Monday, May 29, 2023
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< view full issue: Infrastructure and Climate Change in Latin America
Juan Iglesias

How climate change affects economic growth


The world faces an invisible water quality crisis that is decreasing the potential for economic growth in highly polluted areas by one third and is endangering human and environmental well-being, according to a World Bank report.

Aguas residuales

The report Quality Unknown: The Invisible Water Crisis shows, through new data and methods, how a combination of bacteria, sewage, chemicals and plastic material can absorb oxygen from water sources and transform them into poison for people and ecosystems. To shed light on the issue, the World Bank has established the largest database on water quality in the world, with data obtained through monitoring stations, remote sensing technologies and machine learning.

The report notes that the lack of clean water decreases economic growth by a third and, therefore, urges immediate attention to be given at the global, national and local levels to these hazards that both developed and emerging economy countries face equally.

“Clean water is a key factor for economic growth. The deterioration of water quality slows that growth, worsens health conditions, reduces food production and exacerbates poverty in many countries,” stated David Malpass, President of the World Bank Group.

"Governments have to take urgent measures to help solve the problem of water pollution, so that countries can grow more rapidly in an equitable and environmentally sustainable way".

When the biological oxygen demand in the water -a measurement that quantifies the organic pollution recorded and an indirect indicator of its overall quality- exceeds a certain threshold, the growth of the gross domestic product of the regions located downstream suffers a falls of up to a third due to the effects on health, agriculture and ecosystems.

A key element that contributes to the deterioration of water quality is the nitrogen that, when applied as an agricultural fertilizer on the land, eventually enters rivers, lakes and oceans where it is transformed into nitrates.

Exposure early in life to nitrates affects growth and brain creation in children, which in turn negatively impacts their health and income potential in adulthood. The runoff and discharge into the water of each additional kilogram of nitrogen fertilizers per hectare can increase the growth retardation rates of children by 19% and reduce their income in adulthood by up to 2%, compared to those who are not exposed.

The report also notes that agricultural yield drops as the salinity of water and soil increases as a result of more severe droughts, storm surges and increased water extraction. In the world, an amount of food sufficient for 170 million people is lost every year due to the salination of the waters.

The report recommends a set of measures that countries should take to improve water quality, including: environmental policies and standards; thorough monitoring of pollution loads; systems that guarantee compliance with standards; water treatment infrastructure backed by incentives for private investment, and the dissemination of reliable and accurate information among households to inspire citizen participation.

The report funded in part by the Global Water Security & Sanitation Partnership, a multi-donor trust fund of the World Bank's World Water Practices. Report link:



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