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#Science&Tech: Zimbabwe And Water Pollution – A battle yet to be won

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Water pollution is the spoiling of water sources and the channels which the water traverses from the source to the consumption area. Most water pollution doesn’t begin in the water itself. Take the rivers: around 80 percent of river pollution enters our river from the land. Virtually any human activity can have an effect on the quality of our water environment. The Zimbabwean government has performed dismally in the past years when it comes to delivering clean water to its citizens.    
By Shingie Lev Muringi 

When farmers fertilize the fields, the chemicals they use are gradually washed by rain into the groundwater or surface waters nearby. Sometimes the causes of water pollution are quite surprising. Chemicals released by smokestacks (chimneys) can enter the atmosphere and then fall back to earth as rain, entering seas, rivers, and lakes and causing water pollution. That’s called atmospheric deposition. Water pollution has many different causes and this is one of the reasons why it is such a difficult problem to solve.

1. Sewage

water1

Poor sewer infrastructures are highly susceptible to water pollution


With billions of people on the planet, disposing of sewage waste is a major problem. According to 2013 figures from the World Health Organization, some 780 million people (11 percent of the world’s population) don’t have access to safe drinking water, while 2.5 billion (40 percent of the world’s population) don’t have proper sanitation (hygienic toilet facilities); although there have been great improvements in securing access to clean water, relatively little progress has been made on improving global sanitation in the last decade. Sewage disposal affects people’s immediate environments and leads to water-related illnesses such as diarrhea that kills 760,000 children under five each year. [3] (Back in 2002, the World Health Organization estimated that water-related diseases could kill as many as 135 million people by 2020.) In developed countries, most people have flush toilets that take sewage waste quickly and hygienically away from their homes.
In theory, sewage is a completely natural substance that should be broken down harmlessly in the environment: 90 percent of sewage is water. [7] In practice, sewage contains all kinds of other chemicals, from the pharmaceutical drugs people take to the paper, plastic, and other wastes they flush down their toilets. When people are sick with viruses, the sewage they produce carries those viruses into the environment. It is possible to catch illnesses such as hepatitis, typhoid, and cholera from river and sea water.
 

2. Nutrients

Suitably treated and used in moderate quantities, sewage can be a fertilizer: it returns important nutrients to the environment, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which plants and animals need for growth. The trouble is, sewage is often released in much greater quantities than the natural environment can cope with. Chemical fertilizers used by farmers also add nutrients to the soil, which drain into rivers and seas and add to the fertilizing effect of the sewage. Together, sewage and fertilizers can cause a massive increase in the growth of algae or plankton that overwhelms huge areas of oceans, lakes, or rivers. This is known as a harmful algal bloom (also known as an HAB or red tide, because it can turn the water red). It is harmful because it removes oxygen from the water that kills other forms of life, leading to what is known as a dead zone.

3. Waste Water

Water Treatment

Water needs thorough treatment before deploying it to the residents


A few statistics illustrate the scale of the problem that waste water (chemicals washed down drains and discharged from factories) can cause. Around half of all ocean pollution is caused by sewage and waste water. Each year, the world generates perhaps 5–10 billion tons of industrial waste, much of which is pumped untreated into rivers, oceans, and other waterways.
Factories are point sources of water pollution, but quite a lot of water is polluted by ordinary people from nonpoint sources; this is how ordinary water becomes waste water in the first place. Virtually everyone pours chemicals of one sort or another down their drains or toilets. Even detergents used in washing machines and dishwashers eventually end up in our rivers and oceans. So do the pesticides we use on our gardens. A lot of toxic pollution also enters waste water from highway runoff. Highways are typically covered with a cocktail of toxic chemicals—everything from spilled fuel and brake fluids to bits of worn tires (themselves made from chemical additives) and exhaust emissions.
When it rains, these chemicals wash into drains and rivers. It is not unusual for heavy summer rainstorms to wash toxic chemicals into rivers in such concentrations that they kill large numbers of fish overnight. It has been estimated that, in one year, the highway runoff from a single large city leaks as much oil into our water environment as a typical tanker spill. Some highway runoff runs away into drains; others can pollute groundwater or accumulate in the land next to a road, making it increasingly toxic as the years go by.

4. Chemical waste

Detergents are relatively mild substances. At the opposite end of the spectrum are highly toxic chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). They were once widely used to manufacture electronic circuit boards, but their harmful effects have now been recognized and their use is highly restricted in many countries. Nevertheless, an estimated half million tons of PCBs were discharged into the environment during the 20th century. [9] In a classic example of trans-boundary pollution, traces of PCBs have even been found in birds and fish in the Arctic. They were carried there through the oceans, thousands of miles from where they originally entered the environment. Although PCBs are widely banned, their effects will be felt for many decades because they last a long time in the environment without breaking down.
 

5. Radioactive Waste

This type of water pollution is mainly common is first world countries due to their industrial capacity and prowess. People view radioactive waste with great alarm and for good reason. At high enough concentrations it can kill; in lower concentrations it can cause cancers and other illnesses. The biggest sources of radioactive pollution in Europe are two factories that reprocess waste fuel from nuclear power plants: Sellafield on the north-west coast of Britain and Cap La Hague on the north coast of France. Both discharge radioactive waste water into the sea, which ocean currents then carry around the world. Countries such as Norway, which lie downstream from Britain, receive significant doses of radioactive pollution from Sellafield. The Norwegian government has repeatedly complained that Sellafield has increased radiation levels along its coast by 6–10 times. Both the Irish and Norwegian governments continue to press for the plant’s closure.[11]

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