As 80% of the world’s wastewater flows untreated into the environment, we asked an expert panel to discuss how to promote water reuse.


1 | Highlight success stories

The main message we should give is that proper reuse can save money and generate income, and is good for the environment. In the Netherlands, there is now a wastewater plant that actually generates energy. As a sector we need to highlight such examples, provide technical options and work with the public to raise their awareness about the danger to their health around wastewater. Arjen Naafs, technical adviser, WaterAid South Asia, @Arjen_Naafs,@wateraid

2 | Tackle cultural stigma

Wastewater is often out of sight and out of mind. There is resistance not just from the public to re-use but also from governments and health authorities. In one recent project on wastewater management we demonstrated that water was safe for specific re-use. Christopher Corbin, programme officer, pollution prevention, UN Caribbean Environment Programme, @cristojc, @UNEP_CEP

We have examples of successful reuse – such as biogas installations in Ethiopia fuelling kitchen units, eco-san toilets in peri-urban Mozambique, and a co-composting plant in Bangladesh which produces fertiliser. In all examples, however, it takes a considerable effort for awareness raising and longer term presence. It is possible, but it requires determination and patience. Arjen Naafs

3 | Talk money

Wastewater farmers make cost savings due to their reduced use of chemical fertilisers. For example, farmers in Mexico who irrigate about 140 hectares [346 acres] of land make a cost saving of $135 [£107] per hectare per year, a substantial amount of money which would otherwise be used to purchase chemical fertilisers. Work in Pakistan has shown that farmers with access to untreated wastewater could harvest more crops per year, and earned more than $600 [£476] per hectare per year more than farmers using regular irrigation water, as a result of higher cropping intensities and savings in fertiliser costs. Prince Antwi-Agyei, independent consultant – water and sanitation, NHance Development Partners Limited

The sale of reused water for industrial use can be a big driver for utilities to invest in wastewater treatment. Nagpur Municipal Corporation is India’s first (and perhaps only) civic body to earn money from sewage. However, policy issues regarding the industrial use of wastewater and the transportation costs for carrying wastewater away from urban areas to industries have made this difficult in most parts of the country. Some pragmatism in policy change can go a long way in making wastewater treatment a financially lucrative proposition. Shrey Goyal, director & co-founder, Sustainable Growth Initiative, @ShreyGoyal, @ThinkSGI

4 | Use good PR

Communication is the key. The Singapore story is so successful because they had a visionary leader who communicated the new water programme incredibly well to citizens. Lee Kuan Yew ensured his citizens were ready for the transformation. Pritha Hariram, programme manager, water supply and sanitation services, International Water Association, @PrithaHariram, @IWAHQ

5 | Link to national priorities

So often we hear about the lack of political will on many environmental issues, in both developing and developed countries. Frankly, many decision makers see wastewater as an investment without any returns. We need to change that dialogue. We can do this by speaking their language and making linkages to national priorities, such as health, employment and development. Christopher Corbin

6 | Highlight public health risks

One emerging global challenge is antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which can be spread from wastewater treatment systems. Like many emerging health challenges, AMR may be difficult to contain to one part of the world. This has negative social and economic implications and is currently being treated as a public health issue, with attention to minimising antibiotic use. However, it is critical to ensure that waste containing AMR traits is safely managed. We need more information about emerging contaminants and it will be important to think about this as a growing number of countries start releasing these compounds into wastewater streams. Sarah Dickin, research fellow, Stockholm Environment Institute, @seiresearch, @sarahdickin

7 | Make investment viable

It’s not the lack of access of finance, it’s about managing risks for financiers. Investors and development banks are looking for government or industry partners that are creditworthy, that have the vision to carry the projects all the way. This requires looking at new business models including PPPs [public-private partnerships], good procurement and performance-based contracts. Here is a good example where development financiers worked with two entities in Kampala, Uganda, to build their capacities to embark on this journey. Pritha Hariram

8 | Partner up

We got great visibility for wastewater by linking up with regional NGO partners – the Global Water Partnership-Caribbean and the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association – who already had a political forum of ministers. We were then able to raise the profile through partnering with the Inter-American Development Bank and UN Environment. Part of what we need to do as agencies to engage decision makers is work collectively, with the private sector, UN agencies, NGO and development banks. Christopher Corbin

9 | Be politically active

Political activism and applying pressure on local governments can work wonders, and can sometimes lead to cities adopting more progressive policies. For example, Delhi now plans to reuse 25% of total sewage produced by 2017, 50% by 2022, and 80% by 2027. This is primarily due to widespread awareness of the horrific state of the Yamuna river flowing through the city. Shrey Goyal

10 | Get the media on side

We can do all the studies to show the benefits derived from treating and reusing water. The main challenge, however, is how to communicate these findings to them. There is the need to partner with the media to convey this message. From my experience in Ghana, politicians are mostly forced to work when the media push them. Prince Antwi-Agyei

11 | Work with religious leaders

In some countries, people have religious beliefs that prohibit consuming crops irrigated with wastewater. In these cases, FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] works with the local government and religious leaders to build knowledge and raise awareness among communities. Religious leaders play a vital role in this specific situation, telling people that usage of treated wastewater in agriculture is not against religion. Marlos De Souza, water platform secretary, Food and Agriculture Organization, @marlosOz

12 | Use tech well

I was once part of a pilot for a cheap water-purifier solution being marketed across urban and rural low-income households. A small instrument was used to show how wastewater compared to packaged mineral water, tap water, and river or stream water in terms of total dissolved solids. Interestingly, this saw some success among the urban poor and middle income households, but not so much in rural areas. Shrey Goyal

Read the full Q&A here.