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Managing wastewater and pollution to protect water quality

Target D: Reduce wastewater pollution and improve water quality by reducing untreated domestic and industrial wastewater by (x%); increasing wastewater reused safely by (y%); and reducing nutrient pollution by (z%) to maximize water resource availability.


In addition to adequate volumes of water, social and economic development is also dependent on good water quality. Human activity is the main cause of pollution that makes water dangerous, expensive or even unusable. There is a need to limit pollution, manage wastewater and protect and improve the quality of water thus enabling needs to be met safely.

The proposed target reflects the growing urgency for effective wastewater management and prevention of water-related pollution. Managing the human and environmental impacts of poor wastewater management and increasing the re-use of wastewater for productive purposes has significant public health, environmental and economic benefits. The Rio+20 outcome document stressed the need to adopt measures to ‘significantly reduce water pollution and increase water quality, (and) significantly improve wastewater treatment’. The health and poverty reduction benefits are linked to, and significantly enhance and reinforce, those from targets A and B, particularly regarding water quality and reducing waterborne and water-washed diseases.

There is growing recognition that the management of domestic wastewater - especially in the urban setting - is crucial to realize the health and environmental gains possible through providing basic sanitation facilities. Protection of water quality from all sources of untreated  wastewater, be they domestic, industrial or agricultural, is a prerequisite for ensuring, sustainable development, poverty alleviation, job creation, human and ecosystem health and people’s well-being. This concern and recognition was very clearly expressed at Rio+20 and requires countries to act.

Indicators are proposed that promote improved wastewater management and pollution prevention by addressing: (i) public health protection (ii) protection of the environment (iii) promote the reuse of wastewater and sludge, (iv) support the multiple opportunities of water, nutrient and energy recovery. It is suggested that the indicators are prioritized to address: a) pollution from urban wastewater that comprises both domestic and industrial components, b) point source pollution from large scale industrial and agricultural activities, and c) diffuse pollution, primarily from agriculture. The indicators are designed to help the progressive realization of improvements and to be appropriate to the local context and to the nature of the receiving waters, while avoiding the creation of perverse incentives or objectives that may not be in the national best interest.

As with the other targets, this target both supports and is supported by the other components of the water goal. For example, it aims to ensure water quality by collecting and treating the pollution arising from sanitation and hygiene, but can only do this if the appropriate governance systems are in place.


Photo credits: Bayprogram; Pierre Holtz UNICEF

Last update:07 Oct 2014