water quality in finland pollution
The water quality in Finland was not always known for being astonishingly clean as it is today.

Before Finland earned the name of a country with some of the cleanest tap water in the world, researchers discovered that the water supply was filled with cancer-causing materials. At this time, citizens referred to their tap water as “ugly water.”

Thanks to the panic and uproar that the discovery of this dirty water caused, Finland’s tap water is now ranked among the cleanest in the European Union.


Evaluating Water Quality in Finland


Just as in most countries, however, drinking the natural water in Finland is certainly not in anyone’s best interest. With sheep, other forms of livestock, and pulp factories in the area, drinking from downstream is not recommended.

Although Finland’s drinking water is up to par, ecology reports demonstrate that water quality for aquatic life remains questionable.

This is mostly due to the large amounts of agricultural production in Finland, causing nutrient over-growth in lakes and rivers. It is the responsibility of farmers and other individuals to do their part in keeping pollutants out of Finland’s waterways.

Finland is also working to restore pathways for fish in order to help with the recent extinction of migratory fish stocks. These pathways surpass dams in a variety of 20 Finnish waterways.

Water quality in Finland is monitored by researchers in a laboratory that includes water from each individual local treatment plant.

Most of the tap water in Finland originates from Lake Päijänne, traveling 120 km to where the water is then treated in pools and safely dispersed into the homes of locals. The rest of the small portion of tap water recipients are receiving their water from a groundwater plant.

After years of fighting against impure and polluted waters, water quality in Finland ranks among the greatest in the world. That is, as long as individuals refrain from drinking downstream.

Noel Mcdavid

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Laos
Although Laos is one of the poorest countries in Asia, it has rich natural resources. More than 85% of the land lies within the Mekong River Basin. About 80% of Laotians work in agriculture and live in rural areas. Water quality in Laos is an essential part of life and development in the country.

The usage of water in Laos is 82% agricultural, 10% industrial, and 8% domestic. Agriculture uses water for irrigation, fisheries, plantation, and livestock. There is approximately 270 billion cubic meters of available water, of which 5.7 billion is used and the remaining 264.3 billion remains in the rivers.

There is currently a hydropower boom in Laos. The country has the potential to produce 23,000 megawatts of electricity. Currently, it only utilizes 5% of that capacity. By selling electricity to neighboring countries, Laos is seeking to become the “battery” of Southeast Asia.


Hydropower and Water Quality in Laos


Hydropower, however, has had problematic effects on the water quality in Laos and neighboring countries. In 2013, villagers in Cambodia complained that dam-building on the Mekong River in Laos was ruining the water downstream. The villagers couldn’t drink the water anymore because it was muddy and full of silt.

In 2016, the Malaysian company Mega-First and the government of Laos launched the Don Sahong dam. Work began without approval from the Mekong River Commission, and in spite of protests by regional NGOs and the downstream communities in Vietnam and Cambodia. The Laotian government plans to build nine more dams on the Mekong River and hundreds more on other rivers and tributaries in the region.

Scientists contend the dams pose an environmental threat to fish migration and food security. The delta of the Mekong River already experienced significant sediment loss, and a dam will make it worse. The Mekong Delta is crucial to the Vietnamese economy, as it produces 50% of the country’s staple crops and 90% of its rice exports.

Ecology specialist Nguyen Huu Thien, a scientist based near the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, contends that “if the delta cannot support its population of 18 million, then people will have to migrate– migrate everywhere. The dams are sowing the seeds of social instability in the region.”

The condition of the Mekong River will define the socioeconomic framework of entire communities in Laos and its neighboring countries. Laos may get an economic boost from its dams for now, but in the long term, the health of Laos and its rivers are intertwined.

Hannah Seitz

Photo: Flickr

Italians, the descendants of the water-savvy and water-loving Romans, still maintain a potable supply of drinking water today. Overall, the water quality in Italy is excellent. Italy’s drinking water is safe to drink and widely available, with public fountains running fresh drinking water throughout many major cities.

These fountains, called “nasoni,” which means “big noses” in Italian, provide high-quality and free drinking water in cities like Rome and Florence for locals and tourists alike. Florence regulates its water with a strict code of 61 parameters. Florentine officials examine the chemicals in the water and its microbiology using these parameters to ensure potability.

