Wastewater, an untapped resource

The United Nations World Water Development 2017 report, titled Wastewater: the Untapped Resource, was released on 22 March. The report indicates that for decades people have been using fresh water faster than nature can replace it, contributing in some regions to hunger, disease, conflict and migration. As water scarcity remains a growing problem, the circular economy approach could be key in improving wastewater management to generate social, environmental and economic benefits essential for sustainable development.

Globally, water demand is predicted to increase significantly over the coming decades. In addition to the agricultural sector, which is responsible for 70% of water usage worldwide, large increases in water demand are predicted for both industry and energy production. Added to this is accelerated urbanization resulting in the expansion of municipal water supply and sanitation systems.

The UN Environment Programme forecasts that water demand for industry, energy and an extra billion people will increase 50% by 2030.

The availability of water resources is also intrinsically linked to water quality, as the pollution of water sources may prohibit different type of uses. Increased discharges of untreated sewage, combined with agricultural runoff and inadequately treated wastewater from industry, have resulted in the degradation of water quality around the world. If current trends persist, water quality will continue to degrade over the coming decades, particularly in resource-poor countries in dry areas, further endangering human health and ecosystems, contributing to water scarcity and constraining sustainable economic development.

In general, water reuse becomes more economically feasible if the point of reuse is close to the point of production. Treating wastewater to a water quality standard acceptable by a user (i.e. ‘fit-for-purpose’ treatment) increases the potential for cost recovery. The cost implications of using fresh water would encourage businesses to effectively manage wastewater and use it as a sustainable source of water, energy rather than something to be disposed of.

To read more visit on the water report visit http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/environment/water/wwap/wwdr/2017-wastewater-the-untapped-resource/