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Water Pollution's Effects on Struggling Communities

Around the world, it is believed that 2.1 billion people do not yet have access to safe drinking water putting their lives in real danger, every single day. Poverty and the lack of sanitation mean millions of people in the poorest parts of the world are forced into drinking dirty water, exposing themselves to harmful bacteria, disease and immeasurable effects of water pollution in the process. Every living being has the right to water, and to live a life free from harm.

Following years of conflict, poverty and natural disasters like drought affecting communities around the world, including those in places like Gaza and Somalia, the effects of water pollution on human health are all the more obvious. While for various different reasons, the people in these regions are facing a similar plight.

Spotlight on Gaza

The people of Gaza have seen basic services and core infrastructure destroyed through ongoing conflict, with filtration systems not working effectively, allowing sewage, bacteria and disease to contaminate once clean drinking water. Gaza is immensely populated for its size, leaving more than 1 million people at risk from a lack of clean water. Of the water plants that survived the conflict, many have been contaminated and issues with the power supply have made the delivery of water to the people even more difficult.

Spotlight on Somalia

The people of Somalia have faced years of extreme drought, leading to one of the worst recorded famines in history; as a result, poverty and starvation are a real threat to the general population. After years without seasonal rains, the lack of water in Somalia has taken hold. Crops cannot grow, livestock go unfed and the cycle of suffering continues. The loss of food sources, an income and safe water have led to ongoing poverty, famine and dehydration. Desperate families are walking for weeks to find clean water for their children, many of whom are malnourished and suffering from infections and disease from drinking contaminated, dirty water.

Water Pollution

While countries like Gaza and Somalia have suffered from a lack of clean water through no fault of their own, across the world there are countless more people suffering due to water pollution. Causes and effects are far and wide but the impact it has is just as devastating for the world.

When it comes to worldwide water pollution, knowledge is power. Want to know more about this devastating phenomenon and how you can help? Keep reading our frequently asked questions for further insight.

What is water pollution?

Put simply, water pollution is the contamination of water through human activity. Streams, rivers, lakes and oceans and even groundwater count as bodies of water that can easily be contaminated, which can be extremely harmful.

Water is hugely important to human and animal life; being conservative with water use and maintaining the water we have so it is clean and usable is a high priority around the world. There are many ways in which water can be polluted and almost all of them are because of the actions of humans. Running contaminants such as chemicals, sewage or industrial waste into oceans and rivers is a very common cause of water pollution. Dumped waste and debris, especially plastic has cause prolific water pollution around the world and something has to change.

What are the causes of water pollution?

There are many different causes of water pollution but almost all can be traced back to human activity.

Industrial waste – such as chemicals and toxic pollutants (including lead, mercury, sulfur, asbestos) are often drained into fresh water, leading to rivers, canals, lakes and the sea. As well as contaminating bodies of water, these chemicals can lead to a change of colour and even temperature in the water, which can cause significant harm to water organisms.

Sewage – Every home in the western world has sewage and wastewater produced; this water is chemically treated and then released back into the sea while sewage is left to decompose.

Marine dumping – some countries dispose of waste into the sea, and many of these items – plastic, glass, rubber – can take a very long time to decompose. As a result, we are seeing more and more waste washed up on beaches, and a huge amount of marine life suffering as a result of this water pollution.

Agriculture – farmers around the world use chemical fertilisers and pesticides to help protect their crops and encourage growth. However, when combined with water these chemicals can be quite harmful if ingested, especially for aquatic life. In addition, animal waste often gets washed away into bodies of water, which can lead to the spread of diseases such as diarrhoea, dysentery and typhoid.

Development – Increased development, especially in urban areas puts a higher demand on the demand for housing, food and clothing. This, in turn, leads to an increase in crop requirement, construction waste and landfill needs are heightened. This adds to the other causes and effects of water pollution.

Oil Spills – although oil spills are accidental, they are hugely destructive to marine life, including birds, fish and other inhabitants of the oceans. Oil spills can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years to clean up.

