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Putting environmental sustainability at the core of WASH Practice


Stockholm – WASH (drinking water supply, sanitation and hygiene) relies on and impacts water. Therefore, environmental sustainability needs to be at the core of WASH practice. Wetlands International featured our experiences reaching nature-based solutions and sought out additional partners to help transform the WASH sector at an event during Stockholm World Water Week.

Speaking to an audience of more than 70 WASH and environmental stakeholders, Susanne Boom, the WASH Programme Coordinator at Wetlands International explained that through an evolving partnership approach, Wetlands International is providing natural infrastructure solutions that improve water security and help deliver WASH more sustainably.

“The transition towards environmental sustainability in the WASH sector is a mission possible”, stated Ms. Boom, at this year’s Stockholm World Water Week (SWWW) in a seminar on Nature Based Solutions for WASH. (The event is featured as the top story in the SWWW daily: here).

For decades the WASH sector has focused on the delivery of water supply assets (hardware such as taps and toilets). The sustainability of such interventions is often neglected or insufficiently emphasised by the WASH sector. For wetland dependent communities, this can have devastating outcomes.

Sustainable WASH needed

In many parts of the world, wetlands are being transformed to wastelands due to lack of drainage systems and dumping of solid waste and sewage. These wetlands, which are the source of freshwater, eventually reach their waste carrying capacity. As a result, the supply of clean water and the provision of other values such as food and biodiversity are degraded. For instance, several water quality surveys from Kampala, Uganda showed that 95% of spring water sources were highly contaminated by faeces (from surface and pit latrines). It only makes sense that with water quality this poor there are regular outbreaks of cholera and diarrhoea, among other water-related diseases.

Therefore, environmental sustainability needs to be at the core of WASH practice. A landscape approach to WASH planning – that considers the effects upon the surrounding natural environment – enables both the opportunities and risks that ecosystem services provide to be assessed and included. Wetlands International is demonstrating this on the ground with partners at Ugandan, Malian and Indian sites.

Seeking additional partners

Recently more organisations with a WASH mandate are realising the benefits of taking an ecosystem perspective. However, only commitment across the sector will make a significant impact. Wetlands International is currently working through the Dutch WASH Alliance and is seeking allies to scale up our work and wants to get in touch with anyone interested in seeking out opportunities for collaboration.


Susanne Boom
WASH Programme Coordinator


Chris Baker
Head of Programme and Strategy - Wetlands & Water Resources


Wetlands and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) - Understanding the linkages

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