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MEA Bulletin - Guest Article No. 90a - Thursday, 15 April 2010
Turning the global tide of sick water
By Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA-Marine)
Full Article

As much as 80% of all marine pollution is land based - wastewater from cities, factories and farms. Transforming wastewater from a major health and environmental hazard into a clean, safe and economically-attractive resource is emerging as a key challenge in the 21st century. Unless decisive action is taken, the wastewater challenge will intensify as the world undergoes rapid urbanization, industrialization and increasing demand for meat and other foods.

The recently launched report titled “Sick water? The central role of wastewater management in sustainable development” shows that the impact of poor wastewater management and degrading sewage systems is not only costing billions of dollars and degrading ecosystems, it is also challenging the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, sustainable development, jobs, labour productivity and the health of hundreds of millions of people worldwide. “Sick Water” reports that the area of dead zones - locations of reduced or absent oxygen levels - has now grown to cover 245,000 km2 of the marine environment including in North America, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia. In addition, at least 1.8 million children die annually as a result of contaminated water and over half the world's hospitals beds are occupied with people suffering from illnesses linked with contaminated water.

“If the world is to thrive, let alone to survive on a planet of six billion people heading to over nine billion by 2050, we need to get collectively smarter and more intelligent about how we manage waste including wastewaters”.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)

The report, launched during the World Water Day celebrations in Nairobi, 22 March, and the World Urban Forum in Rio, not only identifies the threats to human and ecological health and the consequences of inaction, but also presents opportunities, where appropriate policy and management responses over the short and longer term can trigger employment, support livelihoods, boost public and ecosystem health and contribute to more intelligent water management. "Sick Water?” was developed by UNEP and UN-Habitat in collaboration with the broader UN-Water family. UNEP and Habitat will now lead efforts within UN-Water through an interagency “wastewater task-force” to develop a comprehensive interagency and multistakeholder programme of work to tackle this critical issue

Within UNEP, the impact of wastewater on ecosystem services, particularly in the coastal zone, is addressed through the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA-Marine). UNEP activities are focused on promoting, leveraging or supporting action by governments at national and sub-national levels. While UNEP has contributed significantly to the GPA-Marine through a range of targeted initiatives, the primary responsibility resides with national governments. The eighteen Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans also play a fundamental role. Several regions have LBS/A (land-based activities and sources of pollution) protocols, others are in the process of developing this protocol, and some do not have such a protocol but address the issue of wastewater and implementation of GPA through different mechanisms within their programmes. Currently there are 7 LBS/A protocols (Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea, ROPME Sea Area, South-East Pacific, Wider Caribbean, Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, East and South Africa), and an additional two are under development in the Caspian, and West & Central Africa regions. To date, three of the UNEP administered regional seas have an LBS/A protocol and implement a number of activities addressing the wastewater challenge:

The Wider Caribbean Region: The Protocol Concerning Pollution from Land-Based Sources and Activities (LBS Protocol) to the Cartagena Convention includes regional effluent limitations for domestic wastewater (sewage) as well as specific schedules for implementation. While three more countries must ratify it for it to enter into force, a number of activities are underway in relation to wastewater management including the Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater Management and the GEF-funded Integrated Watershed and Coastal Area Management Project in thirteen Small Island Development States.

The Mediterranean Region: The Protocol for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution from Land-Based Sources and Activities of the Barcelona Convention outlines that, in preparing action plans, programmes and measures, the Parties, in conformity with the GPA, will give priority to substances that are toxic, persistent and liable to bioaccumulate, in particular to persistent organic pollutants (POPs), as well as to wastewater treatment and management. Ongoing activities in support of the Protocol include the implementation of the GEF Strategic Partnership for the Mediterranean Large Marine Ecosystem.

