World Water Day 2017: Rereading, Reducing, Reusing

Linnane-WaterIsLife-FrontCoverOn the 22nd March every year, World Water Day is recognized across the globe, and the theme this year is ‘wastewater’. To mark the occasion at Practical Action, we are rereading a couple of our recent books centred on water and waste, Sustainable Sanitation for All and Water is Life, which can be read for free.

1.8 billion people use a source of contaminated drinking water; 663 million still lack improved drinking water sources. Poor sanitation and unsafe water cause roughly 842,000 deaths a year (World Water Day, 2017). It is incredible that in the 21st century, basic human rights such as access to safe, dignified sources of drinking water and sanitation are still being denied to those in the poorest countries.

Water is Life (edited by Fagan et al) addresses some of the most fundamental issues with water supply management in rural Africa, focusing in detail on a region in Uganda. At the moment, a safe water source is an inaccessible dream for many people. The book begins by addressing the gender aspect: providing water for the family is the responsibility of the women, and in turn the children, whilst men tend to source water for stock animals or commercial purposes. The enormity of this task has far-reaching consequences, including the hazards of the job (the sheer quantity of water carried each day often causes injuries, back pain, headaches and nosebleeds), as well as the dangers involved, such as the possibility of being attacked or raped on the journey. In addition, precious time is wasted fetching water which could be spent on other, more productive, tasks, and girls’ education suffers as a result.

The book also focuses on a study which investigates the process of harvesting rainwater and the use of SODIS as a treatment. This kind of method could be hugely effective in purifying rainwater for drinking, but it is important to consider that this method may not reach the poorest areas: poorer households with grass-thatched houses are unable to harvest much rainwater.

Sustainable Sanitation for All explores the issues of the poorest and most vulnerable not yet being reached by current sanitation programming. Although enormous strides have been achieved by implementing Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) programmes, with the result that simple toilets have been built by millions of households in Africa, Asia and Latin America, less attention has been paid to their sustainability. This means toilets can fall into disrepair, or people can abandon new habits of handwashing, or governments can cease to support and follow up CLTS programmes. The book, edited by Bongartz, Vernon and Fox, discourages a one-size fits all approach; it explores a wide range of countries and acknowledges the need to reach the poorest and most rural communities, as well as often neglected groups such as the elderly.

Sustainable Sanitation_Cover IMAGE

A delicate balance of thorough, in-depth research and shocking case stories make these texts well worth reading for anyone dealing with or interested in water, sanitation and hygiene issues. But what do they have to do with wastewater?

Very little water goes to waste in the rural situations described in Water is Life, and the per capita consumption of water in most countries of the global south is small compared with industrialized countries. With the global population growing exponentially, it is vital that we in industrial countries reduce and reuse our waste, even by doing small things, such as turning off the tap or not putting food down the sink. We can be inspired to do this by the case studies described in Sustainable Sanitation for All and Water is Life in which every drop really is precious.

To find out more about these books, click here:


World Water Day ‘Why Waste Water? Factsheet’

<> [accessed 22 March 2017].

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