Water Pollution from Agriculture - a Global Review

Water Pollution from Agriculture - a Global Review

Water pollution is a global challenge that has increased in both developed and developing countries, undermining economic growth as well as the physical and environmental health of billions of people.

Although global attention has focused primarily on water quantity, water-use efficiency and allocation issues, poor wastewater management has created serious water-quality problems in many parts of the world, worsening the water crisis. Global water scarcity is caused not only by the physical scarcity of the resource but also by the progressive deterioration of water quality in many countries, reducing the quantity of water that is safe to use.

Human settlements, industries and agriculture are the major sources of water pollution. Globally, 80 percent of municipal wastewater is discharged into water bodies untreated, and industry is responsible for dumping millions of tonnes of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes into water bodies each year (WWAP, 2017). Agriculture, which accounts for 70 percent of water abstractions worldwide, plays a major role in water pollution. Farms discharge large quantities of agrochemicals, organic matter, drug residues, sediments and saline drainage into water bodies. The resultant water pollution poses demonstrated risks to aquatic ecosystems, human health and productive activities (UNEP, 2016).

Agricultural pressures on water quality come from cropping and livestock systems and aquaculture, which have all expanded and intensified to meet increasing food demand related to population growth and changes in dietary patterns.

Javier Mateo-Sagasta (IWMI),
Sara Marjani Zadeh (FAO)
and Hugh Turral

with contributions from
Jacob Burke (formerly FAO) 

Published by
the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Rome, 2017
and the International Water Management Institute on behalf of
the Water Land and Ecosystems research program
Colombo, 2017