Policy Concerns Dominate Discussion on Reusing Wastewater in Agriculture

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  • 2016/03/01     Lima, Peru

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    Population growth, rapid urbanization, more water-intense consumption patterns and climate change are intensifying pressure on freshwater resources. The increasing scarcity of water, combined with other factors, is driving millions of farmers and other entrepreneurs to make use of wastewater. In order to address the technical, institutional, and policy challenges of safe water reuse, developing countries and countries in transition need clear institutional arrangements and more skilled human resources, with a sound understanding of the opportunities and potential risks of wastewater use.

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    Sharing information between countries/regions on “good practice examples of safe water reuse in agriculture” is an important step in this process. This was the main objective of a SUWA (Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture Initiative) Workshop held in Lima, Peru on 24-25 February 2016. During the workshop the attendees had the opportunity to learn about 18 case studies from South America, Asia, and Africa in which wastewater is being reused for agricultural purposes.

    During the presentations and in two moderated discussions, the presenters of the case studies, together with other experts, researchers and ministerial representative from 15 different countries engaged in lively debate on the knowledge gaps in the SUWA-related activities where there is need for further research. In particular, participants struggled with the questions: How much regulation is needed to control the use of wastewater in agriculture? Or, where should the line be drawn between no-reguations and strict-regulations? In addition, achieving a better understanding of the health and environmental safety concerns was of considerable interest to most participants. The outcome of the workshop clearly underline that the policy and implementation-related dimension of reusing wastewater in agriculture continues to be a considerable challenge. The result of this workshop will provide the framework for the research agenda for the future SUWA activities.

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    On the SUWA Initiative

    In 2011 seven UN-Water Members, Partners and Programmes led by UNW-DPC joined efforts to address these capacity needs of countries with regards to SUWA. Between 2011 and 2013, these capacity development activities brought together 160 representatives from 73 UN member states from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Responding to repeated requests by participants of these activities, the second phase of SUWA was recently initiated. The second phase of SUWA aims at supporting UN Member States in developing their national capacities in focus areas identified and prioritized in the first phase of the project, promoting safer and more productive use of wastewater. The workshop in Lima, Peru in February 2016 is the first of the many events that has been proposed/planned for the second phase of SUWA. The United Nations University Institute for Integrated Management of Material Fluxes and Resources (UNU-FLORES) coordinates the activities in the second phase of SUWA with its partners from FAO, WHO, UNEP, UNU-INWEH, and IWMI.

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