Effect of Population on Water Quality

Effect of Population on Water Quality

The most limited resource is water. Though it covers over three fourth of the earth’s surface, freshwater is only 2% of that, and most of it is frozen in glaciers and polar ice caps. As population density increases, the demand for the limited freshwater also increases. Increase in population also accelerates the pollution due to the following reasons:

  • Urbanization at an uncontrolled rate as in the case of India.
  • Large amount of waste generated and disposed into the water bodies increases the pollution in the water bodies.
  • Water from lakes, rivers, ponds, underground, etc. is used for both industrial and domestic purposes. 80% of the water that is used for domestic purposes comes out as wastewater. In most of the cases, this water is not treated properly and as such it leads to pollution of surface-level freshwater, and seeps into the ground, polluting groundwater as well.
  • The rising number of industries in India contribute heavily to water pollution as industrial waste is most often untreated. The industries with the heaviest impact on water bodies are thermal power plants, engineering industries, paper mills, steel plants and textile industries.
  • Cities and towns located on the banks of Ganga generate a third of the wastewater generated in our country.

According to official estimates, cities with populations of more than one lakh people generate around 16,662 million litres of wastewater in a day. Strangely enough, most people in these populous cities have access to sewage treatment facilities.

The main causes for wastewater generation in India are:

  • Industrial waste
  • Improper practices in agricultural sector
  • Practices like dumping dead bodies in water, bathing
  • Throwing of waste in water
  • Oil leaks from ships
  • Acid rain
  • Inadequate industrial treatment of wastes

Rivers and streams have suffered the worst effects of India’s unplanned urbanization. The untreated urban waste that flows into it exceeds 62 billion litres a day. This is over 63% of the waste water generated in the country. Riverbanks, floodplains, and wetlands that once surrounded them have been replaced by housing complexes, slums, offices, and buildings. The natural purification that the river once relied on can thus no longer take place.

Bathing and disposing of bodies in rivers may also cause water pollution, as it increases the Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) of the water body. While this does cause pollution, it is to a smaller extent as compared to industrial water pollution.

Lack of proper sanitation facility in over populated areas, water borne diseases such as cholera, Typhoid, and infections caused by E Coli is common.

Water vulnerability is already affecting many overpopulated nations, especially in some developing countries, as the demand for water is more than the available source of fresh water. Millions of fish species from fresh water ecosystems are on the verge of extinction. Thus, as human population rises, so will the scarcity of fresh water.

Availability of fresh water is one of the greatest threats posed by overpopulation. The government retains the right to fresh water, be it to snow laden areas or a fresh water lake. With increasing consumption of water, we now have dried up lake beds. These dust particles, arising out of the dried lake beds, pollute the environment and the air we breathe, causing breathing problems.

In some areas of rapid population growth, such as sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, access to clean water is not guaranteed. When infrastructure development cannot keep up with population growth, water shortages and sanitation issues can occur. Almost 1 billion people lack access to clean water, and more than twice that many do not have toilets. Fecal contamination is a major cause of diseases and water borne diseases kills several children every day. People in poverty-stricken, densely populated areas often spend more money and time accessing clean water than people living in developed areas.

As population increases, more people are dependent on the polluted water resources. This poses an enormous health threat. Water stagnation that occurs around sources is dangerous as it provides a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which can cause diseases like, dengue, chikungunya, and malaria. Due to the crowded conditions prevalent around the water body, they spread fast.

A large portion of the population depends on food and vegetables that are grown in contaminated water. Many water-borne, infectious diseases are linked with fecal pollution of water sources and results in infection through the fecal-oral route. Health risks associated with polluted water includes different diseases such as respiratory disease, cancer, diarrhea, neurological disorder and cardiovascular disease. Nitrogenous chemicals are responsible for cancer and blue baby syndrome. Mortality rate due to cancer is higher in rural areas than urban areas because urban inhabitants use treated water for drinking while rural people don’t have facility of treated water and use unprocessed water.

Poor quality of water destroys the crop production of an area and infects food sources. Pollutants disturb the food chain and heavy metals, especially iron affects the respiratory system of fishes. When these fishes are eaten by humans it leads to major health issues. Metal contaminated water leads to hair loss, liver cirrhosis, renal failure and neural disorders.

Proper treatment of water, both industrial and domestic, is essential for improving the health conditions of the people dependent on the water sources. Many affected rivers carry the pollutants downstream, spreading it all across the coast as well.

Clean and treated water can solve the problem of pollution in lakes and water bodies.


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