Radioactive waste – one of the by-products of nuclear energy is Uranium, which is known to be highly toxic.

Nuclear waste needs to be disposed of very carefully or it will lead to a serious environmental hazard.

Fossil fuels – when fossil fuels are burnt and used up, they release ash into the atmosphere. When mixed with water vapour, this creates acid rain. While the rain itself is not harmful, the pollutants it contains can be. In addition, an excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also contributes to global warming.

Global Warming – the greenhouse effect on the earth has led to increasing water temperatures leading to the death of many different types of marine life. In turn, this has caused additional water pollution.

What are the different types of water pollution?

As well as the many different causes, there is also a range of different types of water pollution, which are typically determined by the source:

  • Surface water pollution – surface water that has become contaminated can be intentional (through industrial waste) or accidental (oil spills)
  • Groundwater pollution – Contaminants such as pesticides or fertilisers can make their way into groundwater through rainwater
  • Chemical pollution – probably the most common type of pollution, industrial and agricultural waste can result in soil and water becoming contaminated
  • Nutrient pollution – excessive nutrients, such as those found in fertilisers, can cause vegetation to grow rapidly if it has been washed into a body of water; in turn, this can lead to drinking water contamination
  • Oxygen depletion – increased vegetation is a feast for aquatic microorganisms, whose multiply when there is an abundance of food on offer. This limits the oxygen in the water, killing off the aerobic organisms and allowing the anaerobic ones to thrive, creating harmful toxins in the water
  • Microbiological pollution – more a natural form of contamination, microbiological pollution leads to the spreading of disease and bacteria
  • Suspended matter – there are many items in bodies of water that do not belong there and are unlikely to dissolve or decompose, such as plastic. They often float, forming a layer on the surface preventing oxygenation of the water. In addition, items that do not float are likely to cause harm to marine life or emit toxins into the water

What are the effects of water pollution?

The effects of water pollution are vast, and affect all living creatures, whether human, animal or aquatic.

Effects on human health: polluted bodies of water can have a vast difference on the quality of life for many humans around the world, most typically in countries like Gaza and Somalia that don’t easily have access to clean drinking water. The most common effect on human health, besides dehydration, is passing on harmful bacteria and disease, including Cholera, Dysentery, Typhoid, Botulism and even Hepatitis A and E. Left untreated, many of these diseases can cause serious harm and even fatalities. Alongside this, drinking contaminated water can lead to complications in pregnancy including low birth rate. Even illness, such as diarrhoea, salmonella and E.Coli can be transmitted through contaminated water which can also be dangerous if left untreated.

Effects on animals and marine life: like humans, animals, fish and plants also depend on water and contaminated water poses a serious threat to life.

Effect on ecosystems and the food chain: oxygen depletion through water pollution is just one way that ecosystems can be seriously harmed, it can even wipe out entire parts of the food chain. This can lead to the death of other fish and marine life or allow others to overpopulate due to a lack of predators.

How can we prevent water pollution?

The simplest way to prevent water pollution is to make small changes in your everyday life that can lead to water contamination. This includes reducing throwaway plastic consumption, disposing of chemicals, oils and non-biodegradables properly, using alternatives to pesticides, utilising more organic products, reducing your carbon footprint by using public transport or eating less meat. Recycling and reusing where possible, you will be reducing the need for industrial production.

Want to do more?

Here at Muslim Aid, we understand just how important access to clean, safe water is, and our goal is to help provide this. Our Global Water campaign helped families around the world access clean water, protecting them from sickness and disease and ensuring they never go without again.

A regular donation can help us provide families around the world with essential water for drinking, sanitation and hygiene. Alternatively, a one-off payment of £60 or £120 can provide a person or family with water. For just £200, you can help contribute towards a sustainable water solution that can help struggling communities survive a drought.

Donate today and give the gift that keeps on giving - water.

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