What’s in a name? Politicising wastewater reuse in irrigated agriculture

Matthijs T. Wessels
Water Resources Management Group; Environmental Policy Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands; Department of Environmental Engineering, Ardhi University, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; matthijs.wessels@wur.nl

ABSTRACT: Wastewater is increasingly being reused as a solution to water scarcity in agriculture. This article combines a literature review with an ethnographic study of water reuse in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to explore the field of wastewater reuse and what it is made to represent. The academic literature largely focuses on the practical challenges of wastewater treatment, while underlying political dynamics that contextualise the planning of, and control over, water flows remain largely unaddressed. Because people seek to take control over water through the manipulation of flows and qualities, wastewater reuse is inherently political. The study of water reuse practices in Dar es Salaam shows how water quality decline is co-produced with processes of urbanisation that cause inequalities in the urban waterscape. Farmers are subject to changes in the physical characteristics and normative understandings of the urban water system, yet do not have the power to reconfigure these to their own ends or challenge the way that their practices are portrayed. This paper shows the importance of politicising wastewater reuse and calls for a more diverse and emancipatory understanding of, and response to, water reuse in agriculture through interdisciplinary research and the collaborative production of knowledge and interventions.

KEYWORDS: Wastewater reuse, irrigated urban agriculture, water quality, urban political ecology, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania