Globalization and industrialization have a marked effect on water and food security, with both beneficial and detrimental effects on water and air quality and living standards, especially in emerging economies. Air pollution is visible and relatively easier to control with enforcement of legislation, but water pollution is insidious and easily goes undetected. Contamination of food and water can have potentially deadly consequences, but many of these are preventable if proactive actions are taken. The availability of clean water depends on preservation of the watershed, which will not occur without proper planning, taking proactive measures, and enforcement of environmental laws. Governments have the fiduciary responsibility to make policies and implement and enforce legislations to preserve the environment, including watersheds. Administrations also must ensure all citizens have access to affordable, potable water and safe, sanitary facilities. Every nation needs to have and enforce a fair national water policy and legislations that ensures clean water and air; lacking such policies and legislation is suicidal. This article focuses on exploring the current understanding of the importance of preserving water quality and watersheds and practical ways to minimize anthropogenic water pollution by proactively preserving watersheds and the environment. Failure to take such actions will harm not only water quality, but also the environment, economy, and health of current and future generations.
Keywords: Agrochemicals; Agriculture; Agro business; Behavior, Human diseases; Hydrogeology; Premature Death; Prevention;
Pollution; Renal failure
Clean water is a scarce and precious resource that is essential to human life [1, 2]. It is at the core of human civilization and provides meaning for some of our most powerful metaphors. People feel joy in the relief of cool water on hot skin and recognize beauty in the stillness of a lake in a verdant landscape. It is not surprising that water has been the subject of poetry, music, dance, and the visual arts across continents, cultures, and history.
However, the amount of freshwater on Earth is finite. The earth neither receives water from other bodies nor loses it to them. Water is found in liquid, solid, and vapor forms, with each form having the ability to change from one state to another. About 97.5% of the water on Earth is in the oceans, which are saltwater (sea) bodies. Although the total quantity of freshwater is about 2.5% of the water on earth, only 0.6% of that total is available for human use.
All organisms require water for basic life processes and a multiplicity of other purposes. The quality of the freshwater in streams, canals, lakes, and reservoirs depends on the quality of water coming from watersheds. Thus, the preservation of watersheds is important not only for the current generation but also for the generations to come. Therefore, policy makers and environmental authorities need to understand how ecosystems function, including how anthropogenic activities and various other externalities affecting watersheds.
In addition to restoring and preserving aquatic systems, the preservation of watersheds requires attention to the hydrological, chemical, and biological indices and provision of integrated support for preserving the soil–water environment . However, to achieve effective protection of watersheds, environmental protection agencies not only need to understand the ground realities, but also need to fully implement applicable laws and regulations, proactively analyze ecosystem functions and ecological health indicators, and continue proactively assessing rivers, lakes, estuaries, coasts, and wetlands .
Worldwide, deforestation and degradation of forests continue [4, 5], and tropical forests are being cut down at an alarming rate, approximately 17 to 20 million hectares per year . If this continues at the current rate, near-total destruction of rain forests may be experienced within decades secondary to declining topsoil, deterioration of watersheds, climatic changes, and destruction of the livelihood of local inhabitants, livable habitats, and the environment [4,7,8].
Importance of having national environmental policy,legislation, and a water act:
Water and soil chemistry affect not only the fauna, flora, and environment, but also the health and well-being of humans . The failure of nations to adopt proper soil and water conservation measures and the lack of a global plan lead to water scarcity, mal-distribution of freshwater, escalating unrest and hostilities, water contamination and poor water quality , and human ill health . In addition, there are growing concerns about the negative health impacts of climate change, global warming, ecosystem degradation, and environmental issues secondary to both legal and illegal human activities and population pressures [12, 13].
