Wastewater and jobs: The Decent Work approach to reducing untreated wastewater

This working paper discusses the potential of investments of wastewater and how they impact productivity, livelihoods, job creation, skills needs, occupational safety and health, and women’s employment. It further identifies the respective roles of the public and private sectors and of cooperatives.

Substantial employment can be generated in expanded treatment plants and systems, through reuse of wastewater treated to ‘fit-for-purpose’ levels, and in a range of water-dependent sectors, especially agriculture. In principle, input-output analysis and social accounting matrices allow a comprehensive mapping of employment impacts.

The Sustainable Development Goal to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all (SDG 6) offers a strategic opportunity for substantially improving the management of wastewater, for reviewing national policy frameworks, and for increasing investments. They also offer opportunities to advance several targets included in the Goal to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all (SDG 8).

This paper also discusses wastewater reuse opportunities in the industrial sector and in agriculture, as well as the capture of by-products from wastewater. Wastewater can be recycled within a given industrial plant, or the wastewater of one enterprise can be reused as a resource by adjacent facilities. Such practices avoid expenses for water, energy, and discharge fees, offering a competitive advantage and thus shoring up existing jobs.