NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

World Water Quality

March 7, 2003

Belgium has the dirtiest water in the world, according to the United Nation's first World Water Development Report. That put Belgium last in a ranking of 122 countries -- below India, Jordan and nine African countries. No other member of the European Union appears even in the bottom half of the rankings. The next worst, in 57th place, is Germany.

  • The top three are Finland, Canada and New Zealand, with the United States 12th and Australia 20th.
  • Britain, the EU nation most frequently charged with water-quality infringements, turns out to have the world's fourth cleanest water.

The water quality index scores countries according to the cleanliness of their rivers and underground water, sewage treatment and enforcement of anti-pollution laws.

  • A century ago, both Brussels and London had stinking, sewage-laden rivers.
  • London cleaned up the Thames and salmon now swim in it.
  • But raw sewage still pours untreated into Belgium's rivers, where it mixes with manure from intensive livestock farms.
  • A sewage treatment plant for Brussels is expected to be completed in 2005.

The report also warns of growing water shortages, and it highlights huge disparities in the availability of water in individual countries:

  • Greenland has more than 10 million cubic meters per inhabitant per year and French Guiana more than 800,000 cubic meters.
  • By comparison, the U.K., about two-thirds of the way down the list, has 2,500 cubic meters per head.
  • But at the bottom is Kuwait, with just 10 cubic meters per head.

The desert nation's already meager underground water supplies were crippled by Iraq's sabotage of its oil wells in 1991, which polluted 40 per cent of reserves.

Source: Fred Pearce, "Sewage-laden Belgian water worst in world," New Scientist, March 5, 2003; based on United Nations World Water Development Program, "Water for People, Water for Life," March 2003, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.


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