(Washington, DC: World Bank, 2019-08-20)
Damania, Richard; Desbureaux, Sébastien; Rodella, Aude-Sophie; Russ, Jason; Zaveri, Esha
Water quantity—too much in the case of floods, or too little in the case of droughts—grabs public attention and the media spotlight. Water quality—being predominantly invisible and hard to detect—goes largely unnoticed. Quality Unknown: The Invisible Water Crisis presents new evidence and new data that call urgent attention to the hidden dangers lying beneath water’s surface. It shows how poor water quality stalls economic progress, stymies human potential, and reduces food production.
Quality Unknown examines the effects of water quality on economic growth and finds upstream pollution lowers growth in downstream regions. It reveals that some of the most ubiquitous contaminants in water, such as nitrates and salt, have impacts that are larger, deeper, and wider than has been acknowledged. And it traces the damage to crop yields and the stark implications for food security in affected regions.
An important step toward tackling the world’s water quality challenge is recognizing its scale. The world needs reliable, accurate, and comprehensive information so that policy makers can have new insights, decision making can be evidence based, and citizens can call for action. The report calls for a paradigm shift that emphasizes safer, and often more cost-effective remedies that prevent pollution by combining smarter policies with newer technologies. A key message of Quality Unknown is that such solutions exist and change is possible.
The 21st century will witness the collision of two powerful forces – burgeoning population growth, together with a changing climate. With population growth, water scarcity will proliferate to new areas across the globe. And with climate change, rainfall will become more fickle, with longer and deeper periods of droughts and deluges. This report presents new evidence to advance understanding on how rainfall shocks coupled with water scarcity, impacts farms, firms, and families. On farms, the largest consumers of water in the world, impacts are channeled from declining yields to changing landscapes. In cities, water extremes especially when combined with unreliable infrastructure can stall firm production, sales, and revenue. At the center of this are families, who feel the impacts of this uncertainty on their incomes, jobs, and long-term health and welfare. Although a rainfall shock may be fleeting, its consequences can become permanent and shape the destiny of those who experience it.
Pursuing business as usual will lead many countries down a “parched path” where droughts shape destinies. Avoiding this misery in slow motion will call for fundamental changes to water policy around the globe. Building resilience to rainfall variability will require using different policy instruments to address the multifaceted nature of water. A key message of this report is that water has multiple economic attributes, each of which entail distinct policy responses. If water is not managed more prudently—from source, to tap, and back to source—the crises observed today will become the catastrophes of tomorrow.