United Nations
Commission on Sustainable Development

Background Paper

                           EXPERT GROUP MEETING



                            27 - 30 January 1998

                              Harare, Zimbabwe



                            Rainer E. Enderlein

                               Paper No. 10 

                             Prepared for the 
                Department of Economic and Social Affairs
                              United Nations 



                            by Rainer E. Enderlein

                              I.  Introduction

        Four decades of dialogue, negotiations and
concerted action have shaped the regional cooperation
on water management pursued under the auspices of the
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
(UN/ECE) which has now 55 member countries (all
European countries, Canada, Central Asian republics,
Israel and the United States).  

        Work has evolved in line with the changing needs and
priorities in the region.  From the earlier focus on
water-quantity issues, such as water use in industry and flood
management, the emphasis shifted to a holistic approach to the
environmentally sound management of inland water resources and
riparian vegetation, wetlands, riverine floodplains and
associated wildlife and habitats

        The response of the Commission and its member Governments to
the challenge of the degradation and overuse of water resources
has been productive in terms of declarations, strategies, and
policy recommendations to promote and implement rational and
ecologically sound water management, the conservation and
restoration of water resources and related ecosystems, and
pollution control. These activities culminated in the Convention
on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and
International Lakes, which was adopted on 17 March 1992 and
entered into force on 6 October 1996.

                           II.  PROBLEMS

         In Europe, the amount of water available for sustained
consumption is very unevenly distributed.   Overall, there is
however no severe water shortage problem [1].  Many countries are
heavely dependent on external contribution of water through
transboundary rivers to meet their demands, some of them receive
more than 50 per cent of their waters from neighbouring countries. 
Industrial water use varies widely between countries.  In Finland,
Germany and Belgium, industry accounts for some 80 per cent of all
water abstractions, whereas more agrarian countries (Greece,
Portugal, Spain) abstract less than 30 per cent for industry.  About
25 per cent of the water abstracted in Europe is used for
agriculture as a whole Agriculture accounts for more than 50 per
cent of all water abstraction in Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy,
Romania and Spain [1].  

       Untreated or insufficiently treated industrial and
municipal waste water, inappropriate agricultural practices causing
water pollution by nutrients and pesticides, seepage from old and
new landfills, leaching of hazardous substances from decommissioned
industrial sites and former military areas continue to threaten the
quality of waters and related aquatic ecosystems in large parts of
Europe.   Sediment contamination, particularly by hazardous
substances, is another troublesome issue. When dredged, these
sediments require additional treatment and appropriate disposal in
order to minimize their adverse effects on terrestrial ecosystems
and waters.

                  Transboundary Waters in Europe

In Europe, the extent of the economic and environmental relevance of
transboundary watercourses and international lakes is clearly demonstrated by
the magnitude of these resources.  In fact, more than 50 per cent of the 31
major rivers in Europe with a drainage area of over 50,000 km2 have
transboundary catchments.  The catchment area of the Danube, one of the
largest rivers in Europe, is shared by seventeen countries.  A great
number of small and medium-sized waters criss-cross the boundaries between two
or more States.  

It appears from national reports that organic pollution is still a serious
problem for the rivers Daugava, Dniepr, Elbe, Meuse and Scheldt.  The
bacteriological quality of some transboundary rivers in Europe, including the
Danube, although improving, is low.  Algal growth in transboundary surface
waters, particularly international lakes, remains a major problem as a result
of pollution from agricultural sources. 

