Revision of WHO Guidelines for the safe use of wastewater in agriculture

To protect public health and facilitate the rational use of wastewater in agriculture the WHO developed corresponding guidelines in 1973 and 1989. The guidelines have been influential and many developed countries have adopted/adapted them for wastewater use practices. However, IWMI research (MTP Project 5 2002-2004 outputs on health/livelihoods impacts of wastewater use) found that the guidelines have been much less influential in developing countries, where wastewater irrigation is an important livelihood strategy.

As WHO began reviewing and revising the 1989 guidelines, IWMI saw an opportunity to inform the organization of its research findings and invited WHO to the 2002 IWMI-IDRC international workshop on the topic, resulting in the joint Hyderabad Declaration on Wastewater Use in Agriculture and several publications between IWMI, WHO and the authors of the new guidelines. IWMI became further involved in the formation of the new guidelines through expert consultations.

Richard Carr, WHO project coordinator (1999-2005) for the new guidelines, summarized IWMI’s influence on the revision, currently in press, as follows : “Definitely the guidelines were positively influenced by IWMI through Hyderabad, through your publications; through our correspondence; through collaboration on articles, etc. Because of IWMI I can say that:

  • the guidelines include a greater consideration of livelihood issues;

  • they benefited from practical studies of real life situations; with regard to studies done on vegetable washing; case studies from Ghana, Senegal, Kenya, India, etc.;

  • they also highlight the beneficial aspects of wastewater for many poor communities including some of the research conducted in India, Pakistan, etc.;

  • they highlight the widespread use of wastewater in agriculture;

  • they highlight the need for practical solutions for health protection which can be used in low-resource settings.

There are probably many other benefits from our collaboration with IWMI which positively impacted the Guidelines.”