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Bottled water fuelling famine around the world: Study

"The rise in bottled water consumption reflects decades of limited progress.”

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(Photo by Steve Johnson via Pexels)

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Bottled water is fuelling famine around the world, according to a new report from the UN.

The multi-billion dollar industry has masked failures to supply safe drinking water for all, scientists said.

A quarter of the global population, around two billion people, are facing drought but
providing them with safe water would require an annual investment of less than half the $272 billion now spent every year on bottled varieties.

On top of this, it is estimated the industry produced around 600 billion plastic bottles and containers in 2021, which converts to some 25 million tons of plastic waste – most of it not recycled and destined for landfills.

The mass of plastic is equal to the weight of 625,000 40-ton trucks - enough to form a bumper-to-bumper line from New York to Bangkok.

Professor Kaveh Madani, director of the UN University's Canada-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health, said: "The rise in bottled water consumption reflects decades of limited progress.”

When the Sustainable Development Goals were agreed in 2015 experts estimated around £95 billion a year would achieve the key target of universal safe drinking water.

Prof. Madani said: "This points to a global case of extreme social injustice, whereby billions of people worldwide do not have access to reliable water services while others enjoy water luxury."

The report says bottled water is a less affordable option for many - but "remains highly profitable for producers." It has been released a few days prior to World Water Day.

Prof. Madani's team quotes surveys showing it is often perceived in wealthy countries as healthier and tastier than tap water - a luxury rather than a necessity.

In less affluent areas in the southern hemisphere, sales are driven by the lack or absence of reliable public water supplies and water delivery infrastructure limitations due to rapid urbanization.

In mid- and low-income countries, bottled water consumption is linked to poor tap water quality and often unreliable public water supply systems – problems often caused by corruption and chronic underinvestment in piped water infrastructure.


Lead author Dr. Zeineb Bouhlel said beverage corporations draw attention to isolated public water system failures,

He said: "Even if in certain countries piped water is or can be of good quality, restoring public trust in tap water is likely to require substantial marketing and advocacy efforts.”

Sources of bottled water, treatment processes, storage conditions and packaging can all potentially alter quality.

The report said: "The mineral composition of bottled water can vary significantly between different brands, within the same brand in different countries, and even between different bottles of the same batch."

It lists examples from over 40 countries in every world region of contamination of hundreds of bottled water brands and all types.

Dr. Bouhlel said: "This review constitutes strong evidence against the misleading perception that bottled water is an unquestionably safe drinking water source."

Co-author Dr. Vladimir Smakhtin said: "Bottled water is generally not nearly as well-regulated and is tested less frequently and for fewer parameters.

"Strict water quality standards for tap water are rarely applied to bottled water, and even if such analyses are carried out, the results seldom make it to the public domain."

Producers have largely avoided the scrutiny governments impose on public water utilities.

Amid the market's rapid growth, it is "probably more important than ever to strengthen legislation that regulates the industry overall, and its water quality standards in particular," he said.

The report says environmental impacts on water resources "may be significant."

In the U.S., for example, Nestle Waters extracts three million liters a day from Florida Springs.

In France, Danone extracts up to 10 million liters a day from Evian-les-Bains in the French Alps.

And in China, the Hangzhou Wahaha Group extracts up to 12 million liters daily from Changbai Mountains springs.

By 2025, severe global water shortages and hunger will affect 1.8 billion people due to the loss of fertile farming lands.

It is feared climate change will make dry regions drier and wet areas wetter - exacerbating the crisis.

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