Population growth continues to increase the demand for construction of new settlements and infrastructure, requiring more and more resources. Meanwhile, socioeconomic trends and health issues are interlinked with environmental issues and regional policies. The limited reserves of non-renewable energy and the shortage of clean water make this matter worse [14-16]. Feeding increasing populations puts increasing pressure on food production, crop output, and clean water. Since the Green revolution, farmers have been relying on agrochemicals and engineered seeds to increase crop output. However, declining resources, especially labor, arable land, and freshwater, are becoming a limiting factor in modern agricultural output and thus expansion of human settlements [17, 18]. New settlements are dependent on exhaustible petrochemicals and agrochemicals, particularly fertilizer .
Drinkable versus polluted water
Water pollution from microbes causes easily identifiable diarrheal illnesses. The consumption of water contaminated with heavy metals, fluoride, and other toxins may cause insidious illnesses that lead to protracted, non-communicable diseases and even untimely deaths. In general, water that is contaminated with toxic chemicals or even microbes that adversely affect human health cannot be seen, tasted, or smelled [20, 21].
Figure 1. Illustration of environmental pollution caused by natural and anthropogenic causes and the importance of proactive prevention of human diseases by protecting watershed and water bodies. Also shown are key contributors to water pollution and interlinked interactions among various government departments and agencies that would facilitate maintenance of the health of people. CEA, Central Environment Authority; EPA, Environmental Protection Agency; DOA, Department of Agriculture.
In general, water is considered polluted when particulate matter, dissolved substances, chemicals, microorganisms, and other materials reach levels that can cause harm to living organisms, amenities, structures, and materials [22, 23]. Most clean water and purified water (e.g., municipality pipe-borne water) contains small amounts of ions and impurities that do not cause disease. The effects of consuming unsafe and contaminated water can be devastating.
The cost of providing clean water and sanitation is only a fraction of the cost required to treat diseases related to poor quality drinking water. In addition, provision of clean water and sanitation saves more lives than all other medical technologies put together. Lack of access to safe water leads to a perpetual cycle of poverty, disease, loss of productivity and opportunity costs, and death, and may even wipe out entire community.
Additional items that are considered water pollutants include gases, such as ammonia, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide; plant nutrients, including nitrate and phosphate; heavy metals (some of which may come from fertilizers, pesticides, and gasoline products), such as nickel, chromium, lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury; and many other contaminants, including cyanides, bacterial and fungal toxins, nitrates, and radionuclides . Sedimentation, high turbidity (total dissolved substances, TDS) and suspended particles, and high electrical conductivity in water (mostly due to salinity [NaCl]) also are considered pollutants . Contributory events that lead to water pollution and increase morbidity and mortality, and interactions among stakeholders are shown in Figure 1.
Opportunity costs of not protecting the environment
Worldwide some progress has been made in water purification technologies, recycling, and access to clean water, but still more than 1.5 billion people in developing countries and emerging economies do not have access to safe drinking water, and 1.7 billion people have inadequate sanitation that has not improved during the past decade . In addition, the lack of access to safe sanitation in urban and suburban areas is on the rise [26, 27].
In fact, most of the infectious-based waterborne diseases are a result of poor sanitation , resulting in 900 million cases of diarrhea each year, 500 million cases of trachoma, 200 million of schistosomiasis and bilharzia, and more than 900 million of hookworm disease . Despite efforts to change these figures, they are still not improving significantly. Other life-threatening diseases resulting from improper sanitation include cholera, amebiasis, typhoid, and paratyphoid. The methodology and costs of removing impurities from water are dependent on the types of impurities present. Appropriate chlorination or boiling of water eliminate more than 99% of microbial agents, but the removal of heavy metals, fluoride, chemicals, and toxins (e.g., cyanobacterial toxins) is difficult, costly, and frequently requires sophisticated technology .
Poor air quality also affects human health. Air quality is threatened by dust and smoke pollution; the burning of wood and deforestation; charcoal; oil refineries; and coal-burning power stations. In certain countries, high levels of lead from automobile emissions and mining and refinery industries contribute not only to air pollution, but also to climate change and exacerbate acute and chronic human diseases, particularly respiratory problems such as asthma. Some factors leading to air pollution also contaminate water resources. Because non-infectious sources of pollution are less in easy to identify, thousands of people experience chronic non-communicable diseases.
