How to Fight Pollution in the Oceans? With Basic Sanitation

Pollution on a beach
Lisbon, Portugal

How to Fight Pollution in the Oceans? With Basic Sanitation

This week, one of the big announcements at the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal was Australia's pledge to dedicate €1.1 billion to the preservation of the Great Barrier Reef to combat the effects of climate change.

Several African nations have also announced that they will strengthen ocean protection mechanisms; Kenya has announced, for example, that it will create the crime of "ecocide".

But according to specialist Leila Neves, one of the first steps to protect the oceans is to improve basic sanitation. It is necessary to prevent garbage and sewage from being dumped into the sea.

"Basic sanitation will contribute to people's quality of life. That's where we have to start," says the representative of the scientific committee of the Decade of Oceans in Cabo Verde.

A large conference room
UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon / Credit: United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs.

Neves says that "everyone has to have the basic conditions of life so that they can care about their surroundings. If we don't look at basic sanitation, how are we going to think about scientific advances?".

Plastic is one of the problems

Thousands of tons of plastic and microplastic end up in the oceans, and plastic endangers marine animals.

Brazilian environmentalists are concerned. According to a report by the non-governmental organization Oceana, 85% of animals that ingest garbage in the seas, including plastic, are endangered species.

child walks along a muddy street
In Angola, only 52% of the population has access to basic sanitation services, according to WHO/UNICEF data for 2020 / Credit: DW.

Pedro Ramalhão, a professor at the University of São Paulo, in Brazil, warns of the need to sensitize politicians and the population in general to the problems of basic sanitation.

"Brazil is in the medieval period in terms of basic sanitation. There is still a lot of investment to be made, although 50 [billion] of reais have already been invested, about ten [billion] of dollars in sanitation and sewage treatment, as in the question of the correct destination of waste."

The Brazilian government wants to universalize access to basic sanitation services by 2033. To improve water and sewage treatment, it will be necessary to involve several actors, including governments, industry and commerce.

For now, according to the Ministry of Regional Development, 100 million Brazilians do not have treated sewage and 35 million people do not have access to treated water.

A Herculean effort

Paulo Coelho, researcher on issues of acidification and sea circulation in Angola, says that, in the country, the task of bringing basic sanitation to everyone is also gigantic.

"It's not an easy problem, we have a coastline of 1,640 kilometers and a population of over 30 million, and it's not easy to work. A series of efforts have to be put together to solve the sanitation problem."

The authorities recognize that basic sanitation remains a "battle" in the country. This month, the Angolan press reported that the Executive of João Lourenço, the President of Angola, intends to create an independent entity to regulate the supply of drinking water, electricity and basic sanitation.

The Angolan President stressed this week, at the Oceans Conference, that it is necessary to act with "the utmost urgency" to stop "the current trend of pollution of the seas and oceans", as well as the "unregulated exploitation of marine resources."

This story was produced as part of the 2022 UN Ocean Conference Fellowship organized by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network with support from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch). It was originally published in Portuguese in Deutsch Welle on July 1, 2022. It has been translated to English and lightly edited for length and clarity.

Banner image: Plastic pollution is a scar on many beaches around the world / Credit: Dustan Woodhouse via Flickr.

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