This book has described a range of environmental problems which are encountered in the UK and in other developed countries at the close of the twentieth century. We are fortunate that we are living in a time when our environment in the UK has improved greatly even though there are more of us and we are emitting more waste, whether it be fumes, effluents or rubbish. This is because there are many more controls and limits on how much we can discharge into the environment. There are always new pressures though: at the time of writing at the start of 1998, there is concern about air quality from the rapidly increasing numbers of private cars in towns and cities, and about groups of chemicals that can alter the endocrine systems responsible for reproduction of aquatic life. Some of these chemicals have produced male characteristics in marine molluscs whilst others have resulted in the feminization of male fish in some rivers.1
These environmental pressures are being brought under control by new environmental laws. The European Union plays a major part now in environmental legislation and most environmental improvements in the UK are as a result of laws emanating from Brussels rather than London. In the water sector, there are EC Directives covering the quality of drinking water and bathing water, there are defined quality levels for waters for fish life and shellfish growing, there are limits on discharges for a great many hazardous substances, and there are standards for the quality of effluents discharged into rivers and the sea. Work is in progress on defining 'good ecological quality' waters with the aim that member states of the EU will achieve this status by 2010. There are also EU laws covering solid waste disposal, the amount of packaging used and its recycling, and there are targets for improving air quality and reducing emissions of acid gases and CO2, limits on noise emitted from a wide range of machinery, controls on the movement of radioactive and other hazardous wastes between countries, and many more environmental pollutants are covered by various Directives.
Referring back to Chapter 1 and the growth of the human population, the environmental issues we have been concerned about in this book pale into insignificance when compared with the problems encountered in those countries of the developing world where poverty, overpopulation and lack of food, water and education threaten the lives of people living there.2 In these countries, the availability of clean drinking water is probably one of the most important factors that affects people's day-to-day living. Some stark statistics convey the extent of the problem:
World-wide: 27 countries are short of water a quarter of the population has no safe water to drink nearly a half have no proper sanitation 4 million children die each year of waterborne diseases.3
In our advanced nations, we are demanding higher and higher standards for our water supply which involves the expenditure of millions of pounds on new treatment processes. In the developing world, the concern is about just getting water. Growing populations and depleted supplies involve millions of people (usually women) in long walks to a muddy waterhole to fill up a container of water for the family's needs. If only such human effort could be channelled into more productive work and education, then there would be some hope for their future. Some advances in the provision of drinking water in the developing world have been made, particularly by the efforts of charities such as WaterAid, Christian Aid, Save the Children, etc. which are involved in thousands of projects world-wide, such as drilling new boreholes to underground supplies, providing simple pumping equipment, pipes and storage tanks and setting up effective sanitation systems. However, these are local efforts which are alleviating local problems. Of more concern is the way some countries are exploiting water supplies for their own people and denying them to neighbouring countries. This happens particularly in areas of scarce supply where river water is being extracted in one country and this does not leave enough for the neighbouring country downstream. There are special problems in the Middle East with Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria all trying to secure the diminishing water supplies for themselves. The last Secretary General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, said, 'The next war in the Middle East will be fought over water, not politics.'
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