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World Water Day 2017: Water and wastewater

World Vision
22 March 2017 by Michael Poustie
World Water Day 2017: Water and wastewater

Boys toilets at a Primary School in Zimbabwe. Photo by Margret Masanga, World Vision

Wastewater isn’t attractive. Photos featuring wastewater don’t bring smiles to our faces. In comparison to the idea of bringing cool, clean, fresh water to a community – the idea of improving wastewater management can seem boring. But wastewater systems can change lives and save lives!

The suitable management of wastewater is a growing global priority. World Vision as a child centred organisation care about wastewater. Poorly managed it has the potential to kill, while well managed it has the potential to empower communities, protect children’s health and strengthen families’ livelihoods.

Sustainable Development Goal 6 – “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” – has as target 3: “by 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution … halving the proportion of untreated wastewater, and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally.”

For World Vision wastewater must continue to be a major concern as it has a direct impact on the health of communities, their water systems, and their livelihoods. Worldwide wastewater treatment is failing. … As a result, the majority of wastewaters, septage and faecal sludge are discharged without any form of treatment into the environment … spreading disease to humans and damaging key ecosystems such as coral reefs and fisheries.

In most developing countries where World Vision work wastewater treatment systems, where they exist, are only able to collect and treat about 5-8% of the wastewater produced. [iii] The rest of the wastewater is released directly into rivers, beaches or fields without treatment – this wastewater contains pathogens, bacteria, viruses and helminths which can cause serious public health risks. Wastewater contamination caused by old, broken infrastructure caused a Cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe in 2008 that resulted in over 95,000 cases and over 4,000 deaths.[iv] Wastewater management is VERY important.

As World Vision cares about children and family health and we are committed to working with governments, communities and private sector partners to improve services and protect communities from risks like the 2008 Zimbabwe Cholera outbreak.

Since the 2008 outbreak, World Vision Australia, with funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, through the Civil Society WASH program, have been supporting the expansion, revitalisation and upgrading of wastewater infrastructure and services in Bulawayo and Gwanda communities in southern Zimbabwe.

This program has seen activities like:

  • Expanding the coverage of sewerage systems to provide wastewater services to communities that didn’t have access before;
  • Clearing and rehabilitating the existing sewers to protect the community from sewerage spills, leaks and overflows that place the communities at risk;
  • Innovative solutions like establishing a call centre so that the government is able to respond to wastewater faults quickly to minimise health risks;
  • Improving access for people living with disabilities to wastewater services – like public toilets which have been designed to have wheelchair friendly access;
  • Improving wastewater treatment plants and encouraging the recycling of treated wastewater for agriculture; and
  • Introducing innovative systems like pre-paid water meters to increase the ability of the local government to collect revenue for water and wastewater maintenance and operation costs.


These ongoing activities is empowering communities in Zimbabwe to be more prepared, more protected and more resilient to the risks and potential public health impacts of wastewater. It is encouraging greater environmental sustainability through using the recycled wastewater for agriculture! This ongoing project is continuing to strengthen and protect the communities of Bulawayo and Gwanda from future wastewater based epidemics!



[i] UN Sustainable Development Goals (2015) Sustainable Development Goal 6 (accessed 30/1/2017)

[ii]UN Water (2015) Wastewater Management – a UN-Water Analytical Brief, (accessed 30/1/2017)

[iii] Sato T, Qadir M, Yamamoto S, Endo T, Zahoor A (2013) Global, regional, a country level need for data on wastewater generation, treatment, and use. Agricultural Water Management 130, 1-13.

[iv] Ahmed, S., Bardhan, PK., et al (2011)The 2008 Cholera Epidemic in Zimbabwe: Experience of the icddr,b Team in the Field, Journal of health, Population and Nutrition, 29(5), 541-546


Michael Poustie Michael Poustie

Michael Poustie is the technical WASH expert (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) for World Vision Australia.


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