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Published on: 16/08/2012

Towards a tipping point for multiple-use services

The Hague, 17 August 2012: During the Stockholm World Water Week to be held from 26-31 August, representatives from different water sector organisations will be discussing approaches to improving the use of water for food security.

At this event, IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre (IRC), together with partners from the Multiple-Use Services (MUS) Group, will be promoting the use of domestic water supplies to improve food security. Water use at the homestead-level, for small-scale production from livestock, and vegetable gardens make the difference for millions of poor families.

 “Many poor families in rural and urban areas do not have access to irrigated lands, or even rain-fed fields. For them, the homestead represents an important site of production, but one that is often ignored. And this is a site for which domestic supply systems can provide water,”said Nico Terra, IRC Director, on the eve of World Water Day 2012, earlier this year.

Multiple-use water services address needs for water, food, and income

However, many WASH services are designed to provide only basic amounts of water that are insufficient to meet people’s productive needs. Moreover, in some countries, the use of domestic water systems for productive activities contravenes water use regulations and such types of use are even prohibited.

Since 2003, IRC and partners in the MUS Group have been promoting the multiple-use of water services (MUS), an approach for water services provision, which seeks to meet people’s needs for drinking, cooking and washing as well as productive uses in an integrated manner. Thereby, it specifically seeks to open up the scope of water interventions, and encourage changes in water programmes regulations, so that water interventions can actually meet all people’s water needs.

Globally, interest in MUS is on the rise, as there is increasing recognition of the relevance of the MUS approach to meet the challenges of feeding a rising population and more and more water organisations have been adopting the MUS approach.

In spite of this, no tipping point has been reached yet in scaling up the MUS approach. Still many WASH programmes provide water for drinking, cooking and washing only and not for other needs at the homestead. Moreover, we still need to overcome many barriers in policies and financing to scale up the MUS approach” said Stef Smits, IRC senior programme officer and Secretary of the MUS Group.

The Seminar “Scaling Pathways for Multiple-Use Services, for Food Security and Health”, which will be held on the 30th of August at the Stockholm World Water Week, will look into possible scaling pathways for taking MUS forward, identifying opportunities and barriers to the uptake of the MUS approach, as well as ways to overcome them. According to Stef Smits, one opportunity that needs to be explored further is the contribution that multiple-use services can make to the sustainability of rural water supplies. “As will be discussed during the seminar, there is a high correlation between the extent to which people use productive water and the sustainability of water supplies. There is increasing evidence that if more people can access decent amounts of water for homestead production they are also more likely to better maintain their water systems. As sustainability remains high on the agenda of many WASH stakeholders, this could be one opportunity for taking MUS forward within the WASH sector.” 

These and other opportunities for scaling MUS will be debated by panel members at the seminar, for more details see the MUS flyer.

About the MUS Group

The MUS Group is a network of twelve organisations, with more than 400 individual members. It acts as a platform for networking, promoting research, as well as documenting and disseminating lessons related to MUS. IRC, as one of the pioneering organisations advocating for the MUS approach, is currently hosting the Secretariat of the MUS Group.

About IRC

IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre is a knowledge-focused NGO and think-tank based in The Netherlands. IRC works within a worldwide network of partner organisations in order to achieve equitable and sustainable WASH services. IRC’s roots are in advocacy, knowledge management, and capacity building. The organisation conducts activities on a global level and is active in countries such as Burkina Faso, Ghana, Honduras, India, Mozambique, and Uganda.

IRC will be taking part in various activities at the Stockholm World Water Week, for more details check the schedule.

Further information

Contact details:
For more information on IRC or to schedule interviews with an IRC expert, contact Vera van der Grift at or by phone at +31 (0)70 3044000;  +31(0)6 2019 5160.
For more information on the MUS group and the approach, visit the MUS website at or contact Stef Smits at
For more information on Stockholm World Water Week, visit

Relevant materials:
For policymakers: MUS policy brief
For the media: Multimedia/ video – Keeping the water flowing
For practitioners: IRC/ IWMI five country study; IRC/ IWMI/ CPWF technical paper – Climbing the water ladder and MUS guidelines

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