Commercial agriculture in particular involves manipulation and exploitation of soil, water, and other natural resources and has profound impacts on the ecosystem . However, ongoing environmental degradation of marine and freshwater resources can be minimized by early identification of the issues, preventative vigilance, and regulation of human and industrial activities [14, 15]. There is also a place for non-governmental organizations to function as legitimate monitors of private and governmental activities. Such actions include evaluating water quality, implementing and monitoring water policy, properly managing wastewater treatment systems used in households and industries, and lobbying respective governments to take appropriate actions .
Methods of water pollution
Because of its unique chemical structure, water has the ability to dissolve many substances. Water in streams, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, wells, and the ocean is subject to pollution by human activities and natural events. The latter includes volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, and floods.
Rainfall and drainage physically flush the pollutants. Polluted water bodies have a mixture of anthropogenic, organic, and inorganic matter in addition to biocides. The latter facilitates the decomposition of the former. Putrescible waste, such as sewage and other organic matter, and farm waste are removed mostly via microbial-mediated degradation mechanisms. However, decomposition actions by bacteria need a complex substrate and warmer temperature; dampness and vegetation facilitate this process. Chemical and persistent pollutants, such as synthetic chemicals, pesticides, and heavy metals, do not easily clear from the environment and may last in the system for years.
In general, some persistent pollutants are removed, over a period of years, by less-efficient, bio-accumulating systems, including plants and filtering invertebrates that sequester the pollutant. Meanwhile, some soil types tightly bind to on-degradable components and pollutants, including some pesticides such as glyphosate, and thus are taken out of the food chain. However, these actions depend on water flow, river typology, prevailing weather conditions, the incoming sediment load, microbial actions, and other factors.
Microbial water contaminations and ill health
In contrast to Africa and parts of South America, in most South Asian countries water is available in most places throughout the year. Nevertheless, within each country there are drought-stricken regions and areas with less access to freshwater. Although Asians live in a water-rich culture, water pollution is not new in this part of the world [9, 30-33]. Water pollution and microbial water contamination are universal, especially in regions where there are fewer and poorly constructed sanitary facilities and waste discharge systems.
However, water pollution and contamination also occur secondary to animal husbandry and wildlife [30, 34, 37]. Bacteria and viruses predominantly come from sewage and septic systems but also from agricultural and livestock operations and wildlife . To avoid health hazards, water obtained from any polluted source with human or animal feces or contaminated with animal carcasses must be boiled or appropriately chlorinated and filtered before consumption [30, 33].
Agrochemicals and water contaminations
Inorganic contaminants, such as salts and metals, can be naturally occurring [39, 40] or anthropogenic. The latter include overuse of water from agro-wells, urban storm-water runoff, industrial or domestic wastewater discharge, or the products of oil or gas production, mining, or farming [33, 34, 41].
Animal husbandry-related water pollution is attributable mostly to poor planning and farmers and industries taking unethical shortcuts. Agrochemical pollution of water and soil is mostly caused by irresponsible use and overuse of agrochemicals. Such use is encouraged by the provision of governmental fertilizer subsidies [25, 32, 42]. However, the demonstration or mere presence of components in water (e.g., heavy metals and glyphosate together) does not mean that such components, either individually or in combination, cause or are associated with a disease, such as chronic kidney disease of multi-factorial origin (CKDmfo).
Pesticides and herbicides in water come from a variety of sources, including urban storm-water runoff, residential spillage [43, 44], and agriculture [36, 45, 46]. Organochlorine compounds (OCs) that are found in pesticides include dichloro-diphenyl- trichloroethanes (DDTs), hexachlorobenzene (HCB), hexachlorocyclohexanes (HCHs), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Once absorbed, some of these compounds accumulate in liver, muscle, and fatty tissues of the human body and are difficult to eliminate .