Both rural and urban populations in Italy have 100 percent access to improved water sources, making water quality in Italy superb, even better than the United States, which comes in at 99 percent access to improved water sources.

Although all Italians have access to improved water sources, the water quality in Italy does vary slightly by city. Naples, for example, has lower quality water than most other major Italian cities. The water in Naples “may be safe to drink” according to a tourist water safety website. However, strains of local E. coli are present within Naples’ tap water. Locals are accustomed to these strains of E. coli, but tourists and other visitors are not. Therefore, the water is safe for locals, but visitors require a transition period in order to drink the water without experiencing unpleasant after-effects, such as diarrhea.

The inferiority of Naples’ drinking water compared to other Italian cities could be due to the toxic waste and immense pollution in Naples. Some claim that the mafia dumped hazardous industrial waste on agricultural lands outside of Naples, creating pollution problems. More obvious pollutants are the immense piles of garbage lining the streets of Naples and the litter on its surrounding farmlands.

Although pollution threatens health and safety standards in Naples, the city fights against it by cleaning up dirtied areas and installing spaces for outdoor recreation. By 2014, the city of Naples created a larger beachfront for pedestrian use and a bicycle lane lining its coast. Additionally, large portions of Naples’ bay have been cleaned, allowing for swimmers to retake the water.

Decreasing pollution creates tangibly increased standards of health and safety, including better water quality in Italy. Additionally, reigning in pollution increases the quality of living for residents of a city, as it provides greener and more appealing outdoor spaces, encouraging physical activity for its residents.

Mary Kate Luft

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in BhutanBhutan, a country among the Himalayan Mountains, has been making remarkable strides to provide safe drinking water for citizens. These efforts are apparent in the adoption of the Bhutan Drinking Water Quality Standard and the recent National Water Symposium.

The Bhutan Drinking Water Quality Standard was adopted in 2016 by the National Environment Commission to protect public health and improve water quality. Unclean water has been traced to numerous diseases, such as cholera, fluorosis and typhoid fever. Before the standard was adopted, water providers had no obligations to conduct water testing and treatment. This left the 745,000 Bhutanese citizens with potentially hazardous water.

According to the standards document, the objectives are:

  1. To set safe concentrations of nationally relevant drinking water parameters.
  2. To contribute towards a progressive improvement of drinking-water quality management (e.g. sampling, testing, reporting and documentation) by all service providers.
  3. To strengthen the application of water safety planning in all drinking-water systems.
  4. To contribute towards increased public awareness of drinking-water safety.
  5. To build a national drinking-water quality database.
  6. To improve accountability of all stakeholders in the provision of a safe-for-drinking water supply.

To further ensure better water quality, Bhutan hosted a National Water Symposium (NWS) on May 9, 2017. The NWS will improve water quality in Bhutan by devising a system of water management and sustainability. Organizers of the Symposium gathered 60 water sanitation professionals to decide priority focus areas for the twelfth Five Year Plan (FYP), a series of five-year economic goals.

One of these focus areas is supplying and conserving safe drinking water for families. Climate change’s effects in the region have made water conservation a significant concern. While Bhutan has one of the highest per capita water availabilities in the world, the rapidly melting glaciers and snow in the country’s often cold region pose a threat to future water availability. The Symposium will identify ways to manage and conserve natural water resources to improve water quality in Bhutan.

According to the Bhutan Times article, “National Water Symposium Brings Experts Together,” event organizer Lyoncchen Tobgay said that “managing water resources and providing continuous safe drinking water to every household is one of the flagship projects prioritized in the twelfth FYP.”

With the new standards and efforts from participating agencies from the National Water Symposium, Bhutan’s water quality should vastly improve over the next few years.

Marie Adigwe

Photo: Google

Water Quality in Mauritania
Water quality in Mauritania is affected by contradictory factors—the region receives little rain but is also at near-constant risk of flooding.

The southern part of the country gets 26 inches of rain annually while Nouakchott, the capital, only gets 5.5 inches. This isn’t too surprising, considering that Mauritania is mostly made up of desert and averages a temperature of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit for more than half the year, but most of the rainfall occurs over a short period of time in August and cannot be properly absorbed into the ground.

