A new United Nations report titled Wastewater Management, A UN-Water Analytical Brief, was released February 2. The report was produced by the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), and UN-Habitat, on behalf of UN-Water.

The report details the environmental, economic, and health effects that untreated wastewater has around the world. It points out that only 20 per cent of global wastewater is being treated today globally, and that nearly 70 per cent of industrial discharge in developing nations is left untreated.

“Wastewater management has been neglected in the rush to commercialize drinking water production, a situation exacerbated by a fragmented water management system in many countries, and the use of different technologies that are often designed separately and retrofitted to existing systems,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

Naturally, low-income nations are the hardest hit by the problem and suffer the brunt of contaminated water sources and resulting disease. Many African nations, in particular, are heavily impacted by untreated wastewater. According to the 2014 Africa Water and Sanitation Report, upwards of 547 million Africans lack access to basic sanitation.

On the environmental side, the report calls damage being done to ecosystems and biodiversity ‘dire,’ explaining that eutrophication has reduced biodiversity in rivers, lakes, and wetlands by about a third globally.

“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,” said Joan Clos, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN-Habitat. “The upcoming UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, Habitat III, will be an opportunity to underscore the importance of effective wastewater management and highlight the role of wastewater in the new urban agenda.”


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