Tapping into the Resources of Wastewater

Tapping into the Resources of Wastewater

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

World Water Day, on 22 March every year, is calling for collective actions to tackle the water crisis, aiming to ensure safe and clean water access for everyone. World Water Day 2017 brings global attention to the utilization of wastewater and highlights its potential as a sustainable resource.

The world is experiencing ever-growing demands for freshwater and limited water resources are causing detrimental impacts on human health, socio-economic development and political tension. Such challenges require us to reappraise the value of wastewater in a monetary way by recycling and reclaiming the values with appropriate treatment solutions. Dr. Thammarat Koottatep of the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), a leading regional center on wastewater treatment research in South East Asia, questions whether we are still going to dispose “liquid pennies” into drains once wastewater is valued as money.

In particular, the re-evaluation of wastewater as a potentially affordable and sustainable source needs to be seen in Asia and the Pacific, where 30 per cent of the regional urban population lives in slums and over half of the rural residents lack access to improved sanitation. Developing countries in the region discharge wastewater untreated into lands and water bodies, exacerbating the water quality and public health. However, the existence of adequate water supply and sanitation facilities installed in several countries does not always indicate that they capitalize on the full benefits of water. To address various water issues in the region, ESCAP is stimulating regional cooperation among cities and countries as a way to shift the perspective on wastewater from an “unpleasant by-product” to valued resources.

Centralized water infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific region has been dependent on top-down management approaches and large-scale investment, which has not created drastic positive impacts on sanitation conditions of the developing countries. Dr. Thammarat Koottatep, highlights that the paradigm in wastewater management should be shifted from the end-of-the-pipe treatment to Reuse/Recycle/Recovery Practices. He also insists that adopting Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Systems (DEWATS) would be a viable option for the region highly exposed to water pollution and recurring water-related natural disasters.

To address a wider range of water-related challenges in the region, from fresh water scarcity, pollution, sanitation to droughts and floods, ESCAP is contributing to the messages of the World Water Day Report 2017 by globally sharing the regional demands for more decentralized, localized and resilient solutions.

This effort has been documented previously within the “Policy Guidance Manual on Wastewater Management,” sensitizing policy makers with step-by-step implementation instructions and case studies of various policy frameworks. The Manual, which was released by ESCAP in collaboration with UN Habitat and AIT in 2015, presents a list of key benefits of DEWATS through several project cases. For example, Vientiane, the capital of Lao PDR, integrated properly functioning septic tanks (primary treatment) with small individual or communal treatment wetlands (secondary treatment), effectively tackling the worsening water quality, loss of urban wetlands and recurring flooding during the rainy season. The DEWATS case of Malang City, Indonesia illustrates that effective collaboration between local government and community expanded the infrastructure and regular revenue streams, contributing to the wider sanitation and water service coverages.

Through global and regional contributions, ESACP is looking forward to the adoption of the new perspective on wastewater - being no longer seen as a problem in need of a solution, rather part of the solution to challenges that societies are facing today.