Freshwater pollution originates from many sources, including municipal, industrial and agricultural waste, wastewater and nutrient run-off, power generation, heavy industry, automobiles, and others.
Around the world, some 2 billion tonnes of human waste are disposed of in water courses every day. Severe organic pollution already affects around one seventh of all river stretches in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and has been steadily increasing for years.
All of that pollution has significant health impacts both on environment and human: 4,000 children die every day from diseases caused by polluted water and inadequate sanitation. Each year, some 1.8 million people (mostly children) are killed by diarrhoea alone.
The impacts on wildlife can also be severe. Increased discharges of untreated sewage, combined with runoff of fertilizer and other chemicals into freshwater bodies can trigger pathogens, chemical and nutrient pollution—which in turn leads to an overgrowth of plant life that starves fish and other animals of oxygen.
UNEP’s work to protect freshwater sources is guided by its Freshwater strategy 2017-2021. The organization promotes and facilitates investments in wastewater management through the Global Wastewater Initiative. The Global Environment Monitoring System (GEMS Water) project provides the world community with data on freshwater quality to support scientific assessments and decision-making. Meanwhile, our Global Partnership on Nutrient Management works at the national and global levels to promote policies and investments that will reduce nutrient pollution as a result of both farming and industrial activity.