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World Water Day, 22 March - Water is Life

European Commission - MEMO/05/102   18/03/2005

Other available languages: none

MEMO/05/102

Brussels, 18 March 2005

World Water Day, 22 March - Water is Life

The international observance of 22 March as World Water Day is an initiative that grew out of the 1992 United National Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. This background note details some of the policies and projects underway in the European Commission to address issues related to water management and supply, both within the EU and abroad. The United Nations will announce 2005 to 2015 the “Decade of Water” in order to support the realisation of the Millennium Development Goals and the European Union will use this decade to achieve good water status for all European waters.

Research – a new report on climate change and water

The European Commission’s Directorate General Joint Research Centre (DG JRC) has published a major new Report on ‘Climate Change and the European Water Dimension’. The compilation of this report follows a request from the European Water Directors (representatives from EU Member States and the European Commission). The study has been co-authored by more than 40 leading scientists from around Europe and DG JRC’s Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES). The report will be used to make an assessment of existing water policy and examine whether it can accommodate real or anticipated impacts of climate change.

The European Water Directors asked the authors to determine to what extent the Commission, Member States, marine and river basin commissions, and others have developed detailed predictions concerning the possible consequences of climate change. Do we know enough about the possible impacts of climate change on a European scale to act?

The Report is issued against a backdrop of increasing scientific evidence of global warming. According to the International Panel on Climate Change, the average global temperatures over land surfaces, for example, have risen by 0.6 ± 0.2°C in the period from 1861 to 2000. This is unprecedented within the past millennium while projected increases over the 21st century are from 1.4 to 5.8 °C.

This would have significant impact, real and potential, on aquatic ecosystems such as the world’s oceans, European lakes and seas, and Mediterranean coastal lagoons. In particular, the report highlights alterations of biological, chemical and physical characteristics of European water bodies. Existing small variations in climate, leading to sea level rises of 1-2 mm/year, are having strong effects on aquatic ecology, intensifying coastal erosion, affecting nutrient and sediment transport, and resulting in a redistribution and loss of marine organisms.

The Report also documents the intensification of the hydrologic cycle via extreme weather events such as floods and droughts. Annual precipitation over Northern Europe has increased by between 10% and 40% in the last century, whereas the Mediterranean basin has experienced a reduction of up to 20%. The incidence of weather-driven natural hazards is predicted to increase. This has an obvious knock-on effect on the competing needs of different water sectors, especially urban areas and on the corresponding challenges to water use in agriculture, the most vulnerable human activity under unfavourable climatic conditions.

This Report already makes it clear that climate change will challenge both water resources and policy makers alike. Taken together with other recent contributions by the International Panel on Climate Change, the European Environment Agency, and the Arctic Council, it provides recommendations on medium and long-term policy changes. The impact of climate change on the implementation of the EU’s Water Framework Directive and the ecological status of Europe’s water bodies is also discussed in the Report.

The Report emphasises the urgent need for a new approach to the problem, particularly through the development and application of climate change scenarios at the scale of regions and river basins to assess the response of land and water systems at local level. This should apply to both quantity and quality concerns of Europe's aquatic resources and must assess mitigation strategies and their associated costs.

For the complete report and fact sheet outlining key findings and recommendations: http://ies.jrc.ec.europa.eu/

Research in the water sector

Research is invaluable for developing society’s knowledge awareness of the importance of water for our environmental and socio-economic welfare and the need to take action to defend the sustainability of our aquatic ecosystems. From earlier focus on environmental quality standards and objectives emphasis was recently shifted to multi-disciplinary research on integrated water resource management and user participation.

The Water Supply and Sanitation Technology Platform is supported by the European Commission to bring together the research community, industry, policy-makers, the financial community and other interested parties, to establish a long-term view of the research needs of the sector.

For information on the Water Supply and Sanitation Technology Platform: http://www.wsstp.org/default.aspx

See also Memo/04/298 for information on technology platforms

Water has been a feature of the last 2 framework programmes for Research and Development. Subjects covered include: support to EU policies as described above, hydro structure and function of ecosystems; behaviour of pollutants in waer; climate change; water qualify and availability; methodologies for thresholds for contaminants; techniques for detecting viruses in bathing water

For information on specific projects:

http://www.cordis.lu/sustdev/environment/home.html

http://www.cordis.lu/eesd/ka1/home.html

For more general information on EC water research see: http://ec.europa.eu/research/environment/themes/article_1355_en.htm

Environment - Sustainable use of EU water resources

The Water Framework Directive

By adopting the Water Framework Directive (WFD) in 2000, the EU set a milestone for water protection, and also for involvement of citizens and good governance.