Organic chemical contamination, including that caused by synthetic solids and volatile organic chemicals , occurs through petroleum products and by-products of industrial processes [42, 48]. It can also come from gasoline stations,vehicle discharges, vehicle washes, urban storm-water runoff, and septic systems. Radioactive contaminants usually occur naturally but also come from exploration of gas and mining activities.
Three decades ago, most paddy fields and streams in communities had plenty of aquatic life, but today, because of water pollution and the excessive use of agrochemicals, fish and other living creatures are sparse in village paddy fields . Such contaminated water reaching lakes and reservoirs cannot be considered healthy for marine life. How and when these waterborne chemicals and toxins cause human disease and to what extent remain to be identified [49, 50].
In many instances, the incidence of toxin-induced human illnesses is markedly underestimated. Meanwhile, non-point pollution from agricultural runoff, waste products from animal husbandry, harvesting of timber and mining, and livestock grazing issues have become predominant [23, 38, 51]. As a result, these non-point sources of pollution have emerged as the greatest threat to the quality of water bodies in most countries .
In many countries, systematic approaches have been designed and implemented to minimize the negative impacts related to new human settlement, irrigation development, and implementation of watershed-based plans . Such essential activities can be done in a responsible way when the country has policies and legislation to safeguard watersheds, water bodies, and the environment. In the absence of such, one cannot expect to see environmentally friendly development processes. Thus, it is important for governments to implement and enforce effective clean air and water legislation to control and minimize the negative consequences of human settlement and development .
Clean water and clean air legislation in emerging economies:
Having and implementing clean water and air legislation in a country minimizes pollution threats to watersheds and water bodies and protects the environment. However, the enactment of a clean water act depends on local and central governmental policies and controls and the efficiency of water quality regulation as overseen by environmental authorities. The latter is effectively responsible for the control of point- and non-point sources of pollution.
Significant improvement in surface water quality can be achieved by controlling non-point pollution in rural areas and point pollution throughout the country. This requires enforcement of policies of water protection and preservation in a sustainable manner. If the local government is accountable in its administrative, supervisory, and educational responsibilities and farmers assume voluntary responsibilities regarding pollution control, the entire ecosystem would benefit .
In general, the pollutants originating from point pollution sources are discharged into rivers at fixed in-stream sites, whereas the pollutant loads from non-point pollution sources in rural areas enter rivers mostly by storm-water runoff . The point sources of water contamination are mostly industrial pollutants [52, 54]. Pollutant discharges from industry must be controlled by implementing a clean water act and regulating discharges into streams and rivers . Nevertheless, some local and federal governments continue to ignore these offenses because of pressure from within the political system, interested parties and lobbyists, bribery, or conflicts of interest.
The watershed approach to preserving the ecosystem
The watershed preservation approach, proactive data collection, and corrective commonsense actions prevent relying solely on site-level, cross-sectional, or retrospective data and information to avoid problems. Ongoing watershed analysis is important  because it facilitates identifying the changing priorities in the overall ecosystem, allowing timely restoration of canals, streams, and reservoirs in a given region .
Taking these proactive steps would allow quick interventions to prevent situations from getting out of control and thus avoiding disasters. These concurrent actions improve watersheds and in turn influence aquatic habitats, the food chain, and human health. Understanding such processes will help planners develop healthy micro and macro watersheds in the context of the broader ecosystem. This information should be used to identify vulnerabilities and set priorities, including aquatic restoration activities at the appropriate temporal and spatial scale.
Critical issues to consider in preserving watershed
When a country builds or expands neighborhoods and communities to accommodate expanding populations and their needs, the demand for many other resources increases, including food, clean air, water, shelter, and sanitation. It is essential that governments plan how to provide the necessary food, energy, safety, healthcare, and education to expanding neighborhoods in an environmentally friendly, sustainable, and cost-effective manner .
It would be very useful to use the geographical information system (GIS), which permits large-scale simulations of the results of changes of parameters and spatial analysis of the relationship between the occurrences of the problems, local disease spread, and polluted water. Such modelling can be integrated with the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) and GIS. This type of linking and analysis is highly informative and urgently needed to study the CKDmfo epidemic in Sri Lanka. The right decisions, political will, and nature-friendly approaches improve all components of the environment, including air and water quality, and also benefit the climate, social sustenance, peace, and the health of the community.
