Every human being should have access to clean water for drinking, cooking, bathing, and washing clothes.

However, in the 21st century , the reality is far from this.

Population growth, rising living standards and the industrialization of many parts of the developing world has put extreme pressure on water resources. The challenges range from too much water in Nepal and Bangladesh leading to catastrophic flooding and loss of life, to far too little in some parts of the Middle East and N Africa.

The UN estimated that in 2003 over 40% of the world’s population did not have access to clean water or lived in areas with serious water pollution. If major climate change occurs, this figure could rise dramatically.

There are solutions to this growing crisis, but they require good governance and much investment. The conservation and recycling of water must be improved; new, affordable methods of desalination must be found; and unsustainable water subsidies for agriculture should be ended. Failure to do this will impoverish billions, provoking large-scale migrations and even war.

Industrialization and population growth strain global resources. Water is the most basic resource for life, but also one of the most threatened.

Without it, manufacturing, energy generation and food production would all be impossible. The pollution of river systems and seas and the shrinking per-capita availability of water will seriously affect the quality of life of most of the world’s population in coming decades.

Spread of disease : Drinking polluted water can cause cholera or typhoid infections, along with diarrhoea.
Affects body organs : The consumption of highly contaminated water can cause injury to the heart and kidneys.
Blindness : exposure to contaminated water is a common cause of eye infections leading to blindness.
Death : Premature death, or infant deaths, are a very sad outcome for those who are forced to use polluted water when there is no other option available.

In the developed world, access to clean water is taken for granted. Not so in India, where 48 per cent of the population of 1.3 billion – or over six hundred million people – do not have access to clean water. Millions of people die every year in India due to drinking, bathing, cooking with, and washing clothes in contaminated water. Over 500 thousand children under the age of 5 will die this year, tragically and unnecessarily, from exposure to contaminated water.

Can you imagine bathing in water that was filthy, smelly, and that you knew was contaminated with sewerage and industrial waste ? That is what almost half the people of India are forced to do.

A 2007 study finds that discharge of untreated sewage is single most important cause for pollution of surface and ground water in India.

The problem is not only that India lacks sufficient treatment capacity but also that the sewage treatment plants that exist do not operate and are not maintained.

The wastewater generated in these areas normally percolates in the soil or evaporates. The uncollected wastes accumulate in the urban areas cause unhygienic conditions and release pollutants that leaches to surface and groundwater.

Downstream, the untreated water is used for drinking, bathing, and washing. A 1995 report claimed 114 Indian cities were dumping untreated sewage and partially cremated bodies directly into the Ganges River.

Population coverage in rural areas by sanitary latrines is at about 16% and overall in the country coverage is about 48%.23 Most people in rural India defecate outdoors, near the village itself or in the fields. Some people believe it is more hygienic than using a latrine because excreta is deposited away from their homes. However, the majority of people who defecate outside do not cover or dispose of their excreta. This causes serious problems in the rainy season.

According to another 2005 report, sewage discharged from cities and towns is the predominant cause of water pollution in India. Investment is needed to bridge the gap between 29000 million litres per day of sewage India generates, and a treatment capacity of mere 6000 million litres per day.

A large number of Indian rivers are severely polluted as a result of discharge of domestic sewage.

When surface water is used as a supply it is often contaminated with harmful microbial pathogens. These are usually in the form of faecal choliforms where animals and sometimes people have excreted into the water supply that is being used for drinking.

Diseases such as diarrhoea, dysentery, typhoid, cholera and hepatitis are caused by consuming water contaminated in this manner. With increased provision of biologically safe drinking water, mortality rates among children under five have declined from 236 per 1000 in 1960 to 105 in 1998. However, half a million children under five still die in India annually due to water-borne diseases.

In 2008, the water quality monitoring found almost all rivers with high levels of BOD. The worst pollution, in decreasing order, were found in river Markanda (590 mg O/l), followed by river Kali (364), river Amlakhadi (353), Yamuna canal (247), river Yamuna at Delhi (70) and river Betwa (58).

For context, a water sample with a 5 day BOD between 1 and 2 mg O/L indicates a very clean water, 3 to 8 mg O/L indicates a moderately clean water, 8 to 20 indicates borderline water, and greater than 20 mg O/L indicates ecologically-unsafe polluted water.


Direct disposal of waste into natural waterways causes waste to build up within the water. A pungent odour is the result. Additionally, this waste decreases the amount of oxygen in water, causing the death of aquatic animals or other organisms.

The emission of toxic fumes into the air causes acid rain. When the acid rain falls, it contaminates local natural waterways including streams, rivers and lakes. This causes the death of many aquatic animals. Other animals drinking the water may become ill and die, too.

Unregulated and overexploited ground water extraction has resulted in groundwater depletion and the resultant decline in water quality. Furthermore, excess fluoride, arsenic, nitrate, iron and salinity are causing health hazards for large numbers of people.

The water shortages in the cities has also spawned water purification industries and companies producing bottled water, many of them unlicensed and thus not guaranteed to produce safe drinking water. In Delhi the government water board, the Delhi Jal Board (DJB), has identified at least 15 such illegal plants operating in the city.

This means that people who think they are drinking clean water may in fact be being mislead and hence are even more likely to be affected by water-borne diseases.

Chemicals and nutrients added to the soil can soak into the underground water supplies. Additionally, when it rains, these chemicals join the run-off water and flow into streams, rivers and lakes, thus polluting them. Even just the sediments of dirt, without any chemicals, are pollutants in the fact that they cause the waterways to become cloudy and muddy.

Households are a leading cause of water pollution by the trash they create. Even if taken to landfills, often this trash finds its way to natural waterways. Human waste, disposed of typically by sewers, pollute water.  If a septic system is not installed properly or bursts beneath the ground, the underground water supply may be polluted. Oils and anti-freeze leaked from vehicles also pollute water.

Plastic bags choke India’s waterways, and even the aquifers that lie closest to the surface.

The best solution for water pollution is prevention. While pollution that has already occurred is a current threat to all life on Earth, attempts to clean it up may cause even more harm.

Preventing water pollution does more for the environment by halting the level of pollutants where they are. This gives the environment needed time to begin to correct itself, and time for scientists to determine the best way to combat existing problems.

(1) Selden Thomas M. and Song Daqing (1994). “Environmental Quality and Development: Is There a Kuznets Curve for Air Pollution Emissions?”. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 27 (2): 147–162.
(2)  “Evaluation Of Operation And Maintenance Of Sewage Treatment Plants In India-2007”. CENTRAL POLLUTION CONTROL BOARD, Ministry of Environment & Forests. 2008.
(3)Russell Hopfenberg and David Pimentel HUMAN POPULATION NUMBERS AS A FUNCTION OF FOOD SUPPLY oilcrash.com
(4)National Geographic Society. 1995. Water: A Story of Hope. Washington (DC): National Geographic Society
(5) The Politics of Toilets, Boloji
(6) “Status of Sewage Treatment in India”. Central Pollution Control Board, Ministry of Environment & Forests, Govt of India. 2005. “Central Pollution Control Board, India, Annual Report 2008–2009”. Central Pollution Control Board, Ministry of Environment & Forests, Govt of India. 2009.
(7)”Water Supply and Sanitation in India, Tristan Fletcher, 2002 MET II Long Project, Cambridge University.