Adopting standards for reuse can help address water scarcity hurdles

drinking water
4.5 billion people still lack safely managed sanitation services, particularly in rural areas. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Today is World Water Day – a global initiative celebrated annually on March 22 – advocating for sustainable ways of managing the world’s water resources.

The focus is on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 – dubbed “Leaving no one behind” - which means ensuring access to water and sanitation for all by 2030. This is the United Nation’s roadmap to ensure every human being benefits from getting clean, fresh water. But available statistics make this a mirage - somewhat.

Although water covers 70 percent of the earth’s surface, only a fraction of it is freshwater. The available drinking water is unevenly distributed across the globe - polluted or disputed - which means billions of people are still living without safe water.

The current situation also means that 4.5 billion people still lack safely managed sanitation services, particularly in rural areas.

By 2030, water scarcity in mainly arid and semi-arid areas will have displaced between 24 and 700 million people, according to UN Water - the United Nations coordinating body on water issues.


According to the World Health Organisation, water scarcity affects four out of every 10 people. A lack of water and poor water quality increases the risk of diarrhoea, which kills approximately 2.2 million people every year.

So, what is keeping us from getting there and how can ISO standards make a difference?

It is noteworthy that the International Standards Organisation (ISO) has made water one of its key strategic priorities. ISO has developed more than 1,400 standards relating to water, each representing best practice in several sectors including water quality, water supply, wastewater and stormwater systems, and infrastructure.

The Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) has taken a frontline role in engaging water sector players to ensure applicable procedures and standards across the water supply chain are adhered to.

Kebs has also ensured that technical competence of its testing laboratories is such that results are reliable and universally accepted. These lab tests must operate in accordance with requirements of the International Standard ISO/IEC 17025.

Sub-standard products

In pursuit of our critical role of protecting consumers from harmful sub-standard products, facilitating trade and protecting the environment, Kebs is implementing at least four water sector related standards meant to address issues on water quality, recycling, supply systems, among others.

For instance, the KS EAS 12:2018 is an East African Standard that specifies requirements, sampling and test methods for portable water intended for direct human consumption, domestic and industrial use.

The KS EAS 153:2018 specifies requirements and sampling and test methods for packaged drinking water for direct human consumption and applies to drinking water, carbonated drinking/sparkling drinking water and alkaline drinking water.

The KS EAS 13:2018 specifies requirements for packaged mineral water for human consumption. Another key standard addressing SDG 6 is ISO 30500 on non-sewered sanitation systems.

By offering basic requirements for the design and testing of stand-alone faecal sludge treatment units, ISO 30500 will help address the health needs of many communities worldwide.

The writer is acting Managing Director, Kenya Bureau of Standards.