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Global Wastewater Initiative

A Global Partnership for Wastewater Management – The Global Wastewater Initiative-

Wastewater is a global issue with multiple and great impacts

Wastewater is a global concern and has a direct impact on the biological diversity of aquatic ecosystems, disrupting the fundamental integrity of our life support systems, on which a wide range of sectors from urban development to food production and industry depend. As nearly all human activity results in the production of wastewater, with the increasing global population and economic activities, the amount of wastewater will also increase. According to the Sick Water report (UNEP & UN-Habitat, 2010), up to 90 % of untreated wastewater flows are generated in densely populated coastal areas, resulting in high pollution of the receiving water bodies (rivers, lakes, groundwater and coastal waters). As a result, ‘Dead Zones’ (hypoxia or oxygen depletion caused by coastal eutrophication) are spreading, with impacts on fisheries, livelihoods and the food chain.

The costs related to the pollution of water bodies can be significant, undermining ecosystems and the services they provide. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report suggests these services for coastal waters to be $16 billion annually, and much of this is due to impacts on human health. If the pollution of coastal waters can be linked to impacts on human health and could result in a decline in the economic value derived from the coasts and oceans, the deterioration of coastal and marine environments must also affect poverty levels.

Despite the magnitude of wastewater challenges, politicians and policy makers, both at global and local level, give low priority to the provision of sustainable wastewater management. A major driving force to stimulate effective wastewater management is the realisation that wastewater is a resource, not just a noxious material to be hidden out of sight and out of mind. In fact, wastewater, when properly managed is a huge source of water (even the strongest domestic sewages are over 99% water), of nutrients which could supply much of fertilizer normally required for crop production. Wastewater sludge can also be used in agricultural land as a soil conditioner/fertilizer and to manufacture building materials or as a biofuel. However, when poorly managed, it leads to loss of ecosystem services, dead zones and of economic opportunities. It affects climate change as wastewater-related emissions of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are more harmful than CO2. In this sense there are many potential benefits of wastewater (and its sludge), although this is not necessarily known everywhere nor is it universally practiced. In the contrary, there is a common perception that managing wastewater is a waste of energy and money.

Given the magnitude of the wastewater challenge and the need for a coordinated and global response, the Third Inter-governmental Review (IGR-3) of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA) endorsed the development of a Global Wastewater Initiative (GWI), to push the wastewater agenda by sharing, among stakeholders, information, lessons learned and best practices for wastewater management, including sound technologies that do not adversely affect the environment and biodiversity. The Initiative was envisaged to prompt coordinated action, and encourage new investments in wastewater management that meet these objectives.

What is the GWI?
•    A multiple stakeholder platform comprised of UN agencies, international organizations, governments (Health, Agriculture, Environment and Economic development), scientists, private sectors and Major groups and stakeholders to provide the foundations (including information, tools and policy mechanisms) for partnerships to initiate comprehensive, effective and sustained programmes addressing wastewater management;
•    A voluntary network of stakeholders with an international Steering Committee and a Secretariat to be provided by UNEP/GPA
•    A room to address and work under thematic groups on major issues, challenges and potentialities of wastewater such as wastewater reuse, nutrient removal, biogas production, etc.

What will the GWI do?
•    Facilitate cooperation, coordination and synergy among the different players ;
•    Play an important role in triggering strategic discussion, advocacy and action among countries on more effective wastewater management;
•    Help to identify and foster opportunities which can be applied by countries or scaled up as part of a more concerted national and international effort

Expected outcomes
•    Improved synergy among stakeholders including scientists, NGOs, the private sector, governments and international organizations for more effective wastewater management;
•    Healthier ecosystems and improved human well-being;
•    Increased opportunities and benefits realized and concerted national and international efforts to embed effective wastewater in national development plans;
•    Enhanced knowledge generation, sharing and utilization for better wastewater management;
•    Enhanced recognition of wastewater as a resource and an opportunity by decision makers and stakeholders;
•    Increased utilization of the 3R approach worldwide;
•    Enabled complementarities between the GWI and relevant Conventions and other international instruments, action plans, initiatives, and activities;
•    Systematic publication of scoping papers and global assessments on emerging wastewater issues;
•    Increased mobilization of resources to address wastewater challenges.

