World Bank Report On Water Quality

Why is it in News?

  • On 20th August, 2019, the World Bank published a report according to which, one-third of the potential economic growth will be affected in heavily water polluted areas leading to invisible crisis of water quality.
  • The report, titled 'Quality Unknown: The Invisible Water Crisis' is the biggest-ever database assembled on global water quality using monitoring stations, satellite data, and machine learning models.

Key Findings of the Report

  • Deteriorating Water Quality across the Globe: Water quality challenges are not unique to developing countries but universal across rich and poor countries alike. High-income status does not confer immunity with pollutants grow alongside GDP.As countries develop; the mixture of chemicals and biological vectors from fecal bacteria to nitrogen to pharmaceuticals and plastics makes the quality of water worse.
  • Overhauling Waste Water Treatment Infrastructure:Standing assumptions about wastewater treatment infrastructure need to change, investments must be scaled up but also need to become more effective. More than 80 % of the world’s wastewater and more than 95 % in some developing countries is still being released into theenvironment without treatment.
  • Huge Investment Required in Treatment Plant: There is an urgent need for greater investment in wastewater treatment plants, especially in heavily populated areas.
  • Poor Water Quality Hinders Economic Growth: Water pollution endangers economic growth. The release of pollution upstream acts as a headwind that lowers economic growth downstream. Poor water quality stalls economic progress, stymies human potential and reduces food production severely affecting the development of any nation in the world.
  • Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD): When BOD, a measure of how much organic pollution is in water and a proxy measure of overall water quality, passes a certain threshold, GDP growth in downstream regions is lowered by a third.
  • BOD & Middle Income Countries:In middle-income countries - where BOD is a growing problem because of increased industrial activity - GDP growth downstream of highly polluted areas drops by half.
  • Microplastics in Fresh Water: Pollutants of emerging concern such as microplastics and pharmaceuticals illustrate the complex nature of water quality issue with no immediate or obvious solutions. These are found in nearly 80% of global freshwater sources, 81% of municipal tap water, and even 93% of bottled water. Removal of plastics, once in water, is difficult and costly.

World Bank

Headquarters: Washington DC, United States.

  • Established in 1944, the World Bank is one of the world’s largest sources of funding and knowledge for developing countries.
  • Its five institutions share a commitment to reducing poverty, increasing shared prosperity, and promoting sustainable development.
    • The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development(IBRD)
    • The International Development Association(IDA)
    • The International Finance Corporation(IFC)
    • The Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency(MIGA)
    • The International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes(ICSID)

Factors Contributing to Poor Water Quality


  • Nitrogen which is applied as fertilizer eventually enters rivers, lakes and oceans where it transforms into nitrates.
  • Nitrates in water are responsible for fatally inflicting Blue Baby Syndrome, which starves infants’ bodies of oxygen.


  • Salinity diminishes agricultural productivity. Saline waters and soils are spreading throughout much of the world because of increasing rates of water extraction, droughts and rainfall shocks, sea-level rise, and poorly managed irrigation systems.
  • The agricultural yields fall almost exactly in line with increased salt concentrations in water.
  • Enough food is lost due to saline waters each year to feed 170 million people every day – that’s equivalent to a country the size of Bangladesh. Such a sizable loss of food production to saline waters means food security will continue to be jeopardized unless action is taken.
  • Other factors responsible for water quality deterioration:
    • Intensification of agriculture
    • land use changes
    • more variable rainfall patterns due to climate change
    • growing industrialization

Suggestions to Improve Water Quality

  • The report recommends a set of actions that countries can take to improve water quality. These include:
    • Environmental policies and standards
    • Accurate monitoring of pollution loads
    • Effective enforcement systems
    • Water treatment infrastructure supported with incentives for private investment
    • Reliable, accurate information disclosure to households to inspire citizen engagement

Way Forward

  • Poor water quality threatens growth, harms public health and imperils food security. 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.
  • With water scarcity expected to increase as populations grow and the climate changes, the world cannot afford to waste and contaminate its precious water resources.
  • The large gap in public sector resources need for new action models that attract private investments, accompanied by appropriate incentive structures that monitor performance, penalize profligacy, and reward the success.