Increasing population, geological factors, rapid urbanisation, agricultural developments, global markets, industrial development and poor wastewater regulation have affected the quantity and the quality of water. These activities have not only exhausted existing water resources, but also have triggered contamination of water by naturally occurring toxic minerals (fluoride, nitrate and arsenic), and have caused chemical pollution affecting human health and the environment. Water pollution is intricately linked with a number of sub-systems of urbanisation, agricultural activity, food security, and human health, making it a complex system responding to stimuli in various sub-systems. Complexity, non-linearity and interactions across multiple scales are compounded by the interplay of social, political and technological processes. ZEF's research programme on 'water and health' aims to examine the complex ways in which local and global forces influence water pollution and human health through a comprehensive and integrated perspective. 'Comprehensive' and 'integrated' approaches represent a sequential combination, in which comprehensive assessment helps to understand the openness of the system and the diversity of actors and components that interact within the system, while an integrative perspective helps in understanding how the interaction of the key components exhibits self-organisation capacity, making the system a complex adaptive system. This approach helps to consciously design rules, and at the same time, build capacity of human entities to design rules, to manage risk posed by water pollutants. This is vital for prevention of diseases, for human well-being, and, more importantly, for alleviation of poverty. The presented research framework identifies four phases of risk governance. The first two phases - risk assessment and risk impact, generate and collect information on risk, while the latter two phases - risk strategies and risk adaptation, offer insights on the decision-making strategies to risk mitigation. The risk governance framework proposes transdisciplinary research on human health by engaging with non-academic stakeholders in the research design and dissemination of the research findings. The research seeks to make substantial and innovative contributions in the field of global change and human health research.
water pollution human health complexity risk governance