The Western Indian Ocean Region: On 1 April 2010, Ministers and representatives of the 10 African countries sharing the Western Indian Ocean considered and adopted two new legal instruments, namely:

The Amended Nairobi Convention for the Protection, Management and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the Western Indian Ocean (Amended Nairobi Convention) and;
The Protocol for the Protection of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the Western Indian Ocean from Land–Based Sources and Activities (LBSA Protocol). The objective for the revision of the Nairobi Convention was to take onboard emerging issues and trends at both global and regional levels, particularly pollution from land-based sources and activities that have implications on the management of the coastal and marine environment. The development of the LBSA Protocol to the Nairobi Convention is based on the broad recognition by the Contracting Parties that pollution from land-based sources and activities constitutes one of the major threats to the sustainability of the marine and coastal environment in the Western Indian Ocean region.

In addition, the Ministers endorsed the Strategic Action Programme (SAP) for the Protection of the Marine and Coastal Environment in the Western Indian Ocean from Land-based Sources and Activities. The SAP aims at ensuring efficient management of the marine and coastal environment in the larger Eastern and Southern African region. It incorporates strategies for assisting countries to achieve an overall regional vision of: “People prospering from a Healthy Western Indian Ocean.”

For more information please visit:
Sick Water recommendations

The “Sick Water” report provides six major recommendations: Countries should adopt a multisectoral approach, including ecosystem management, to cope with rising wastewater production; Countries must establish national plans from water source to ocean and create national to local strategies. Over 70% of the water is consumed by agriculture for irrigation; Financing and investment are urgently needed and must address design, ecosystem restoration, construction, operation and maintenance of waste water infrastructure. Public management of the water supply and wastewater management have provided best results for broad public benefit, with private sector mainly beneficial in improving operation and maintenance; Communities and nations should plan for increasing incidents of extreme weather and rising urbanization in the future; and For effective waste water management, social, cultural, environmental and economical aspects must be carefully considered; and Education has a crucial role to play in water and wastewater management, helping to ensure water, nutrients and future opportunities for employment and development are not wasted.

The report "Sick water?” can be accessed at or at including high and low resolution graphics for free use in publications. Credits and sources for the photographs can be found at the back of the report.
Wastewater Management Training

With the view to enhance wastewater management, UNEP, working in collaboration with UNDP, UNESCO and UNDOALOS, and with financial support from the GEF, the EU and other donors, has trained over 1,800 municipal wastewater managers from 67 countries. The training provides participants with analytical tools, substantive information and skills on how to select, plan and finance appropriate and environmentally sound municipal wastewater management systems.
Regional Seas LBS/A Protocols

Black Sea: Protocol on Protection of the Black Sea Marine Environment Against Pollution from Land-based Sources; adopted in 1992, in force in 1994;
Mediterranean Sea: Protocol for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution from Land-Based Sources; adopted in 1980, in force in 1983, amended in 1996 as the Protocol for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution from Land-Based Sources and Activities;
ROPME Sea Area: Protocol Protocol for the Protection of the Marine Environment against Pollution from Land-Based Sources; adopted 1990, in force 1993;
South East Pacific: Protocol for the Protection of the South-East Pacific against Pollution from Land-based Sources; adopted 1983, in force 1986;
Wider Caribbean: Protocol on the prevention, reduction and control of land-based sources and activities; adopted in 1999;
Red Sea and Gulf of Aden: Protocol concerning the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden; adopted in September 2005; and
Eastern and Southern Africa: Protocol for the Protection of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the Western Indian Ocean from Land – Based Sources and Activities (LBSA Protocol); adopted in 2010.

2 billion tons of wastewater versus two million tons of waste: The two million tons relates to the dry weight of the solids and other materials entering rivers and the marine environment. Two billion tons or more estimates the weight of both the solids and the contaminated water itself. The calculation is:

2 million tons of waste and 1,500 km3 of wastewater per year which is 4.1 km3 per day, which is 2 billion tons or more daily depending on the definition of wastewater. The 6th COP to the Nairobi Convention, organized from 29 March to 1 April 2010 by UNEP in close collaboration with the Government of Kenya as the host, and the Government of Mauritius as the Chair of the Bureau of the Convention, was held under the theme 'Sustaining Progress'. The Conference brought together Ministers responsible for the environment and other government delegates from all ten Contracting Parties to the Nairobi Convention, along with international and regional experts, representatives of international, regional, national and local non- governmental organizations and members of civil society. For more information regarding COP6 contact Dixon Waruinge –
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