Water pollution is the term given to the undesirable effect of the addition of foreign objects to any body of water. The term first entered widespread use during the 1980s but the phenomenon had been around for many years, and especially a result of industrialization in countries. Water pollution is a problem that exists today although better water treatment facilities and mitigation efforts are sought. The problem is particularly severe in developing nations. In addition, since roughly two-thirds of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, humans become easily susceptible to the ill effects of contamination.
Toxic substances and thermal pollution are the two leading causes of water pollution. Toxic substances can be man made; from the by-products of chemical compounds and industrial facilities or organic; matter from sewage or human and animal waste. Thermal pollution occurs exclusively due to human activity, the dramatic changes in water temperature from the operations of industrial facilities. Physical pollution occurs when rivers, lakes and streams are used as dump.
The coast of the Philippines depicts water pollution, a problem affecting most of the world in one form or another.
The most common ill effect of water pollution on humans is disease. This is especially true in less developed countries where water sanitation is inadequate or simply nonexistent. Parasites and microorganisms may be transported by water and subsequently consumed by humans. Common waterborne diseases include typhoid, intestinal parasites, and diarrhea. Although these diseases are preventable by vaccination and curable by existing medicines, people continue to become sick largely due to the ongoing problem of water pollution caused by disease-carrying microorganisms. Diseases and other ailments may also be caused by non-organic matter like harmful chemicals. Ingestion of water laced with such chemicals could result in physical deformities, organ failure, and even death.
Water pollution could even indirectly affect people through the food chain. Toxic substances that are deposited in water may be accidentally consumed by aquatic organisms, such as fish. Fish could lose some of their inherent nutrients or even succumb to the toxicity. When people consume contaminated fish, some effects of the toxicity are passed on to them, resulting in physical conditions similar to what they would experience if they came in direct contact with the substances themselves.
The red tide phenomenon is another well-known example of the effects of water pollution with an indirect effect on humans. The spread of organic wastes in water leads to an increase in algae, certain types of which are toxic. When algae die because of overpopulation, they decompose and in doing so deprive the water of its oxygen content. A low oxygen level will enable any body of water to support only a few indigenous organisms or perhaps none at all. For people living in coastal areas who depend on fishing as their primary means of livelihood, they will be forced to look for other sources of food and income to sustain their respective communities.
Water pollution can also results in flooding. Solid wastes piling up in waterways cause congestion in the flow of water from rivers, lakes, and oceans. Water then spills out of these waterways and onto areas where it is not meant to flow in quantity, and this often causes flooding. In turn people may lose their homes, or worse their lives.
With water pollution being detrimental to humans in so many ways, the logical and only solution would be to address both causes and effects. Both public and private sectors worldwide are already hard at work to prevent further causes from ever materializing as well as repairing the damage already done. Unfortunately, even with all the measures in place, the fact remains that water pollution and its effects are still a long way from being permanently eliminated. We need more solutions and quick! –E.MESKHI