Strategies for overcoming pollution:
To overcome pollution problems, one needs to understand the causes and the consequences of pollution, its origin, distribution, multiple potential interactions, and fate; how pollutants affect the environment and humans; and their mitigation patterns and consequences. Understanding these factors is becoming increasingly important . Several models have been developed that make action plans inclusive and practical, including anticipation of influences from externalities and incorporating lessons learned from existing failures to develop new solutions.
One of the options is to provide some acceptable level of compensation for the positive contributions toward preservation of the environment and improved water management made by the land users (i.e., a plan similar to trading carbon quotas between countries) . Similarly, penalties or dis-incentives may be imposed on those who continue to disregard and violate laws and pollute the environment. Many countries are adapting proactive prevention programs, including provincial or local water companies subsidizing farmers or grantees who purchase their products and encouraging the use of organic and other environmentally friendly farming activities.
These incentives should encourage farmers to manage their farmlands efficiently, ensure soil conservation, and protect watershed ecosystems, all of which will have major long-term benefits . These activities are far more effective than subsidizing environmentally polluting agrochemicals, which farmers are indirectly encouraged to overuse.
Because there are cultural issues and values attached to incentives that could be perceived differently in various communities, each country and community needs to decide what is practical, cost-effective, and acceptable before implementing such programs for the preservation of the environment.
Policies, Proactive Planning, and Preservation for the Future:
Lack of right policies leads to programmatic failures Many successful large-scale human settlement and irrigation development programs have been implemented globally, but there are a number of examples of major failures in terms of ecology, the environment, and human health. These policy- derived failures are attributable in part to the lack of focus of planners and policy makers who, instead of prioritizing human concerns and the economy, were short-sighted, giving into competing interests and political maneuvers to gain votes.
The lack of proactive planning with regard to water, sanitation, and drainage lead to spread of human diseases. This further highlights the importance of legislatures and planners implementing right policies in a country to preserve the environment, ensure long-term sustainability, and protect human health.
In addition to governmental bodies, private entities have a key role in keeping the environment safe; they should drive the market to make access to better-quality, low-cost products and nutritious food, while maintaining transparency, which would bring benefits to shareholders and stakeholders . However, to avoid the loopholes and pitfalls of “green wash” in agribusiness, one needs to insist on corporate social responsibility and mandate environmental reporting. Nevertheless, having the right polices and strictly implementing environmental laws are fundamental for the long-term maintenance of a healthy environment and cleaner watersheds.
Cooperation among the government ministries, departments, and various authorities is an essential part of successful development, including the provision of clean water and the protection of the environment. These entities need to work in collaboration with non-governmental organizations and the private sector to ensure the best possible access and most cost-effective ways to provide potable water to consumers (Figure 2).
Figure 2. With reference to the responsibilities and protections of the water sector and provision of potable water, the roles of the central and provincial governments, ministries, departments, and authorities, and the integrations necessary between the public and private sectors are illustrated. NGO = non-governmental organizations; CBO = community-based organizations.
Water for people and nature
One need to think about water in new ways, including how best to manage this precious resource and whether demands for water can be met with less, rather than more, of it. Novel methods of water purification and conservation, and protection of the environment must be studied, nurtured, and implemented [63, 64]. In addition, emerging new water management process need to focus on water security, ingenuity and ecological intelligence, and work in harmony with nature, instead of relying solely on mundane mechanical pumps, turbines, pipelines, canals, and dams.
New solutions need to work with the nature, rather than against it, in a sustainable manner. Healthy watersheds and wetlands will provide effective use of the ecosystem, servicing communities in the long-term in a socially and economically sustainable manner [63, 64]. With better technologies, information, and well-balanced and unbiased choices, planners and implementers should seek to improve water quality and overall productivity, making every raindrop usable.