This directive is the result of a very intensive exchange process between experts, stakeholders and policy makers. It deals with all categories of water (rivers, lakes, ground, transitional and coastal), all impacts on waters (from households, industry and agriculture) and contains water quality and quantity objectives.

The key concept of the WFD is integration. Firstly, it is founded on the sustainable development principle. Secondly, it calls for an integrated river basin management (RBMP) of water resources. Thirdly, links and co-ordinates all previous water policies, such as the directives on urban waste water treatment, nitrates, bathing or drinking water into a common framework. Finally, the integration of other major EU policies, e.g. agriculture, hydropower or navigation, and water policy is a prerequisite for successful protection of the aquatic environment.

Member States have already started the process to develop the main tool for the achievement of the objectives - the first RBMP, which will be published in 2009. The first steps for the RBMP contain an initial characterisation of water bodies, a detailed analysis of pressures and impacts affecting all water resources and an economic assessment of water uses within a river basin. This initial analysis will identify water bodies that will not achieve the objective of the Directive and therefore should be included in the Programme of Measures of the RBMP.

In order to support the challenging implementation process, the 25 EU Member States, Norway and the European Commission agreed to a joint working process called the Common Implementation Strategy in May 2001. This ongoing participatory process developed a wealth of information including several guidance documents, reports and results from pilot river basins.

Key objectives and principles of the WFD are:

  • Ensuring protection of all our waters, with the objective of good quality (‘good status’), as a rule, at the latest by 2015
  • Covering all impacts on water, regardless of their origin, and to provide a single coherent management frame based on river basins and the integration of all water-related legislation
  • Getting citizens and stakeholders involved by broad public participation
  • Using economic instruments in support of environmental objectives
  • Providing a sound long-term basis for political, technical and financial decisions at all levels
  • Achievement of “good status” for all European waters by 2015. The definition of the good water status encompasses the chemical composition of water and the ecological elements. The ecological status is defined as an expression of the condition of water bodies as regard their capacity to support natural life, biodiversity and legitimate water uses. Another important objective is to develop water pricing policies that provide adequate incentives to recover the costs of water services for households, industry and agriculture.

Next steps in the implementation phase of the WFD are:

  • 2005: Initial report on characterisation, pressure and impact on waters and economic assessment of water use
  • 2006: Start monitoring programmes to assess the status of water bodies
  • 2008: Draft River Basin Management Plan for consultation
  • 2009: Publication of the first River Basin Management Plan
  • 2015: Achievement of good status and publication of the second RBMP

For more information on the Water Framework Directive: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/water/water-framework/index_en.html

Water Framework Directive Library and Floods Action Programme Library: http://circa.europa.eu/Public/irc/env/wfd/library

WFD Danube project analysis report: http://www.icpdr.org/pls/danubis/danubis_db.dyn_navigator.show

Conservation of the Marine Environment

Current marine environment threats range from the loss or degradation of biodiversity/structure changes, loss of habitats, contamination by dangerous substances and nutrients and possible future effects of climate change. The related pressures include commercial fishing, oil and gas exploration, shipping, water borne and atmospheric deposition of dangerous substances and nutrients, waste dumping, physical degradation of the habitat due to dredging and extraction of sand and gravel. If not addressed, these threats and pressures will put at risk the generation of wealth and employment opportunities derived from our oceans and seas. The Commission has over the last 2 years consulted a wide range of interested groups, with a view to establishing a thematic strategy on the protection and conservation of the marine environment. This Strategy will allow the issue of protection of the marine environment to be dealt with coherently, bringing together the current patchwork of policies, legislation, programmes and action plans at national, regional, EU and global level.

For more details: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/water/consult_marine.htm

Action programme for floods - Flood risk management

The European Commission is developing an action programme on Flood Risk Management . Floods can affect economic and environmental life and undermine Europe’s progress towards sustainable development and competitiveness. Between 1998 and 2002, Europe suffered over 100 major damaging floods, including the catastrophic floods along the Danube and Elbe rivers in 2002. Since 1998, floods have caused some 700 deaths, the displacement of about half a million people and at least € 25 billion in insured economic losses.

The European action programme will include three distinct but closely linked actions:

  • Improvement of the exchange of experiences and knowledge and increasing the awareness,
  • Development of a targeted approach to the best use of funding tools,
  • Development of a proposal for a legal instrument.

