Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture in Practice

  • 2016/08/28     Stockholm, Sweden

    Image: istock/Todd Arbini

    Image: istock/Todd Arbini

    By Atiqah Fairuz Salleh, Communications and Advocacy

    More than 20 million hectares of land are irrigated with wastewater today. Recognising wastewater as a resource is a step in the right direction in face of increasing water scarcity. Yet much of wastewater use in agriculture is not based on any scientific criteria ensuring that it is safe.

    A sound understanding of the opportunities and potential risks of wastewater use is necessary.

    In order to address the technical, institutional, and policy challenges of safe water reuse, developing countries and countries in transition need clear institutional arrangements. Compiling existing cases across different continents, UNU-FLORES’s latest book publication Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture: Good Practice Examples (2016) provides a good starting point.

    Image: Todd Arbini/iStock; Design: Claudia Matthias/UNU-FLORES

    Launched in conjunction with the 2016 World Water Week in Stockholm today, the edited volume is primarily the outcome of a workshop organised by the Institute in Lima, Peru in February 2016. Covering cases from Brazil to South Africa to Nepal, it includes 17 case studies exemplifying the practice of wastewater use in agriculture across the globe.

    Wastewater Use in Agriculture

    Population growth, rapid urbanisation, and climate change add pressure on freshwater resources. The growing water scarcity drives millions of farmers to make use of wastewater.

    Spanning across the Water-Soil-Waste Nexus, wastewater reuse is an excellent example that naturally explains the importance of the integrated management of these three resources, as embodied in the Nexus Approach.

    The use of wastewater in agriculture mainly takes the forms of growing non-leafy vegetables and watering lawns or gardens. It is commonly about the use of greywater (wastewater generated without faecal contamination) but due to lack of awareness or poverty, there is still continued use of blackwater (wastewater containing human waste).

    Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture (SUWA) Initiative

    The Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture (SUWA) Initiative aims to raise the awareness and push to implement minimum standards for water reuse for agricultural purposes.

    In 2011 seven UN-Water members[1], partners, and programmes joined efforts to address the capacity needs of countries with regards to the safe use of wastewater in agriculture. Between 2011 and 2013, capacity development activities brought together 160 representatives from 73 UN Member States from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In 2015, the coordination of the SUWA initiative was transferred to the United Nations University, with UNU-FLORES and UNU-INWEH at its helm.

    The current phase of SUWA aims to support UN Member States in developing their national capacities in focus areas identified and prioritised during 2011–2015, promoting the safer and more productive use of wastewater. Developing countries and countries in transition remain to be the focus. Sharing information between countries/regions on good practice examples of safe water reuse in agriculture is one of the important objectives identified during the early phase of the SUWA initiative.

    At the 2016 World Water Week in Stockholm this week, UNU-FLORES is also co-convening two seminars on wastewater use and is giving away free copies of the book Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture: Good Practice Examples at the United Nations University stand (#35) in the Exhibition area. Send your questions/queries/comments with the hashtag #4WastewaterReuse on Twitter and be part of the conversation!

    Véase este artículo en español aquí.

    The publication Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture: Good Practice Examples (2016) is now available for free download in English, Spanish, and Persian.


    Hettiarachchi, Hiroshan and Reza Ardakanian, eds. 2016. Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture: Good Practice Examples. Dresden: UNU-FLORES.

    [1] UN-Water is a United Nations inter-agency coordination mechanism for all freshwater related issues, including sanitation. The seven members were namely: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), International Water Management Institute (IWMI), International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID), and UN-Water Decade Programme on Capacity Development (UNW-DPC).