Investing in watershed protection
Nature does not need humans, but humans need nature. Therefore, we must protect the environment and nature. In the long term, it is always cost-effective to invest in protecting water and watersheds rather than spending money to clean up pollution and spills after the fact. Protected watersheds are an effective way to ensure water supplies are clean and reliable for years to come  and will markedly decrease water purification costs.
Such proactive arrangements would lay the foundation for the development of sustainable, centrally purified water delivery systems using technologies that incorporate natural filtering of pollutants, treatments that would not require the use of expensive chemicals or electrical processing to remove contaminants. These thoughtful approaches would significantly improve watershed protection and avoid the massive capital costs required for the installation of high-end water filtration and purification plants and their operating costs.
Conservation and preservation of the environment remain the least expensive, most sustainable, and environmentally sound approaches. These sustainable efforts need to include the protection of both air and water quality through broader community design; enhancement through revitalization of local habitat ; human-oriented community development strategies for protecting water resources; parks and recreation facilities; and integration of the above with the conservation of natural resources . Other neglected aspects are the timely repair of leaky distribution systems, retrofitting homes and businesses with water-efficient appliances (and energy-efficient lighting), promoting more sensible and efficient outdoor water use, protecting water bodies, and enhancing recycling of water and other materials.
Bottled water is one of the most expensive and environmentally harmful ways of providing drinking water. The only winners are the manufacturers and distributors of bottled water. The United States Government Accountability Office reports that filling plastic bottles with water and shipping them 100 miles for sale and distribution uses 1,000 times more energy than producing tap water.
The production of potable water from salt-water desalination also is expensive; producing 1 cubic meter of potable water using current desalination methods requires about 2 kilowatt- hours of electricity. Transporting water with bowsers (diesel-driven water transporters/tankers) to distant communities is useful in short-term, disaster situations. However, it is another environmentally unfriendly, unsustainable, and expensive method of providing water and should be discouraged.
Importance of water conservation
Conserving water is particularly crucial to agriculture because irrigation accounts for more than 70% of freshwater use. Planners and researchers need to think of ways to engineer new seed varieties and improve crop output using less water and agrochemicals. Such efforts are central to meeting future nutriment needs in a sustainable manner.
For example, the use of drip irrigation and micro-sprinkler systems in agriculture, instead of canals to bring water for plantations, would deliver water constantly, when and where it is needed at lower volumes, thus conserving water. However, the capital costs for installation of such conservation systems would be high. Because industries producing rubber, apparel, activated charcoal, desiccated coconut, and chemicals/paints are high water polluters, it is important to implement novel methods and approaches for minimizing water pollution by these water-contaminating industries. Industries should be mandated to recycle water and remove all contaminants before they allow discharge of wastewater into streams.
Communities that can achieve cost-effective protection of watersheds and water bodies, restoration and maintenance of rivers, and proper drainage systems will have a better environment and overall improved health and wealth . Undoubtedly, such proactive plans and actions are more cost-effective than a patchwork system, with the reactive channeling of water and building of levees to correct water-related issues (including flood management) and health and environmental hazards.
Governments must make potable water and safe sanitary facilities a top priority and make them accessible and affordable to all citizens. The shared responsibilities of the government, ministries, and their departments in assuring accessible and affordable potable water for people are shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3: The necessity of right policies and approaches and the inter-connectedness of the responsibilities of various stakeholders for assuring soil and water quality are illustrated. These entities and actions are needed to maintain safe water and food and optimum human and animal health.
The standard rainwater collecting system uses roofs, but other methods, including the use of green roofs and green streets, are cheaper, easier to maintain, and can be incorporated at most places for water collection [68, 69]. These smaller, temporary catchments may also help hold storm water, preventing drains and sewers from overflowing during heavy rain .
Green building, green roofs, and rooftop vegetable gardens cool buildings, especially in urban environments, and provide additional home-gardening space for urban dwellers . Home gardening must be encouraged for everyone, city dwellers and villagers. When contemplating the use of these newer approaches, replacing outdated systems with environmentally friendly green building and incorporating green ideas into designs should be considered . With time, such proactive actions will create healthier and sustainable habitats, home gardens with organically grown food, and improvements in human and animal health.
