‘Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture Means to Achieve Sustainable Development’: An Interview with Natalia Jiménez

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  • 2018/05/14     Dresden, Germany

    A brief interview with our visiting scholar, Ms Natalia Jiménez, on how the Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture (SUWA) contributes to the achievement of sustainable development.

    Ms Natalia Jiménez worked for four years in the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development supporting policymaking processes in Colombia, where she is from. She was part of the technical team in the development of the National Wastewater Discharge Standards, the National Wastewater Use Standards, and the Water National Council Decree. As visiting scholar at UNU-FLORES, Ms Jiménez will work with the Waste Management unit on the Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture. She is a recipient of the International Climate Protection Fellowship awarded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

    Interview by Atiqah Fairuz Salleh, Communications and Advocacy

    You work on the Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture (SUWA). Tell us more about what you do and how it helps achieve sustainable development.

    Representing the Ministry I was working for, I had participated in the Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture (SUWA) Workshop on Good Practice Examples and Future Research Needs, organised by UNU-FLORES in Lima, Peru. There I learned about the intensive capacity building work developed by UNU-FLORES within the framework of the Nexus Approach. Later on, when I was part of the 40th UNEP/UNESCO/BMU International Postgraduate Course on Environmental Management for Developing Countries at CIPSEM, during which I participated in several Nexus Seminars and in the Dresden Nexus Conference 2017 where I immersed myself in innovative ideas focused on sustainable development managing the Water-Soil-Waste nexus.

    Working in the Ministry I was able to identify the strengths but also the difficulties that the government faces when making decisions, developing policy, and responding to stakeholders’ needs. Especially in relation to the technical bases that support policy that often do not find the bridge between academia and decision makers.

    In light of the above and convinced that one of the ways to improve people’s quality of life is through the construction of a solid, inclusive, and holistic environmental policy that permeates sectoral policies and that responds to the population needs, I approached again UNU-FLORES: an institute that captivated me because of its hard work in developing research with the ultimate goal to permeate policy and decision making to promote integrated resources management for a sustainable development.

    SUWA is said to be the ‘golden example’ of the Nexus Approach. Could you explain this in a few sentences?

    SUWA is the perfect example for illustrating the Nexus Approach since it manages the three resources: water, by reducing the extraction of freshwater supplies that can instead be made available for other priority uses, as well as reducing pollution of water sources; waste, closing the loop by recycling wastewater, whose contents of nutrients and organic matter that are normally discharged into water bodies or soil, contaminate these resources; and finally soil, by conditioning and hydrating it to produce good quality food.

    In light of the above, SUWA addresses several social, economic, and environmental issues. It contributes, among others, to issues of adaptation to climate change, nutrition, and food security, poverty reduction, prevention of water-related diseases, human and environmental health protection, and agriculture livelihood opportunities.

    What are you working on specifically while you’re here at UNU-FLORES and how is being here fruitful for your work?

    In the context of water scarcity accentuated by climate change and climate variability and the excessive water demand for irrigation in a post-conflict scenario in Colombia, Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture (SUWA) is an essential, promising alternative for increasing the productivity and resilience of the agricultural sector. It also constitutes an important strategy for controlling the pollution of soil and water bodies by wastewater discharge.

    My current project will generate recommendations for the Colombian government to improve current policy to incorporate SUWA. Strategies, policies, regulations, methods, tools, and approaches from Germany and other countries that can be replicated in a Colombian context will be identified. Furthermore, interviews with stakeholders as well as an evaluation of their roles for SUWA will be undertaken.

    This work will be carried out under the guidance of UNU-FLORES. Project results are not only intended to be applied in Colombia; it is hoped that they will be adapted to many other regions facing similar challenges in the wastewater sector.

    What are your hopes for SUWA in the future?

    My goal is to give applicable recommendations to the Colombian government for incorporating SUWA as an adaptation strategy to climate change. And I hope this will result in the development of a policy and regulations that can be readily implemented and enforced in a cost-effective way, maximising health and environmental benefits.

    SUWA is a very promising avenue as it is a sustainable practice that tackles diverse economic, social, and environmental problems and requires research in its different areas to continue boosting its application.

    I hope that the results of this research are a contribution to the great work being done by UNU-FLORES in SUWA and that they are also applicable to other countries with situations similar to Colombia.