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Brussels, 21 March 2013
Statement by EU Commissioner for Environment Janez Potočnik, EU Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs and EU Commissioner for Internal Market and Services Michel Barnier on the eve of World Water Day 2013
Water is as vital as the air we breathe. But as writer Marq de Villiers put it: "The trouble with water –and there is trouble with water – is that they're not making any more of it…"
Our planet's population is expected to rise to more than 9 billion by the middle of this century. This will put immense strain on many resources. Without important efficiency gains, by 2030, we will need 40% more water than we can access.
The United Nations General Assembly has explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realisation of all human rights.
And yet, over 780 million people do not have access to safe drinking water and over 4,000 children under five die every day from diseases associated to the lack of access to clean drinking water. This is not only a tragedy, it is simply unacceptable. This is why the EU provides almost EUR 400 million per year to help 60 countries build infrastructure for drinking and waste water systems and provide basic sanitation and hygiene worldwide. EU aid has already helped to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water. It has allowed more than 32 million people to gain access to improved water supply and 9 million to sanitation facilities.
Providing access to water and sanitation is essential in our fight to reduce poverty, because water is not only vital for drinking and hygiene purposes, it is also key to agriculture. Worldwide, 70% of water is used as irrigation water to grow food, for example, and in some developing countries, this figure increases to over 85%. Since demand on the world's water resources will be even higher in the future, we need to do all we can to preserve our precious water supplies before it's too late.
With that aim, the EU has been trying to ensure that the issue of water is properly addressed in all political arenas. At the Rio+20 Conference, for example, the EU argued strongly for global targets to be adopted concerning water.
Domestically, while on average Europeans use between 200 and 600 litres of water per day, 20 million Europeans don't have access to quality water and safe sanitation. While Europe is considered as having adequate water resources, many of its regions, in particular in the South, suffer from low availability of water and water scarcity.
Making sure that water is available in the right quantity and quality, at the right place and at the right time, is essential to our health and economic growth.
Here in Europe our water use cannot increase endlessly, we need to reduce demand and ensure a more sustainable use of our water. We need to ensure that people are aware of how precious and valuable water is.
Let us address the issue of water pricing as that is one which concerns many people. EU’s legislation obliges Member States to take account of the principle of recovery of the costs of water services, including environmental and resource costs, and provide adequate incentives for us to use water resources efficiently. In essence this means charging users for the full cost of providing water services. Why? Because putting a price on water is the best way to make sure that water is used efficiently. Being a human right does not mean water should be free and unlimited for all. Would it be right, for example, in a city where water is scarce to allow water to be freely used to fill swimming pools?
Another issue of concern to people in a number of countries recently is privatization of water supplies. The European Commission does not in any way have a policy of asking or pressuring Member States into privatising water services. The Commission recognizes that water is a public good which is vital to citizens and that the management of water resources is a matter for Member States and local autonomy.
Preserving water is about preserving life itself; it is about health and well-being, but it is also about economic growth and prosperity. It is a way of ensuring that agriculture, fisheries, transport, energy, tourism and many other industries develop and prosper. Water is certainly a 'pillar of life', but it is also a pillar of economic and social development. All of us should care about protecting our supplies of water, one of our most precious resources.