This absorption problem is due to the fact that Nouakchott is below sea level and therefore prone to frequent floods caused by rising sea levels. Rainfall only adds to pre-existing pools of stagnant water. And, because Mauritania lacks permanent drainage infrastructure, the water becomes a carrier for illnesses such as malaria and dengue fever. This is compounded by the fact that many in the region who live in poverty lack plumbing and are forced to dispose of solid waste in the stagnant water. Waste, in turn, damages temporary drainage setups.

Lacking water infrastructure for drainage, sanitation, plumbing and everyday use, the people of Mauritania rely on vendors for their drinking water. Vendors are sometimes miles away, so people commonly transport water in barrels or on donkeys.

Very few trees survive in Mauritania due to its desert climate as well as the fact that the rising water is exclusively salty.

Despite the many conflicting factors that threaten water quality in Mauritania, a 2011 review of the country’s status contended that there had been significant increases in the percentages of both rural and urban populations’ access to drinking water from 1990 to 2008, especially in the case of rural populations, which saw a 21 percent increase. The report identifies small piped networks and water wells as structures that are effective in helping people in rural areas of Mauritania access clean water. Unsurprisingly, the report claims “major financing” is needed to build more permanent supply and sanitation solutions.

Caroline Meyers

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Equatorial Guinea
The small country of Equatorial Guinea lies on central Africa’s west coast. Equatorial Guinea is an upper-middle class income country with a Gross National Income (GNI) higher than most other African countries. Much of this is due to the country’s oil production. However, despite the affluence of Equatorial Guinea, it has a comparatively low human development index rating. The water quality in Equatorial Guinea ranks near that of a much poorer sub-Saharan country.

Human Rights Watch reports that, in 2011, up to $125 million dollars was supposed to be spent to improve the water quality in Equatorial Guinea. Instead, the country spent 50 percent of its budget (originally approved for $783 million, but later estimated at $1.5 billion) on urban infrastructure. $80 million was spent on sports, which is more than was first budgeted for that sector. Meanwhile, only $60 million was spent on potable water, education and health combined as of June 30, 2011—a mere three percent of the expenditures that year.

Water quality in Equatorial Guinea is very poor in terms of access. Fewer households in Equatorial Guinea have access to safe water than most other countries. In 2002, just 60 percent of schools had a reliable water source. Sanitation has also been a regular problem area in schools. As of 2009, only 43 percent of Equatorial Guinea’s population had a safe and reliable water source, and only 51 percent had access to proper sanitation.

By 2015, access to clean water had risen by just a few percentage points. Still, just over half of the population had adequate access to water.

The poor often pay the most for and have the least access to clean water. Limited access to clean water and sanitation increases the risk of widespread health issues, especially for young children. The World Health Organization estimates that 1.5 million children die from diarrhea each year worldwide. This figure is composed primarily of children that live in developing countries and are younger than five. Equatorial Guinea’s under-five mortality rate is 8.9 percent higher than the average for sub-Saharan Africa.

Water quality in Equatorial Guinea should be considerably better than it is. There is no larger gap between the Gross National Income and the human development index rating in any African country other than Equatorial Guinea. Spending large amounts of money on infrastructure can be helpful, but only if it benefits rural and urban citizens. The country should make the health of its citizens a higher priority and create a realistic and appropriate annual budget.

Emma Tennyson

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in MalaysiaAccess to clean drinking water is crucial in order to sustain life. For some nations, this is a major dilemma. Thus, water quality in Malaysia is currently of some concern.

Malaysia is experiencing rapid urbanization and population growth. This rapid growth leads to an increased demand for water and spiked levels of water pollution. These factors seriously harm the water quality in Malaysia.

Various human, domestic, industrial, commercial and transportation wastes trickle into the water supply. Polluting water sources consequently creates serious health hazards.

Water quality in Malaysia, as well as access to water in general, is a major problem. The primary pollutants present in the water are Biochemical Oxygen Demand, Ammoniacal Nitrogen and Suspended Solids. These are consequences of untreated or only partially treated sewage.

Lakes and reservoirs serve as domestic, industrial, agricultural, hydroelectric, navigational and recreational sources of water. Since 98 percent of the water originates from rivers, river pollution is a serious concern.

