When we think about the most dire threats to our planet, poor sanitation rarely tops the list. And yet it’s a significant (and in some cases immediate) contributor to sickness and pollution in both rural and urban areas.
Every day, around 2 million tons of human waste are disposed of in water channels. Among other contributing factors, this sanitation problem limits the availability of uncontaminated drinking water—especially in developing nations, which often lack the proper treatment and drainage facilities. Overall, 2.5 billion people around the world currently lack access to improved sanitation, and 27 percent of urban dwellers in developing nations do not have access to piped water in their homes.
These sanitation issues apply to U.S. cities as well—albeit on a much smaller scale. As America’s urban populations continue to grow, so too does the demand for clean water. The U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that 40 states will experience some kind of water shortage in the next 10 years.
These shortages negatively impact water quality in unincorporated communities, as CityLab’s Laura Bliss has chronicled in her series on the water crisis in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Meanwhile, urbanized areas run the risk of sewer systems clogging and spilling over into rivers and streams due to excessive groundwater or stormwater. The EPA estimates anywhere from 23,000 to 75,000 overflows of sanitary-sewer systems each year in the U.S.