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Bringing the pieces together: Our Expert Group works on the links between water, sanitation and food production

Photo by K. Trautmann

Photo by: K. Trautmann

The Sustainable Development Goals framework includes the ambition to provide all people with access to safe water, sanitation and food. However, despite multiple linkages between water, sanitation and food production, these sectors are often handled separately. Holistic approach to water, sanitation and food production is also rare in the development cooperation work. For instance, three separate safety planning frameworks have been developed by the WHO for water, sanitation and food.

Ignoring these linkages could prevent achieving a wider goal of ensuring human health. One example is groundwater contamination with arsenic which through drinking water and food exposure leads to chronic poisoning and severe health effects. Poor sanitation causes hundreds of thousands deaths worldwide through diarrhoeal diseases. On top of that, pathogen exposure has also been linked to malnutrition via “environmental enteropathy”, the condition when gut is not capable of absorbing essential nutrients from food.

Sanitation and hygiene practices as well as water treatment are important factors in transfer of pathogens. Water and sanitation systems act as preventive barriers to contaminants and can also facilitate water reuse as well as recycling of important plant nutrients and organic matter back into food production. In addition, recycling of nutrients reduces the risk eutrophication in water bodies.

The aim of this Expert Group is therefore, 1) to understand and map linkages between water, sanitation and food production, 2) map and analyse the Swedish network of practitioners and researchers as well as links with developing countries and 3) develop recommendations for holistic management of the linkages.

The group consists from a mixture of researchers and practitioners from: KTH Institute of Technology, Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC), Salvation Army International Development (Malawi and Kenya), Uppsala University, Eco Relief, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and Church of Sweden.

Key discussion and research questions include:

1. What are the potential benefits of linking water, sanitation and food systems to enhance food and nutrition security?

2. What are the pathways by which nutrients and contaminants are transferred between water, food and humans and how do sanitation and water treatment technologies as well as ecosystem services facilitate or reduce this transfer?

3. How does sanitation and water treatment vary in the context of different social-ecological systems?

4. How can practitioners work in an integrated way with risk frameworks for water, sanitation and food, accounting for both potential risks and benefiting from inherent resources?

The group will hold a workshop in mid-March and anyone who works with water, sanitation and food production, interested in joining, is welcome to contact us for more details!

Suggestions for policy and further research will be developed and presented as a SIANI policy brief, in reports and during the events. The group will convene a panel at the Research Development Conference in August 2016 (hosted by Stockholm University) where outcomes will also be discussed (abstracts welcome, please see events).