Report 2020

Poland on the way to SDGs
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Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

Global water resources

Water occupies over 70% of the Earth’s surface. Only 2.5% of the total global water resources is fresh water, and only 0.6% is drinking water. In theory, it should be sufficient for global needs, but in practice access to sustainable water resources is limited due to their uneven distribution and irrational management of them. Climate changes and their effects also have a negative impact on the state and volume of fresh water resources. In 2015-2017, the level of water security decreased in majority of regions of the world, which means that the capacity to satisfy the global demand for fresh water is gradually declining. Even though on a global scale 17% of renewable water resources is consumed every year (which theoretically indicates lack of water stress), there are huge regional differences in this respect. The situation in Northern Africa, where the annual water abstraction exceeds its sustainable resources, is approaching life-threatening levels. The threat of water deficit is highly probable in Central Asia (where 88% of renewable water supplies are abstracted every year) and in Southern Asia (71%). The consumption of water from renewable resources also approaches dangerously high levels in Western and Eastern Asia, where it amounts to 54% and 46%, respectively.

Level of water stress: freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available freshwater resources (%)

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2015 2017
WORLD 16.5 17.0
Northern Africa 107.8 102.9
Sub-Saharan Africa 4.8 5.7
Latin America and the Caribbean 4.0 5.3
Northern America 12.4 18.9
South-Eastern Asia 63.2 70.7
Southern Asia 14.6 19.0
Central Asia 79.5 87.9
Eastern Asia 45.8 45.8
Western Asia 57.1 53.8
EUROPE 9.1 8.5
OCEANIA 1.9 3.9

Access to drinking water and sanitary conditions in the world

The percentage of the global population using safely managed drinking water services has increased from 64% in 2005 to over 70%. However, 2.2 billion people, mainly from the world’s poorest regions, still have limited or no access to drinking water. Access to safe drinking water is highly unequal across regions. The situation is considerably better in cities (where 85% of inhabitants have such access) than in rural areas (53%). Among all regions, inhabitants of Northern America and Europe have the widest access to safely managed drinking water – 99% and 93% of them, respectively. On the contrary, the inhabitants of sub-Saharan Africa are in the worst situation in this respect – only 27% of them have guaranteed access to safe drinking water. Since 2005, the situation has improved in all regions, but the highest increase in the percentage of people with access to drinking water has been recorded in Latin America and the Caribbean (from 58% to 74%), Southern Asia (from 46% to 59%) and Central Asia (from 58% to 71%).

Proportion of population using safely managed drinking water services (%)

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2005 2017
WORLD 64.2 70.6
Sub-Saharan Africa 19.6 26.9
Latin America and the Caribbean 57.5 74.3
Northern America 98.9 99.0
ASIA 62.9 72.6
South-Eastern Asia 45.9 59.4
Central Asia 58.2 71.0
Western Asia 67.9 75.8
EUROPE 91.0 93.4
Southern Europe 88.4 94.0
Northern Europe 98.1 99.3
Eastern Europe 79.7 85.0
Western Europe 98.6 99.0

At the same time, the access to basic sanitary infrastructure has improved. The percentage of people using safely-managed sanitary services, including hand washing facilities with running water and soap, has increased from 32% in 2005 to 45%. Still, the majority of the global population, i.e. approximately 4.1 billion people, are denied such improvements. This problem is most acute in African countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where only 18% of the inhabitants have access to safely managed sewerage services, compared to 16% in 2005. In Northern America and Europe, where the sanitary services are most developed, nearly 80% of their respective populations have access do sewerage systems (compared to 78% in America and 66% in Europe in 2005). Among people deprived of sufficient sanitary facilities, 60% have access to at least basic hand-washing facilities (46% in rural areas), whereas for 9% (nearly 700 million people) even the most basic sanitary facilities, such as toilets or latrines are not available. This problem affects sub-Saharan Africa to the largest extent, as 20% of its inhabitants (i.e. over 200 million people) have no access to most basic sanitary facilities.

Proportion of population using safely managed sanitation services (%)

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2005 2017
WORLD 31.5 45.0
Northern Africa 20.1 28.8
Sub-Saharan Africa 16.1 18.4
Latin America and the Caribbean 14.6 31.3
Northern America 78.1 79.8
ASIA 29.8 44.4
Eastern Asia 37.8 69.8
Western Asia 38.4 45.9
EUROPE 65.5 78.9
Southern Europe 62.7 79.5
Northern Europe 92.9 95.0
Eastern Europe 45.5 54.8
Western Europe 95.8 96.9
OCEANIA 46.4 52.9

Fresh water resources in Poland

Polish fresh water resources are relatively small, and additionally characterized by seasonal variability and area diversity. The amount of renewable freshwater resources per inhabitant of Poland (long-term annual average1) is nearly 1.6 thousand m3, which signals a threat of water stress. Nearly half of the EU countries have alarmingly small reserves of freshwater (i.e. less than 3 thousand m3 per person), and the reserves of Poland, Malta, Cyprus and Czechia fall below the threshold of water security (i.e. 1.7 thousand m3 per inhabitant, which, according to the UN, is the level below which a country is classified as threatened with water deficit).