Responsibility and Accountability
Responsibility of individuals
In most developing countries and emerging economies, the tendency of the demographic shift is toward urbanization. Not many local governments are considering this reality or adapting and proactively planning for such increasing these human needs. To ensure the health of the environment and people, green spaces should be built in cities and in all new developments. Whether such spaces are parks, playing fields, flower gardens, or vegetable plots, creating green spaces in urban situations adds value for humans and the ecology, and provides economical, psychological, and health benefits [72, 73].
The role of governments in the water sector
Good governance is essential to ensuring sustainable and equitable distribution of water and securing effective delivery of a water supply that is affordable to communities. This must go in parallel with the provision of safe, sanitary facilities, which is an essential part of keeping the water bodies uncontaminated. Water is everyone’s business (Figure 2), but good governance is not possible without all stakeholders of society engaged in fair decision-making processes. Political leadership that clearly expresses its intentions of equitably assisting the public, a commitment to integrity from the water sector, and a transparent public-information–sharing system would improve the trust and water sector security.
More information is needed to understand how public resources can be used to enhance collaboration among the federal government, states, provincial government and councils, and citizens to combat pollution and determine what specific policy changes might improve overall effectiveness. In this regard, proactive planning and preventative actions are especially important. In addition to financial resources, state-run programs need to incorporate education, technical assistance, skills training, and job creation, and cultivate and nurture the public–private collaborative partnerships .
Governments need to take into account the contributions of people to the growth of the economy. This is particularly important in rural regions, where local economies are linked to agricultural productivity, diversified food production systems, infrastructure (e.g., access to housing, clean water, and energy), affordable health care, education, and the sustenance of environmental services . While mitigating health risks at the interfaces of human–ecosystem contact, governments also need to take care of the health of the overall ecology in pursuit of the common goal of overcoming hunger and malnutrition and keeping people healthy.
Public health interventions and the health and the happiness of people need to be considered and evaluated for benefits versus hazards and a balance struck between risks and cost-effectiveness. Moreover, the level of environmental risk tolerance has significant negative correlations with the educational and income levels of the local inhabitants (or the population at risk) and the credibility of the government . Therefore, in addition to the government having stronger and unbiased policies, practical and calculated investments in risk-mitigating measures are needed for long-term success.
Efforts to eliminate ecological problems and emerging environmentally induced diseases (such as CKDmfo and diarrheal diseases) and improve the population’s socioeconomic and educational levels should become a part of all government plans. Integrating health goals with overall socioeconomic and political goals is important. The current system of healthcare delivery that is dependent on acute medicine and a specialist-driven care model has not only failed to maintain the health of the population, but also has caused more ill health and increased costs. To achieve the goal of decreasing the incidence of all diseases, the aforementioned model must be reversed to a primary-care–driven model that enhances public health and preventive medicine efforts.
Environmental policies and educational efforts
The rate of food production over the past few decades has been keeping pace with population growth (in part because of the green revolution), and there is no shortage of the availability of food in cities. However, in rural and ethnic communities there a major disparity in the availability of nutritious food. Moreover, education, healthcare delivery, and economic needs, as well as malnutrition, continue to increase, particularly in these communities. Increasing numbers of families in certain segments of the population, particularly those in remote villages and in (semi)urban environments such as squatter settlements and slums, not only suffer from malnutrition and an inability to afford nutritious food but also do not have access to safe sanitary facilities and potable water.
In addition, educational systems and postgraduate studies in critical agricultural segments such as soil sciences are lagging behind and are unable to meet the demand. Consequently, the educational system cannot provide expertise or relevant education and advice to individuals involved in farming with reference to fertilizer use based on soil testing, appropriate agricultural methods, or gaining or maintaining an adequate livelihood. These failures erode the income of farmers, so their socio-economic status is stagnant, which particularly affects women. Women overcoming poverty and the lack of technical skills and education in semi-urban and rural communities would help alleviate poverty and improve the environment .
