Among the most urgent concerns for the future is to have enough water to sustain a human population projected to reach 9.6 billion people by 2050. The UN Millennium Development Goals recognize that access to water and sanitation is essential to economic development and poverty alleviation. However, global consumption patterns indicate that we are becoming more water profligate, and the waste that pollutes water supplies generally remains an unmitigated hazard. According to some estimates, 70 percent of drinking water in India is contaminated by sewage, which is a significant impediment to equitable development that occurs in many lower-income countries. The UN estimated that if water consumption trends continue unabated, 1.8 billion people will experience water shortages as soon as 2025. Among solutions with great potential are the development and deployment of technologies that use wastewater as a resource, which can generate incentives for industries and municipalities to treat waste that is otherwise discharged into vital waterways.
Read a 3-part Breaking Energy series on wastewater recycling in the oil and gas industry here.
Effective wastewater management can grow an economy and protect the environment. The World Bank estimates that infrastructure for sanitation can reward investment fivefold, whereas poor sanitation can drain up to seven percent of GDP each year. That is because healthcare costs are lower and labor is more productive when workers are healthy. Pursuit of prudent strategies for water management will be more active if we recognize the resource potential of wastewater, which is a powerful opportunity for sustainable economic development and growth. Wastewater treatment is a desirable process for mitigating the hazards of agricultural, industrial, and municipal by-products. However, investors are wary to finance water infrastructure projects demanding high upfront costs and long development periods. That is why multi-billion dollar wastewater treatment facilities are a privilege enjoyed mainly in developed economies and advanced regions in poorer countries. A UN study articulates this disparity; on average, high-income countries treat 70 percent of generated wastewater (North America treats 75 percent, or 61 km3 of wastewater annually), while low-income countries treat only 8 percent of generated wastewater. Because of projections for impending water scarcity, governments in water-poor regions are investing in technologies for desalination and water purification, but their impact will be limited to too few people and they fail to address water pollution more fully.
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