In the past few decades, the world has accomplished significant economic growth. But this has happened in parallel with large amounts of water and air pollution. The result is a noticeable impact on human and environmental health and the ways in which several major earth systems function such as the climate, as per a report ‘Towards a pollution-free planet’, adopted by the Member States of the United Nations.
Big cities around the world, especially the ones in developing countries are facing poor wastewater management systems with an increasing population. Toxic gases (also greenhouse gases) such as methane and nitrous oxide have heavily polluted the urban waterways. Recently, a global study revealed that concentrations of antibiotics in some of the freshwaters around the world exceed safe levels by up to 300 times.
The apparently never-ending human activities that are affecting the natural ecosystem are a major threat to food security and water supplies which serve as the lifeblood for human existence. According to a report from the UN, if these problems are not noticed immediately, then the Sustainable Development Goals will be out of reach.
Let us see what the UN has to say…
The Water Pollutes Air
Oceans are a major source of food for over 3.5 billion people in the world. Yet, these water bodies are used as waste and wastewater dumps. Industries and mines pollute waterways, the source of drinking water, and the air, the source of oxygen. Similarly, fertilizers in agriculture lead to an increase in the nutrient pollution that ends up in rivers, lakes, and wetlands. Over time, these ecosystems become polluted and cause air pollution.
One of the major consequences of nutrient pollution is algal blooms that not just threaten the aquatic animals but also pollute the air. Algal blooms emit noxious gases such as the nitrogen compounds which suffocate fishes and also pollute the air.
In addition, when fossil fuels are burnt, they release sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide into the atmosphere. These air pollutants dissolve in the water vapour and come back to the land in the form of acid rain.
Moreover, the accelerated production of livestock produces a high level of methane. Hence, the interconnected processes between the water bodies and the ocean reach the groundwater, the coast, and the ocean.
A large number of countries use groundwater for irrigation and over 80% of the world’s wastewater is discharged into the environment without treatment.
In this connection, zero waste management the most comprehensive solution to the adversities being faced by the environment and humankind. An increasing number of smart cities are using this powerful strategy to reach ambitious environmental goals. Nevertheless, there is one thing that can further amplify the implementation process of zero waste management, which is furthered ahead.
Solution Yet To Be Implemented
In March 2019, the fourth United Nations Environment Assembly passed a resolution in agreement to improve the mainstreaming of the protection of coastal and marine ecosystems in policies. The focus is especially on addressing environmental threats caused by increased wastewater, nutrients, marine litter, and microplastics, in support fo the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
In this context, Birguy Lamizana, a UN Environment specialist says there are several measures that can address pollution. But the goal is to choose the key measures that can address all types of pollution across all sectors using a life-cycle approach, in the most beneficial way.
Further, she says that the enhancement of wastewater management systems in developing countries can bring enormous dividends, particularly for the health and well-being of the world’s poorest people. For instance, it can help over 800 million people who are undernourished.
UN Environment along with its partners are helping countries identify an achievable number of cost-effective measures to mitigate wastewater pollution and develop a better case for the acceptance and implementation. However, in order to achieve this, reliable, consistent and trustworthy data sources are required.
The Need For Data
According to Lamizana, for improving the ability to develop national statistical systems and use pollution-related statistics for managing and monitoring the water, soil and air effectively, countries need better quality data to evaluate the status and impact of wastewater pollution.
Therefore, in the wake of the need for better data, the 2019 United Nations Environment Assembly passed a resolution encouraging the Member States to gather data on economic indicators i.e. associated with poverty and the environment. The purpose is to allow the tracking of progress towards the elimination of poverty and the management of natural resources and the environment.
Here Comes The Role Of Geospatial Data
Geospatial data is a technology that has not been utilised to its full potential. The technology enables the translation of the physical world into a digital version through the implementation of advanced sensor technology. This feature alone opens up endless possibilities for the world.
Geographic Information System (GIS) integrated with IoT provides professionals of the water treatment system with dynamic real-time insights into spatial and materialistic events in the water’s lifecycle. This includes weather, supply, storage, treatment, transportation, customer usage, quality, and treatment and disposal of wastewater back into the natural ecosystem.
Furthermore, the use of cost-effective wireless communication, cloud servers, and IoT and GIS integrated website application are now enabling the democratisation of data and information systems occurring on a global scale. This can help utilities enhance long-term planning, engineering, operation, and management of water and wastewater infrastructure and environmental assets.
A New Software
As per Steven W Berglund, President & CEO of Trimble, “Geospatial technology has always been the backbone of society.”
Trimble, a California-based software developer has revealed the launch of Trimble Unity Wastewater Flow Monitoring and Analysis software for wastewater and stormwater utilities and flow service providers. The first release of the GIS and web-based platform will provide the customers with web and mobile software that expands and enhances Trimble’s Telog®Enterprise software. This will serve in improving the performance and response to storms, wet weather and sewer overflow.
The new software will allow the utilities to have access to data while also being able to edit and manage it from Trimble’s Telog family of Internet of Things (IoT) wireless data recorders, including the newly released Telog Ru-35 4G LTE wireless wastewater monitoring recorder. The software also offers modern web-based user interface (UI) and mobile apps for iOs and Android device which will assist utilities in extending the real-time monitoring of data to all the workers in office and field.
Although there are a number of other benefits and features of the new software, one of the most notable is that the platform will provide tools to visualise, report and analyse workflows. This will allow utilities to analyse and identify flow anomalies in no time, which could result in infrastructure failure, flooding, environmental damage and administrative penalties.
The Smart City Of San Diego Awarded For Innovative Use Of GIS
Esri, an international supplier of GIS presented the President’s Award to the City of San Diego and the Government of the District of Columbia for their innovative use of geospatial data.
The smart city won the award for both the traditional and innovative use of GIS for the development of maps, collection of data and transformation of business practices.
Besides the use of GIS system for a range of applications, San Diego has also implemented it in monitoring open water, environmentally sensitive areas and underground facilities. The port city has also used a LiDAR-based tree canopy assessment to support its Climate Action Plan.