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The challenges of wastewater irrigation in developing countries


  • Qadir, M.
  • Wichelns, D.
  • Raschid-Sally, L.
  • McCornick, P.G.
  • Drechsel, P.
  • Bahri, A.
  • Minhas, P.S.


The volume of wastewater generated by domestic, industrial and commercial sources has increased with population, urbanization, improved living conditions, and economic development. The productive use of wastewater has also increased, as millions of small-scale farmers in urban and peri-urban areas of developing countries depend on wastewater or wastewater polluted water sources to irrigate high-value edible crops for urban markets, often as they have no alternative sources of irrigation water. Undesirable constituents in wastewater can harm human health and the environment. Hence, wastewater irrigation is an issue of concern to public agencies responsible for maintaining public health and environmental quality. For diverse reasons, many developing countries are still unable to implement comprehensive wastewater treatment programs. Therefore in the near term, risk management and interim solutions are needed to prevent adverse impacts from wastewater irrigation. A combination of source control, and farm-level and post-harvest measures can be used to protect farm workers and consumers. The WHO guidelines revised in 2006 for wastewater use suggest measures beyond the traditional recommendations of producing only industrial or non-edible crops, as in many situations it is impossible to enforce a change in the current cash crop pattern, or provide alternative vegetable supply to urban markets. There are several opportunities for improving wastewater management via improved policies, institutional dialogues and financial mechanisms, which would reduce the risks in agriculture. Effluent standards combined with incentives or enforcement can motivate improvements in water management by household and industrial sectors discharging wastewater from point sources. Segregation of chemical pollutants from urban wastewater facilitates treatment and reduces risk. Strengthening institutional capacity and establishing links between water delivery and sanitation sectors through inter-institutional coordination leads to more efficient management of wastewater and risk reduction.

Suggested Citation

  • Qadir, M. & Wichelns, D. & Raschid-Sally, L. & McCornick, P.G. & Drechsel, P. & Bahri, A. & Minhas, P.S., 2010. "The challenges of wastewater irrigation in developing countries," Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier, vol. 97(4), pages 561-568, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:agiwat:v:97:y:2010:i:4:p:561-568

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. repec:ags:iwmibc:158131 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Drechsel, Pay & Graefe, S. & Sonou, M. & Cofie, Olufunke, 2006. "Informal irrigation in urban West Africa: An overview," IWMI Research Reports H039249, International Water Management Institute.
    3. Qadir, M. & Sharma, B.R. & Bruggeman, A. & Choukr-Allah, R. & Karajeh, F., 2007. "Non-conventional water resources and opportunities for water augmentation to achieve food security in water scarce countries," Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier, vol. 87(1), pages 2-22, January.
    4. Toze, Simon, 2006. "Reuse of effluent water--benefits and risks," Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier, vol. 80(1-3), pages 147-159, February.
    5. Trang, D. T. & van der Hoek, Wim & Cam, P. D. & Vinh, K. T. & Van Hoa, N. & Dalsgaard, A., 2006. "Low risk for helminth infection in wastewater-fed rice cultivation in Vietnam," Conference Papers h038719, International Water Management Institute.
    6. Obuobie, Emmanuel & Keraita, Bernard & Danso, George & Amoah, Philip & Cofie, Olufunke O. & Raschid-Sally, Liqa & Drechsel, Pay, 2006. "Irrigated urban vegetable production in Ghana: characteristics, benefits and risks," IWMI Books, International Water Management Institute, number 137958, September.
    7. Qadir, Manzoor & Wichelns, D & Raschid-Sally, Liqa & Minhas, P. S. & Drechsel, Pay & Bahri, Akissa & McCornick, Peter G. & Abaidoo, R. & Attia, F. & El-Guindy, S. & Ensink, J. H. J. & Jimenez, B. & Ki, 2007. "Agricultural use of marginal-quality water: opportunities and challenges," IWMI Books, Reports H040204, International Water Management Institute.
    8. Drechsel, Pay & Giordano, Mark & Gyiele, Lucy, 2004. "Valuing nutrients in soil and water: concepts and techniques with examples from IWMI studies in the developing world," IWMI Research Reports H035856, International Water Management Institute.
    9. Drechsel, Pay & Graefe, Sophie & Sonou, Moise & Cofie, Olufunke O., 2006. "Informal irrigation in urban West Africa: An overview," IWMI Research Reports 44572, International Water Management Institute.
    10. International Water Management Institute (IWMI)., 2003. "Confronting the realities of wastewater use in agriculture," IWMI Water Policy Briefings H033469, International Water Management Institute.
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