the ultimate losers being the ecosystems and organisms (including humans) dependent on them for survival and well-being. While conventional water management has mainly focused on water quantity, poor water quality has an impact on the quantity of water available to man in a number of ways. Worldwide, unsafe or inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene cause approximately 1.7 million deaths a year (WHO, 2002). While the majority of the health threats posed by poor water quality is the result of microbial contaminants and...
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