Land and water pollution a threat to the survival of humankind

Published : 16 Oct 2023 10:36 PM
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Pollution poses a serious threat not only to our health and economic development, but also to the survival of humankind. While this is a worrying development, it can be solved if we all — individuals, corporations and governments alike — come together and take proper action before it is too late.

There are many different ways our natural environment and the entire planet can get contaminated. Besides air pollution, two of the most important kinds of pollution are land or soil pollution and water pollution.

The world’s soil provides nearly 95 percent of human food. But human activities are damaging this critical natural resource that the Earth has provided for us. In fact, the amount of land pollution across the world, which is due to human-caused environmental degradation, is alarming. Every year, we are losing millions of hectares of arable land that could otherwise be used for food production.

Land can be polluted and contaminated with household garbage, as well as industrial waste. Approximately 75 percent of the land on Earth has been degraded, which is negatively affecting more than 3 billion people. Unfortunately, this figure could rise to more than 90 percent by 2050, by which time soil pollution could kill more people than cancer, costing the world more than the size of the current global economy, if we do not take proper action.

Environmental land pollution is not only leading to soil erosion, impacting human beings and food production, but it is also harming other species and causing mass extinctions. One of the reasons behind the rise in land pollution is related to high consumption and throw-away practices, particularly in developed countries. This has led to a significant amount of waste being generated by human beings, some of which contains toxic substances. It has also increased uninhabitable wastelands and the need to dig more landfills in order to dispose of the rising waste. For example, an average of 5.2 tons of waste was generated per person in the EU in 2018. The US, which is home to one of the largest consumer markets in the world, produced more than 290 million tons of waste in 2018 and it has more than 1,200 landfills across the country.

Food and related waste made up the largest component of all garbage in the US in 2014, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. It stated: “Paper and paperboard accounted for over 26 percent, and yard trimmings and food accounted for another 28.2 percent. Plastics comprised about 13 percent of municipal solid waste; rubber, leather, and textiles accounted for over 9 percent; and metals made up 9 percent. Wood followed at over 6 percent, and glass over 4 percent. Other miscellaneous wastes made up approximately 3 percent.”

One of the biggest issues is that more than half of the world’s population does not have access to an efficient system to dispose of their waste. Landfill waste reportedly accounts for nearly 11 percent of global methane emissions. This leads to severe health risks, as nearly 700,000 people die every year from antimicrobial resistant bacteria that come from land and soil pollution. This is why it is critical for developed nations to help low-income and underdeveloped nations set up proper waste management systems.

Every year, we are losing millions of hectares of arable land that could otherwise be used for food production. Another key problem is that much of the waste generated by human beings is ending up in our oceans. More than three-quarters of the waste in the oceans comes from land, according to the US’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Similar to land and soil pollution, water pollution is posing a serious threat to humans and the environment. It is worth noting that a report in The Lancet stated that water pollution was responsible for 1.4 million premature deaths in 2019.

Some of the major contributions to water pollution originate from the agricultural sector, particularly livestock production, through fertilizers, pesticides and animal waste being washed into waterways. Then there is sewage and wastewater, the illegal dumping of chemicals or waste into waterways by individuals, the industrial sector or government, radioactive waste, oil and gasoline, and land waste and pollution.

This is why it is vital that we adopt sustainable practices and habits individually, collectively and in every sector of society. If the current worrying trends continue, they will only exacerbate the environmental damage caused by humans and make the Earth uninhabitable. The good news is that we can reverse this destructive path and attempt to mitigate the negative effects of land and water pollution if we act immediately. As a result, it is important to reduce industrial and individual pollution and our waste production.

In addition, it is important to find proper ways to dispose of electronic waste and toxic materials, adopt efficient waste management methods and practices, use sustainable activities in the agricultural sector, use effective recovery and treatment methods, and develop and invest in green infrastructure, as well as energy recovery from waste.

Every one of us can also adopt efficient waste management strategies and change some of our lifestyle habits in order to reduce land and water pollution. This can include reducing our consumption and purchases, focusing on recycling and composting, and not using plastics or pollutants that may end up in the water. People can also volunteer for environmental organizations that address land and water pollution for a few hours a week.

In a nutshell, land and water pollution poses a significant threat to humankind and our planet. This global problem can be addressed and solved if individuals, companies and governments all work together and act immediately, adopting sustainable practices to protect lands and water from further contamination. Ultimately, we can leave a clean and healthy planet for future generations.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist.

Source: Arab News