About 1,000 new chemicals enter the environment through untreated waste water every year, the World Bank has said.
In a report titled Quality Unknown: The Invisible Water Crisis, the WB notes that synthetic fertilisers meant to transform agriculture have instead caused damage as around 30 to 50 per cent of nitrogen applied to soils leaches into rivers and the air, suffocating aquatic life and worsening climate change.
“Lack of clean water limits economic growth by one-third. It calls for immediate global, national, and local-level attention to these dangers, which face both developed and developing countries,” the report states.
Early exposure of children to nitrates affects their growth and brain development, impacting their health and adult earning potential. The run-off from each kilogramme of nitrogen fertiliser per hectare can increase childhood stunting by as much as 19 per cent.
The report further states that a combination of bacteria, sewage, chemicals and plastics can suck oxygen from water supplies and transform it into poison for people and ecosystems.
The report recommends that countries introduce environmental policies and standards, accurately monitor pollution loads, effectively enforce systems, create water treatment infrastructure supported with incentives for private investment, and provide reliable, accurate information to households to inspire citizen engagement.