Malaysia has departments like the Department of Environments to take charge of the water quality problem. The Department of Environments is responsible for tracking the water quality in Malaysia using Water Quality Index and National Water Quality Standards. The National Water Quality Monitoring Programme added new rivers in the area to control the presence of Biochemical Oxygen Demand, Ammoniacal Nitrogen and Suspended Solids.

With the development of the Department of Environments to control the water quality problem and the National Water Quality Monitoring Program to decrease pollutants in the water supply, water quality in Malaysia is improving significantly. Malaysia receives 25,000 cubic meters of renewable water for each person each year from this river system.

This system significantly improves the water quality in Malaysia. However, the country lacks a nationally recognized standard for water quality. Several agencies manage the system, but they have no legal ties or obligations to follow certain policies.

Malaysia continues to work on improving its water quality through these fragmented agencies, but these efforts are not enough to completely salvage the quality. Fixing the fragmentation is a step in the right direction for Malaysia. Additionally, outside organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund are working in Malaysia.

Focusing on creating a cohesive and binding system in Malaysia would improve the water quality while also ensuring that agencies have a legal obligation to comply with monitoring practices.

Katelynn Kenworthy

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Belize
Water quality is Belize? Even a tropical paradise can have challenges. Belize, located just south of Mexico, is home to almost 375,000 people. Unfortunately, about 41.3 percent of these people live below the poverty line. Poverty in Belize manifests as a result of several factors, including a lack of equal opportunities to receive an education and proper healthcare. For years, the government has put a focus on addressing the poor water quality in Belize.  This lack of access to clean water makes it difficult for families to rise above the poverty line.

As of 2008, almost everyone living in urban areas was able to access safe drinking water. However, only 86 percent of the population living in the countryside have access to a clean water source. In these areas, boiling water before using it is a necessity.

Belize has historically struggled with keeping their water sources clean. Between the months of July and December, floods and hurricanes can interfere with the disposable of human waste and redirect it into sources of drinking water. As a result, bacteria can spread diseases.

Water quality in Belize faces another roadblock due to the lack access to a sewage system. As of 2014, almost 90 percent of citizens reported not having a proper place to dispose of their liquid waste. Without a latrine, the disease can quickly spread in a community through the wastewater.

Many organizations are working hard to improve the water quality in Belize. In 2015, the government created the Belize River Valley rural water system with a loan from the Caribbean Development Bank. The CDB’s primary goal is to reduce the number of people living under the poverty line through improving conditions in developing communities. The Belize River Valley rural water system provided over 3,000 people with access to clean water.

The Belize Social Investment Fund also uses the water supply to change lives. By investing in providing a clean water supply to impoverished communities, the BSIF gives the population the tools to improve their quality of life.

Access to safe drinking water is crucial in the fight against poverty and work put into the water quality in NotBelize has and will continue to result in life-changing progress.

Julia McCartney

Photo: Flickr

Mongolia, a country in central Asia, has some of Earth’s most beautiful mountains and wonders. Despite its abundance of natural resources, lakes and rivers, water quality in Mongolia has begun decreasing at an alarming rate.

Climate change is one of the largest factors in Mongolia’s decreasing supply of drinking water; many lakes and rivers continue to dry up. The land in southern Mongolia around the Gobi desert has had an increase in desertification as climate change emphasizes the unequal distribution of drinkable water between Mongolia’s mountain region and its drier areas.

Mongolia’s economy relies heavily on herding culture, an industry that requires accessible drinking water nationwide. However, the presence of so much livestock also poses a threat to public health, as the lack of infrastructure around water supply often leads to contamination.

An increase of urbanization and an economic reliance on mining have also contributed to the gradual pollution of groundwater resources in Mongolia, the country’s main source of water outside of mountainous regions.

However, multiple organizations have implemented plans to address these growing concerns for water quality in Mongolia. The Water Supply and Sewage Authority (USUG) aims to supply safe drinking water to an estimated 1.2 million people living in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. USUG has a three-year program to maintain sustainability and is a pilot project of a larger organization: the WHO/AusAID Partnership on Water Quality, created in 2012.

The Mongolian government has implemented several revisions in policy, such as an order for the Compulsory Establishment of Centralized Water Supplies, and the Methodological Guidance on Water Safety Plans for Small Communities, established in 2015.

