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Linking water, sanitation and agricultural sectors for food and nutrition security

Water is crucial to human survival and well-being. The micronutrients in water contribute to nutritional security, water is important for cleaning food as well as for personal hygiene. However, water can easily become contaminated through e.g. use of poor or non-existent sanitation infrastructure. If present in drinking water, pathogens from human faeces can cause diseases, such as diarrhoea and intestinal infections, which reduce the body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients from food, leading to undernutrition. Safe water, sanitation and hygiene are therefore considered essential to nutritional security, especially for children (WHO et al. 2015).

Moreover, irrigation water can improve agricultural productivity and food security and make crops less vulnerable to dry weather conditions. Yet irrigation water as well as fertilizers is generally expensive and not available to many poor farmers. On the other hand, human excreta also contains many of the plant nutrients important for food production. On average, a person annually excretes 4.5 kg of nitrogen, 0.6 kg of phosphorus and 1.2 kg of potassium -enough to produce 250 kg of cereal, the equivalent of a person’s average annual consumption (Drangert 1998). Subsequently there is growing interest in nutrient recovery from sanitation waste.

This brief aims to understand linkages between water, sanitation and food production to enable those who work with these three sectors to take advantage of synergies between them and to optimize strategic (policy) interventions to meet multiple needs.

This brief is based on the work of a SIANI Expert Group “Linkages between water, sanitation and food production for food and nutrition security” between January and November 2016. The findings are derived from seminars, workshops, interviews with experts, a panel at the 2016 Development Research Conference (Stockholm University, Sweden) and an online survey of key stakeholders.

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