Lucy Nicholson / theconversation.com
In an increasingly water-scarce world, there is no doubt that recycling water we’ve already used has to become normal. Part of that will inevitably mean using waste water to help grow the food we need. But will we ever feel comfortable using waste water for food production?
The reality is that this is already happening but more needs to be done to keep communities safe from the dangers of using untreated waste water.
The use of waste water for food production is mainly a question of managing water shortage and socioeconomic costs. Exponential population growth and climate change have seriously compromised water availability in many regions, from the Middle East to Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America. Local communities urgently need to find solutions to the problem of increasing water scarcity.
If used properly, waste water can provide important nutrients for plant growth and act as a replacement for mineral fertilisers. But it should be used for agricultural purposes only after being treated. Unfortunately, in many regions of the world, the reality is far from that.
Agricultural and water policies have not sufficiently addressed the inherent threats posed by the use of untreated waste water for irrigation. Often, hazardous materials in the form of heavy metals, organic contaminants, pathogens or antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be found in waste water. These accumulate in soils, crops and groundwater and so pass into the food chain.
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