Operational structure

1.    Management and coordination arrangements

The management and coordination arrangements for the GWI are important to give the partnership a clear structure, thereby enabling it to achieve its objectives. The proposed structure is that the GWI will be composed of a Partnership Forum, an International Steering Committee and a Secretariat, to be provided by UNEP. UNEP, subject to the availability of resources, will: provide administrative and secretariat support; facilitate the reporting of the Partnership to governments, including, where appropriate, the UNEP Governing Council or its subsidiary bodies (including IGR-4); support fundraising activities on behalf of the Partnership; provide guidance and technical assistance to the Partnership Areas; encourage new partners to participate in the Partnership, as appropriate; and be a member of the Partnership Steering Committee.

2.    Partnership Forum

It is proposed to have a biennial Conference of all the members of the Partnership (to be known as the Partnership Forum), to:
•    review the work programme and performance of the Partnership in respect of meeting its objectives;
•    review proposals and make recommendations on the broad areas of focus for the Partnership;
•    discuss other matters as may be decided by the Conference

3.    Partnership Steering Committee

A Partnership Steering Committee will be established to serve the Partnership. The composition, roles and responsibilities of the steering committee will be defined at the first GWI meeting. The GWI Partnership Steering Committee members will select a Chair who may serve for a two year term. UNEP will act as the Secretariat for and be a member of the Steering Committee.
It is proposed that the GWI Partnership Steering Committee meet on an annual basis and at such other times as deemed necessary. Meetings may be in person, by conference call or by any other means. Partnership Steering Committee meetings will, as far as practicable, be held back-to-back with other relevant meetings.

The proposed components/focal areas of the GWI are:

1.    Establishment of the GWI infrastructure
•    Building up a strong network;
•    Expanding the GWI and engaging a wide variety of partners;
•    Enhancing the visibility of the partnership;
•    Gathering and disseminating available information and filling information gaps;
•    Convening meetings of the GWI
2.    Contributing to Global challenges and debates on wastewater issues
•    Post-2015 discussion on SDG targets and indicators related to wastewater;
•    Research into community wastewater perceptions;
•    Contribution to policy briefs on wastewater;
•    Collection & dissemination of good practices linking WW management with food security (agricultural & energy production), poverty alleviation, climate change, water use efficiency etc.
•    New and emerging issues
3.    Contributing to the strengthening of the normative basis for managing and monitoring the impacts of wastewater on the coastal and marine environment
•    Conduct of an economic valuation of WW to evaluate the cost of the loss of coastal and marine ecosystems services due to the impact of WW and the failure to take preventive measures (cost of no action) versus the cost of effective WW management (cost of action);
•    Provision of guidance & tools to decision-makers and concerned stakeholders;
•    Development of a technology matrix of WW-related technologies;
•    Preparation of guidelines for community leaders, etc.

4.    Contributing to the implementation of demonstration projects on wastewater treatment technologies
•    Contribution to the development and implementation of joint pilot projects to demonstrate and adopt measures enabling nutrients to be removed from wastewater;
•    Other demonstrations (to be determined)

5.    Communication and outreach
•    Conduct awareness raising activities on the wastewater challenges and opportunities, and broker integrated approaches and solutions;
•    Outreach and sharing information on wastewater;
•    Contribution to the GWI website with regional hubs, press centre, events, etc.
•    Standard presentations and short videos on key messages for various audiences
•    Policy briefs (e.g. Wastewater, building on the “Sick Water” report, which could address the status of wastewater coverage, treatment and management globally)
•    Presentation of exhibitions /poster and convening of side/parallel events at major meetings/conferences, e.g. Water Week, AMCOW, CoP of conventions to enhance the visibility of the GWI
•    Contribute to/organize biannual GWI scientific and policy conference;
•    Contribute to press releases, media advisories, press conferences, public service announcements.

GWI at the Global Conference on Land-Oceans Connections, 2-4 October 2013

For more information: Wastewater session agendaReport of Wastewater session,  GWI Factsheet and GPA Factsheet

For more information on the GWI please contact: Birguy.lamizana[at]unep.org

To join the GWI:  GWI Expression of interest form


  1. Sick Water
  2. Clearing the Waters