Taking the Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture from Concept to Implementation

  • 2018/05/14     Munich, Germany

    Image: Olfa Mahjoub/INRGREF, Tunisia

    By Defne Altiok, Communications and Advocacy, and Hiroshan Hettiarachchi, Waste Management Unit

    For the 70 percent of the developing world who live in rural areas, agriculture is the main source of income and employment. In parts of the Global South, agriculture has transformed the region economically. But depletion and deterioration of water and land resources pose serious challenges in sustaining this development.

    Using wastewater as an economic asset casts the safe use of wastewater in agriculture (SUWA) as a cost-effective way to sustainably manage resources and ensure healthy produce.

    The UNU-FLORES book Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture: From Concept to Implementation (2018) addresses potential challenges in the process of SUWA implementation and discusses the technical, institutional, and policy opportunities by applying first-hand information on the Middle East and North African (MENA) region and Europe gathered in a workshop on capacity development as part of the SUWA initiative.

    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, partners, and programmes joined efforts to address the capacity needs of countries with regard to the safe use of wastewater in agriculture. In 2015, the coordination of the SUWA initiative was transferred to the United Nations University, with UNU-FLORES and UNU-INWEH at its helm. Since then, capacity development activities have brought together over 250 representatives from UN Member States in four continents.

    Complementing the book Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture: Good Practice Examples (2016), the 2018 publication describes the status of wastewater use on a broader and global level. Authors discuss the subject of wastewater management, focusing on the practical aspect of the issue and analyse potential repercussions. In so doing, the new book bridges the gap between theory and practice by providing guidelines on the implementation of SUWA through a novel approach. It is the first book to consider interdependencies within the Water-Soil-Waste nexus and their integrated management.

    To put things in perspective, it bases discussion on various examples of how the sustainable management of one resource makes a positive impact on ecosystem well-being. Altogether the research contributes to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as SDG6 (Clean water and sanitation), SDG7 (Affordable and clean energy), and SDG15 (Life on land), among others, and covers the multidimensionality of these goals.

    Highlights of Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture: From Concept to Implementation (2018)

    • First book to deal with the safe use of wastewater in agriculture (SUWA) from a nexus perspective
    • Serves as a guideline for implementation of SUWA
    • First-hand information covering the SUWA experience from the MENA region and Europe

    SUWA at IFAT2018

    Contemporary innovative technologies and advancements enable a wide range of irrigation systems including the use of wastewater. With 20 million hectares of land being dependent on wastewater for irrigation, new technologies could bring about potential opportunities for SUWA.

    At IFAT2018 – the world’s leading trade fair for water, sewage, and raw materials management – held in Munich this week, UNU-FLORES brings SUWA to the implementers’ circle. UNU-FLORES expert Dr Serena Caucci will moderate and speak at the “Forum: Water Reuse – A permanent source/ Wasserwiedervendung – Eine permenente Quelle?” discussing the long-time practice of the use of wastewater in agriculture and its management on a global scale.

    Dr Serena Caucci will address the status of SUWA and present the challenges to its implementation together with Prof. Peter Krebs from Technische Universität Dresden (TU Dresden) and Prof. Jens Haberkamp from the German Association of Water, Wastewater and Waste (DWA).

    The seminar will further the Nexus Approach in an international context and provide practical guidelines on SUWA for developing countries and countries in transition. Dr Caucci’s talk will focus on wastewater management and assess its technical, economic, social, and political aspects in a global scale, making close reference to the book Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture: From Concept to Implementation (2018). Roland Knitschky of DWA who had authored one of the book’s chapters will also be taking part in the forum as a co-organiser.

    UNU-FLORES, together with the UNESCO affiliated Institutes – IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, and the International Centre for Water Resources and Global Change (ICWRGC), will also be running a booth as part of the exhibition at IFAT2018 (Hall B4, Stand 153). Copies of the book will also be available onsite.


    Drechsel, Pay, Wichelns, Dennis, and Manzoor Qadir, eds. 2015. Wastewater: Economic Asset in an Urbanizing World. Amsterdam: Springer.

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

    Hettiarachchi, Hiroshan and Ardakanian, Reza, eds. 2018. Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture: From Concept to Implementation. Cham: Springer International Publishing.