Awareness among water-related government agencies is another crucial part of the process toward higher water quality in Mongolia. Water safety plans (WSPs) advocate for such awareness among water suppliers, health facilities, academic institutions and inspection agencies.

Meanwhile, The Asia Foundation works at the local level to ensure smaller towns and herder communities can protect their water. The process for such awareness spans from the household levels of conservation, city-wide treatment and sanitation, and global climate change-related activity. All of these issues intersect in Mongolia’s water supply, with WSPs ready to take action.

Ellen Ray

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in the United Arab Emirates

Known for having one of the largest oil reserves in the world, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) currently faces daunting issues with its water. Water availability and water quality in the United Arab Emirates are both areas of concern.

Because of the country’s extremely arid landscapes, water scarcity is a crucial issue, especially since the country has one of the highest rates of consumption of water per capita at 550 liters a day. The scarcity of groundwater coupled with the limited and expensive processing and treatment of existing water creates a challenging situation for the UAE. With so little water available in the area, water becomes a commodity that some predict will eventually become more expensive than oil.

The water crisis in the United Arab Emirates is a growing concern for government officials. One company even proposed a plan to bring icebergs all the way from Antarctica to the coast in order to deal with the water scarcity. Others focus on desalination plants as a solution, but desalination is an expensive and energy-intensive process. There are also risks of negative environmental impacts on the coast, and the water that these plants produce has a higher risk of oil pollution.

Two main sectors are responsible for most of the water consumption in the UAE: the private sector and the agricultural sector. The approach that these sectors take when dealing with water scarcity will be crucial to how the country deals with the water crisis.

The Private Sector

The private sector consumes about 24 percent of the UAE’s water. In such a brutally hot climate, much of the water used in private homes is because of air conditioning units, but the most important use of water is drinking water. Due to concerns about water quality in the United Arab Emirates, many people prefer to drink bottled water. Because it takes about three liters of water to make one liter of bottled water, the prevalence of bottled water greatly inflates water use on an individual level.

Contaminated water is not an imagined problem for UAE households, so it is understandable why so many choose to drink bottled water. Private water can be contaminated by old and rusty pipes filled with bacteria, and because water is often stored in tanks, there is a risk of contamination by foreign objects such as animals, insects, and metals. Since the UAE has no law to enforce the replacement of pipes or the cleaning of such tanks, water contamination is a possibility.

Despite these risks of water contamination, the water quality in the United Arab Emirates is adequate, and most experts maintain that this sort of contamination is very unlikely. In an effort to reduce unnecessary water use, many people advocate against the overuse of bottled water. They teach that bottled water and filtered tap water are almost exactly the same in quality and taste, yet there is a prevailing attitude that the water is dangerous to use or drink. The water quality is blamed for problems such as dry skin, premature aging and hair loss.

Advocates against the dependence on bottled water also warn that bottled water might have its own harmful consequences, such as the presence of fluoride, a substance still under scrutiny, and BPA, an industrial chemical that may have negative health effects on the brain and blood pressure. The environmental impact is important to consider as well since most people use the bottle once and throw it away, leading to a large amount of unnecessary and expensive waste. Even with these concerns in mind, many UAE citizens continue to rely on bottled water.

The Agricultural Sector

Though the private sector has a great deal of influence on the water availability crisis, the agricultural sector has the biggest impact and is the largest consumer of water. The agriculture sector consumes nearly two-thirds of the nation’s water. Due to the continually growing population of the UAE, there was a recent surge in demand for food, causing the UAE’s agricultural sector to have a higher demand than ever.

The agriculture industry is attempting to move away from water-intensive crops and introduce drip irrigation, and people continue to search for ways to reduce the excessive use of water in agriculture. Some have suggested an improved system of collecting and treating wastewater to use for agriculture. Wastewater processing plants are cheaper than desalination plants in part because they make use of the water already present in the system rather than relying on extracting water from the surrounding environment, but these solutions have yet to be put in place.

There are many possible ways for the UAE to address the water crisis, but along with the various proposed solutions, education about the crisis is an important step along the way. The water quality in the United Arab Emirates is only a part of the problem; the water crisis is a long-term problem that is likely to have profound impacts for decades to come. Therefore, the continued education about water scarcity and responsible water use is crucial to further efforts of reducing water consumption and working to end the water crisis.

Rachael Lind

Photo: Flickr