The risk of floods will probably increase during the coming decades. Two trends point to this. Firstly, the magnitude and frequency of floods are likely to increase in the future as a result of climate change. Secondly, the impact of flood events may increase, because more people live in areas at risk of flooding and also more economic assets (business and industry) are located in such areas. Moreover, human activities such as the clearing of forests, the straightening of rivers, the suppression of natural flood plains and poor land planning, have contributed significantly to increasing the risk of floods. In order to manage the flood risks better and to develop a sustainable approach, it is necessary first to know of the risks: which areas can be flooded and to which extent. This information is important for spatial planners, but also for other authorities and the people living there so they can prepare themselves. The second element is to develop a plan at river basin level and for coastal areas in order to prevent problems being passed on from one area to another. Therefore the Commission intends to develop a proposal for a legislative proposal which will include the development and implementation of flood maps and flood risk management plans. The Commission will also ensure that all relevant EU policies contribute, where appropriate, to flood risk management, for example the EU Common Agricultural Policy and the new EU Cohesion Policy.

For more information on the Action Programme for floods  : http://ec.europa.eu/environment/water/flood_risk/index.htm

Development: Improving access to safe water

The ACP-EU Water Facility

In its conclusion of March 2004, the EU Council decided to create a €500 million ACP-EU Water Facility, with a first tranche of €250 million already made available. The Council will decide soon on the mobilisation of a second allocation of €250 million for the Water Facility in the framework of the performance review of the European Development Fund.

The overall objective of the ACP-EU Water Facility (WF) is to contribute to poverty reduction and sustainable development through the achievement of the specific MDGs and WSSD targets on water and sanitation in ACP countries. The objective of the Water Facility is to boost the sustainable delivery of water and sanitation infrastructure and to improve water governance and Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) practices in ACP countries by helping to address the financing gap. The Water Facility has been developed to be a catalyst, to promote initiatives, build capacity in partner countries, and to be an instrument that can provide the missing link in financing sustainable activities and programmes in the water and sanitation sector. In addition to proposals ready for implementation, the first Call for Proposals will also lead to support preparation of new proposals, reinforce capacity and improve the enabling environment for further investment in water and sanitation.

The Water Facility has been designed through a strong consultation process, soliciting comments and inputs through a dialogue with EU and ACP partners from public authorities, civil society, the business community and international bodies.

The Water Facility uses Calls for Proposals as the fundamental delivering mechanism. The first Call for Proposals has been launched addressing three components:

  • Improving the water management and governance
  • Water and Sanitation Infrastructure
  • Civil Society initiatives

The proposals are currently under evaluation.

Translating policy into action: the EU Water Initiative

The European Union Water Initiative (EUWI) is an expression of the collective will of the European Union to work in an innovative manner on water and sanitation, a key development issue closely linked to achievement of nearly all the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The starting point of the EUWI has been the basic acknowledgement that the water-related international targets cannot be achieved with conventional means and fragmented approaches. They require a greater and more open form of mobilisation of partners both in European and in partner countries, ranging from the governments, International Financial Institutions and other donors, to civil society organisations, water users and water industry. The EUWI’s pioneering partnership approach aims at bringing together EU institutions and Member States, developing country government agencies, civil society, financial institutions, as well as the expertise and investment potential of the EU’s water industry. The EUWI also places the emphasis on better use of existing and generation of new scientific knowledge and on its effective translation into innovation; as well as on raising public awareness on water issues.

The key objectives of the Initiative are; to reinforce political commitment to action; to raise the priority given to water and sanitation issues in the context of poverty reduction efforts; to promote better water governance; to encourage the public and private sectors and local stakeholders to work together better; to strengthen institutional capacity at the regional, national and local levels; to improve co-ordination and co-operation in the sector; to encourage regional and sub-regional co-operation on water management issues; and to catalyse additional funding.

The Financial Challenge

The EU is already the largest provider of funding for water-related development aid and scientific cooperation. There is a need however for a significant increase in funding for water and sanitation, as well as better use of development aid to leverage more resources from a large range of sources (public and private, local and international), if the MDG targets are to be met. The EU Water Initiative has included a major assessment of financing water sector development and the Camdessus Panel report ‘Financing Water for All’ published in 2003 stresses that the flow of funds has to roughly double, with increases from all sources.

Assistance for water projects in National and Regional Indicative Programmes

Activities in the water and sanitation sector are taking place and being prepared as part of the National and Regional Indicative Programmes of ACP countries and regions. More than €400m is allocated to water and sanitation under the 9th EDF in 14 ACP countries. The EC also has significant allocations for water related activities in other regions including Eastern Europe (€35m has been earmarked from the TACIS regional programme), Asia, the Mediterranean and Latin America.

For more information on the EU water initiative:

For more information on EU development policy:

http://ec.europa.eu/development/index_en.htm


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