Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Toxic waste: The most polluted waters in the world

From raw sewage to microplastics, our oceans and waterways are becoming more toxic by the day

Stuart McDill,Alex Richardson
Sunday 25 April 2021 00:01 BST
An aerial view shows rotten trees in a toxic lake near the town of Yatagan, Turkey
An aerial view shows rotten trees in a toxic lake near the town of Yatagan, Turkey (Reuters)

About four billion people experience severe water shortages for at least one month a year and around 1.6 billion people – almost a quarter of the world's population – have problems accessing a clean, safe water supply, according to the United Nations.

While the UN's Sustainable Development Goals call for water and sanitation for all by 2030, the world body says water scarcity is increasing and more than half the world's population will be living in water-stressed regions by 2050.

In the run-up to the UN's World Water Day, Reuters photographers used drones to capture dramatic pictures and video of polluted waterways around the world.

In one image, a discarded sofa lies beached in the Tiete river, in Brazil's biggest city Sao Paulo, into which hundreds of tonnes of untreated sewage and waste are tipped each day.

Others show domestic waste clogging the Citarum river in Bandung, Indonesia, and sewage flowing into the Euphrates in Najaf, Iraq.

Domestic waste floating on the Citarum River in Bandung, Indonesia (Reuters)
A discarded sofa on the Tiete river near Ecological Tiete Park in Sao Paulo, Brazil (Reuters)
Hovercrafts on the ice of Lake Baikal near Irkutsk, Russia (Reuters)

Dr Julia Brown, a human geographer specialising in environment and development at the University of Portsmouth, says many countries with water-intensive agriculture and industry lack adequate safe drinking water.

“When we buy products and buy food and clothing we don't always appreciate that we're actually importing somebody else's water and often those countries where we're importing water from, like in avocados or our denim jeans, they're actually very water-scarce countries,” she says.

Workers collect plastic from the polluted Potpecko Lake near the town of Priboj, Serbia (Reuters)
Water contaminated with raw sewage flows into the ocean at Hann Bay on the eastern edge of Dakar (Reuters)
A drain pipe carries raw sewage into the Euphrates River, near Najaf, Iraq (Reuters)

Brown adds that, while extending access to water is important, maintaining that access in some of the poorest parts of the world is often overlooked.

“NGOs like to have their photographs taken with a shiny new hand pump ... then they walk away and it's handed over to communities to raise the funds to maintain these systems, to make sure that they're repaired. And if they're not?” she says.

A University of Manchester report in 2018 found that the River Tame near Denton had 'the worst' level of microplastic pollution ever recorded anywhere in the world at that time (Reuters)
Rubbish on the shore of Guanabara bay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazi (Reuters)

“The research indicates at any one time one-third of hand pumps across Sub-Saharan Africa are broken.”


Interested in learning more about the Climate Crisis? Follow Independent Climate on Instagram

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in