Sustainable solutions are needed
To be sustainable, solutions need to be based on a broad understanding of local issues. This is complemented by providing appropriate education that is applicable to the local setup that can be quickly translated and adapted to local and regional trends . In the absence of focused educational efforts, no potential solution will be successful or sustainable. Engineering and other solutions designed in western countries or intended for cities are destined to fail if they are implemented without major adaptations for rural villages. Consequently, culturally unsuitable, expensive technologies or proposals that are unacceptable because of cost, maintenance issues, or environmental hazards should not be implemented without consultation with villagers, the main stakeholders.
Re-implementation of an agricultural extension and guidance service to educate farmers on the use of right seed varieties and the right quantity of correct agrochemicals use are essential. These educational programs should facilitate them understanding not only the appropriate use, but also the harmful effects overusing of agrochemicals, thus, taking protective steps when using these, and the importance of preserving the environment. Such activities would strengthen the watershed and environmental protection.
Such scenarios have increased in recent years because of the political interference and insufficiently trained personnel (e.g., agricultural extension workers, teachers, healthcare workers, etc.).
Proactively enacting environmental policies that address environmental inequities (e.g., access to clean water and sanitation, waste collections and hazard waste disposal, etc.) and conducting detailed demographic and health studies that assess the impact of population shifts and exposure to toxic waste, particularly on marginalized, minority, and agricultural populations, are essential for the success, peace, and harmony of a society. Moreover, devising educational programs to sensitize professional service providers to local needs and designing ways to prevent exposure of residents to avoidable risks are equally important for preserving health, nature, and human beings .
Designing and implementing a national water policy is essential to any country. A nation needs to assure fair policies and legislation to establish mechanisms for providing clean water and drainage, which are critical for a nation’s long-term success and viability. In addition, future disasters can be mitigated by the integration and implementation of proactive diagnostic studies that identify water integrity risks (rainfall, drainage patterns, droughts and floods, etc.) and are used to establish long-term environmental policies and a national water action plan.
Environmental authorities need to understand what and how ecosystem processes are operating in the watersheds and how they would be affected by anthropogenic activities and other externalities. Evidence-based protection of the watershed should include hydrological, chemical, and biological indices and provide integrated support for the protection of the soil–water environment and restoration of aquatic systems [3, 11]. In addition, environmental protection agencies need to implement laws and regulations regarding ecosystem analysis, ecological health indicators, and regular health assessment of water bodies .
Watershed protection needs to include surface water, groundwater, marine hydrology, and drainage basin management and maintenance of water quality. Taking such proactive actions can minimize the escalating non-communicable diseases among humans and animals . Meanwhile, the educational emphasis should be on public awareness of human population control, protection and prevention of soil erosion, and preservation of canopy and soil cover. Such measures should include maintaining and increasing forestry, austere living to minimize pollution, watershed preservation, water quality monitoring, and enforcement of effective legislation [80, 81].
Each country must have a national water policy and a clean water and air legislation. Pollution increase diseases and affects human health, leading to suffering and premature deaths. However, chemical, toxin, and inorganic contamination of water is not always visible or apparent. The water crisis requires planners to pay attention to how the public values and uses precious freshwater, farmland, and watersheds, and find optimal ways to preserve these.
Once water sources or soils are polluted, cleaning is expense and time consuming. It is essential that communities work together to take care of the valuable watersheds and ecosystem that supply freshwater, live within their water means, and share water equitably in a harmonious way. Comprehensive clean water legislation is essential to achieving these goals. Therefore, it is essential that all professionals get involved, individually and through professional organizations, in advocating to improve watersheds and the environment as a whole.
The authors are grateful for the constructive suggestions by Dinushka Wimalawansa, Dr. Nihal Attapattu, and Chamandika Warusavitharana.
Conflicts of Interest:
The authors have no conflicts of interest and received no funds for this work.