Renewable freshwater resources (thousands cubic metres per inhabitant, LTAAa)

a LTAA - long-term annual average (the minimum period taken into account for the calculation of long term annual averages is 20 years).

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Croatia 28.8
Finland 20.0
Sweden 19.3
Latvia 18.9
Slovenia 15.5
Slovakia 14.8
Bulgaria 14.2
Hungary 11.9
Ireland 10.9
Austria 9.7
Estonia 9.4
Lithuania 7.9
Portugal 7.2
Greece 6.7
Netherlands 5.3
France 3.1
Denmark 2.8
Luxemburg 2.7
United Kingdom 2.6
Spain 2.3
Germany 2.3
Belgium 2.1
Romania 2.0
Czechia 1.5
Cyprus 0.4
Malta 0.2

Demand for water is determined by the Water Exploitation Index plus (WEI+)2, which shows the percentage of sustainable water resources used in a given area. In the majority of EU countries, this indicator assumes relatively low values (values above 20% are regarded as high). WEI+ for Poland currently reaches 6.87%, and even though it has grown compared to 2010 (5.62%), it still remains lower than the EU average (8.39% at present and 6.30% in 2010). This indicator, however, does not include the uneven spatial and seasonal distribution of water resources and does not reflect the water shortages in many regions of Europe.

In Poland, the main source of supply for the national economy is surface water. In 2019, the country drew 7.4 km3 of surface water, which covered 80% of its needs (mainly those of industrial production), and 1.8 km3 of groundwater. In total, Poland used 8.8 km3 of water. For many years now, there have been no major changes in the pattern of water distribution among particular sectors of the economy. Industry is the main consumer of water in Poland, absorbing 70% of its total amount used; 20% is used up by municipal and communal services, and agriculture, forestry and fish farming absorb the remaining 10%.

1 The minimum period taken into account for the calculation of long term annual averages is 20 years.
2 The EU sustainable development goal indicator, which is comparable to the global Level of water stress: freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available freshwater resources (%).

Water exploitation index plus WEI+ (%)a

a Data for the European Union without the United Kingdom.

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2010 2017
PL 5.62 6.87
UE 6.30 8.39

Sanitary conditions in Polish households

The majority of inhabitants of Poland, similar to majority of EU inhabitants, have access to basic sanitary facilities and are connected to at least a secondary sewage treatment system. Poland has almost fully caught up with Western Europe in terms of equipping households with bathrooms. In most EU member states, the percentage of population having neither a bath, nor a shower, nor indoor flushing toilet in their household does not exceed 1% (whereas the EU average is 2%). This kind of equipment does not have 2% of Polish inhabitants (half as much as at the beginning of the decade). This percentage is higher among people experiencing poverty (6%) than people living above poverty threshold (1%), and a similar trend can be observed in the whole EU, where it is 5% and 1%, respectively.

The expansion of water and sewage systems, including intensified sewage treatment which improves the quality of water and enhances its purity, have resulted in a general widening of the access to sanitary facilities. Gradual replacement of methods for solely mechanical removal of impurities from water with more advanced technologies, including secondary treatment of sewage, seems of key importance for the environment. In Poland, like in the majority of EU countries, the percentage of the population connected to at least secondary waste water treatment (i.e. biological treatment with a secondary settlement or other process, resulting in a removal of organic material) has increased. At present, 74% of inhabitants of Poland have access to this type of wastewater treatment (compared to 65% at the beginning of the decade), whereas in those EU countries where such plants are used to the greatest extent (e.g. the Netherlands, Austria, Germany and Luxembourg), the percentage of population with such access exceeds 95%.

Share of population having neither a bath, nor a shower, nor indoor flushing toilet in their household (%)

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Poland European Union
2010 2019 2010 2019
total 3.8 1.6 2.6 1.5
below the poverty threshold (<60% of median equivalised income) 11.0 6.0 7.2 5.1
above the poverty threshold (>60% of median equivalised income) 2.2 0.8 1.7 0.7

More efficient wastewater treatment contributes, among other things, to improving the quality of water in European rivers. In the majority of EU countries, the degree of organic river pollution is lower than several years ago. However, no major improvement in this area has been observed since 2015. The assessment of the quality of water is done by means of e.g. the measurement of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), which indicates the amount of oxygen required by aerobic microorganisms to decompose organic substances. The above-mentioned indicator is used to check the susceptibility of sewage to biological cleansing. The higher value of BOD (i.e. oxygen demand), the more polluted the substance is. In Poland, 2.74 mg of oxygen is necessary to decompose organic substances in 1 litre of river water; even though it is less than in 2010 (2.96 mg), it is still more than in the EU on average (where it is 2.00 mg at present compared to 2.14 mg in 2010). Polish rivers, like most European rivers, are moderately polluted. Of all EU Member States, Slovenia and Ireland can boast the cleanest rivers (in which organic material decomposes with less than 1 mg of oxygen per litre of water), whereas the rivers in Romania and Cyprus are the most polluted (with the BOD at 3mg of oxygen per litre of water).

Biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) in rivers (mg O2/L)

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2010 2017
PL 2.96 2.74
UE 2.14 2.00

Raport 2020
Poland on the way to SDGs
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