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Algal bloom in the Baltic Sea, 2005. Photo: Rebecca Löfgren.

Conference reports Way forward or new global solution? Report from the Stockholm Water Week

Stockholm – Ministers and high level government officials, scientists, chief economists, heads of UN bodies and participants from over 200 convening organizations and 100 nations met at the World Water Week in Stockholm in August 2012. They debated and showcased solutions to ensure that the planet’s limited water resources are efficiently used to meet the basic needs of growing populations.

Published on balticworlds.com on september 10, 2012

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Stockholm – Ministers and high level government officials, scientists, chief economists, heads of UN bodies and participants from over 200 convening organizations and 100 nations met at the World Water Week in Stockholm in August 2012. They debated and showcased solutions to ensure that the planet’s limited water resources are efficiently used to meet the basic needs of growing populations.

Among the discussed topics were agriculture related issues including sustainable agriculture. Today agriculture is already the main consumer and polluter of water. It uses around 70 percent of all freshwater extracted worldwide. Moreover demand for food is projected to increase by 70 per cent by mid-century and, without intervention, will place untenable pressure on water resources in many regions in the world. The latest UN scenario foresees that if we continue consuming water at current levels there will be significant water stress problems already by 2025[1].

At the same time sustainability reforms within the agriculture sector are essential in order to resolve the world water problems. The UN urges to focus on agriculture as the largest consumer of water to develop smart solutions to improve water efficiency (more crop per drop) and related innovations. Thus agriculture was discussed as both a problem and a solution for the water-related problems during these days in Stockholm.

Among several proposed solutions, Arno Rosemarin[2] discussed productive sanitation. Arno and his colleagues from the EcoSanRes Programme at the Stockholm Environment Institute (http://www.ecosanres.org/index.htm) argue that eco-sanitation can be the answer not only for sanitation problems in poor countries but also a significant element in achieving food and water security especially for the smallholder subsistence farmers. The proposed solution is hidden in our kidneys! But, how?  It is easy, by recycling nutrients from our daily food and producing urine – the best natural fertilizer that can be used in agriculture. This helps to reduce the need for artificial chemical fertilizers (which are not affordable), and recycling nutrients and wastewater.

“It is not a panacea”, says Arno, stopping us from getting to euphoric. However it (together with manure and organic waste) can provide up to 50% of the needed nutrients for agriculture in many countries of the world. But why then don’t we use productive sanitation yet at a wider scale? “There is a lot of ignorance around using human excreta in agriculture”, explains Arno Rosemarin. And when it comes to urine there are at least perceived risks because of the presence of pharmaceuticals like hormones and antiinflammatories.

The fact is that our “flush society” is used to the idea of flushing away the waste without thinking about the actual fate, “out of sight, out of mind”.  By doing so and dumping our wastes into receiving waters, we have disconnected the closed natural loop, creating pollution problems.  Eco-sanitation can be one of the ways to reconnect the loop and recycle nutrients, sludge and wastewater.

At the same time, geopolitical pressure might become another driving force behind the further development of eco-sanitation. Experts predict dwindling of cheap phosphorus reserves, a primary fertilizer underlying the growth of global agricultural production.  Currently Morocco, USA and China are the main producers of phosphorus. But cheap reserves in China and USA will run low within 50 years leaving only Morocco as the global hot spot on the phosphorus map. The future might look somewhat insecure knowing that most of the world’s food will be grown fertilized using phosphate from Moroccan mines. And there is no alternative or substitute for this critical resource. Taking into account that one of the mines is situated in Western Sahara, an occupied territory, the situation can be seen as a potential global security risk.

All these facts lead us to reflect more and more about employing alternative approaches in agriculture, including productive sanitation in order to create food security. Productive sanitation is already accepted and being promoted by the government in Niger at the village level[3]. According to experts there is also a great potential for productive sanitation in other countries (including Baltic States), taking into account existing historical tradition of eco-sanitation in agriculture.  “It is just a matter of social acceptance and learning”, stresses the ecosan experts.

For more information on events visit www.worldwaterweek.org
  • by Oksana Udovyk

    PhD student in the Södertörns högskola, engaged in the project called RISKGOV. This project is dealing with environmental risks management in the Baltic Sea.

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