Worsening soil pollution and waste proliferation threaten the future of global food production, human health and the environment, a report has said.
According to a joint report released Friday by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) titled “Global Assessment of Soil Pollution“, soil pollution has been intentionally recognised as a major threat to soil health.
The report was launched as part of the celebrations for World Environment Day (5 June) and the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030).
The report said soil pollution also affects the soil’s ability to provide ecosystems services, including the production of safe and sufficient food, compromising global food security.
“It hits the most vulnerable hardest especially children and women.
“The supply of safe drinking water is threatened by the leaching of contaminants into groundwater and runoff,” it said.
The report found that soil pollution has serious implications for agrifood systems and human health because of its long-term impact on the environment.
“Many ecosystem services are hampered by soil pollution, losing productivity and resilience in the long term.
“Soil pollution causes reduced crop yields and food wastage due to high levels of contaminants, loss of biodiversity and increased incidence of pests, decreased water quality and eutrophication of the marine environment,” it said.
“Soil protection is of the utmost importance to ensure the success of our future agri-food systems, ecosystem restoration and all lives on earth,” QU Dongyu, the director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, said in the forward of the report.
“Our society wants more nutritious and safe foods, free of contaminants and pathogens,” he said.
Inger Andersen, UNEP’s executive director, referred to the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, jointly led by UNEP and FAO, as an opportunity for change.
She called for stronger enforcement of global conventions on the environment as well as long-term monitoring to stop industrial pollution. She also called for the adoption of agricultural practices that support the use of environmentally friendly pesticides.
“It is time to reconnect with our soils, as it is where our food begins,” she said.
“Soil pollution should no longer be a hidden reality. Let us all be part of the solution to solution pollution,” she said in the forward of the report.”
Use of pesticides
The report said the use of pesticides increased by 75 per cent between 2000 and 2017 with some 109 million tonnes of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers applied worldwide in 2018.
“The use of plastics in agriculture has increased significantly in recent decades with 708000 tonnes of non-packaging plastic consumed in agriculture in the EU in 2019.
“The global annual production of industrial chemicals has doubled to approximately 2.3 billion tonnes since the beginning of the 21st century and is projected to increase by 85 per cent by 2030.
“Waste production is also on the rise, the world currently produces 2 billion tonnes of waste annually and that is predicted to rise to 3.4 billion tonnes by 2050 due to population growth and urbanisation,” the report said.
The report predicted soil and environmental pollution would continue to deteriorate unless there was a shift in production and consumption patterns and a stronger political commitment to support sustainable management.
The report emphasised actions needed to prevent and halt soil pollution and to remediate polluted soils.
“All stakeholders must take decisive steps in the prevention of soil pollution, starting with small action in people’s consumption decision and extending to the development of stringent policies and incentives that encourages industrial innovation and the adoption of environmentally sound technologies,” it said.
It added that greater research is required to determine the extent of soil pollution while stressing the proliferation of organic contaminants and others such as pharmaceuticals, antimicrobials that lead to more resistant bacteria, industrial chemicals, and plastic residues are of growing concern.
The UN report called for the establishment of a Global Soil Pollution Information and Monitoring System, stronger legal frameworks for preventing and remediating polluted soils, and initiatives to foster technical cooperation and capacity development.
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