Although the water quality of many larger rivers gradually improves, there are
a number of small brooks and streams which do not yet get sufficient attention
in water pollution control.  Trends in pollution by heavy metals and other
toxic substances are not very encouraging either. [2]

        Many countries in Europe have documented widespread increases in
nitrate concentrations in groundwaters.  Many aquifers in Europe have also
been polluted by heavy metals, pesticides and oil.  Disposal of wastes, both
hazardous and domestic, and the impact of acid deposition have repeatedly been
found to be responsible for the deterioration of groundwater quality.  In
addition, there are numerous cases where the abstraction of large amounts of
groundwater for irrigation has caused the introduction of saline water into

        The long history of water-construction works has led to a situation
where many important surface waters in Europe are heavily regulated and hence
far from being in pristine condition.  River regulation has been undertaken to
the greatest extent in Western and Southern Europe.  The portion of river
reaches that are still in a natural state is low, typically below 20 per cent
[1]. Water resources development projects have often created conflicts between
various uses at the catchment area level, including transboundary waters, as
it was the case with the Gabcikovo project on the Danube between Slovakia and

        More than 120 million people in the ECE region, not considering Canada
and the United States, still do not have access to save drinking-water. Faecal
contamination is widespread.  Health-related problems also arise from the
discharge of persistent organic pollutants, oil products, chromium, organic
matter, as well as from saline intrusion into groundwaters.  The lack of
adequate treatment of source waters, particularly in terms of disinfection,
the poor quality of the distribution system, and insufficient maintenance or
renewal of the supply networks, are all linked to outbreaks of water-borne

           Poor quality of the supply system in cities

In the UN/ECE region as a whole, the direct cost in terms of clean water that
is unaccounted for has been estimated at some $10 billion a year.  In some
large cities in Albania, Romania and Norway, almost half the drinking water
that leaves the water purification plants is thought to be wasted in this way.

In most countries the national average has been estimated at some 30 per cent.

Some cities have reported leakages of 70 to 80 per cent. Moreover, some 50 per
cent of this wasted water re-enters the sewage system and is promptly treated
again.  This puts an unnecessary burden on waste-water treatment plants
and pushes up their costs. [3].

        In some countries in transition, the population also
suffers from supply cuts, giving rise to a further drop in
water quality in the supply system. Although the
consequences of poor water management are mostly felt at the
local or provincial levels, water pollution and water
shortage have had a transboundary impact too.

                             III.  CHALLENGES

        In addition to the conventional tasks of water management to
protect life and property against floods and droughts, ensure
drinking-water supplies, satisfy the water demand of industry and
agriculture, and improve water quality, new issues are emerging
in Europe:

-       One of the major new goals of water management policy in
        Europe is the conservation and, where possible, restoration
        of aquatic ecosystems to a target state of high ecological

-       Achieving the goals of sustainable development also requires
        significant changes in production and consumption patterns,
        particularly in the highly industrialized countries in
        Europe, to optimize the use of water resources and minimize
        waste-water production.  

-       Responsible managers became aware that in the long-term,
        respect for the prime characteristics and functions of water
        constitutes the only rational basis for intervening in water
        systems, whether by regulation, drainage, abstraction or
        waste disposal.  

        These new requirements have given rise to the development of policies
which include the application of the precautionary principle, pollution
prevention at source, the use of the polluter-pays principle and cooperation
among States to prevent disputes on water issues.   They add a new dimension
to water resources development by harmonizing the use of water, the
orientation of investments and technologies, and institutional aspects.  These
policies are at the root of many measures intended to use and develop water
resources in an efficient, environmentally sound, equitable and reasonable
manner in order to satisfy society's demand for water, water-related goods and
services.  They also safeguard the ecological functions of waters, ecosystem
integrity and biological diversity.

       Financial programme under the new 1992 French Water Law

In France, for example, the introduction of the new 1992 water law was backed
by a financial programme for water covering the 1992-1996 period.  Of a total
of US$ 13.5 billion, some US$ 9 billion was earmarked for reducing pollution
from point sources in the municipal and industrial sectors.  Some 80 per cent
of this latter amount was earmarked for the construction or upgrading of
municipal sewer networks and treatment plants, whereas the remaining 20 per
cent was foreseen for the reduction of pollution from industry.  These
sums are roughly double the amounts spent for the same purposes in the
1986-1991 period. [2]

        Many countries have invested large sums in improved treatment of
industrial and municipal waste water, thus cutting down emissions from point
sources.  On the other hand, the share of pollution from diffues sources is
growing.  Governments in cooperation with the industry, agriculture and the
public at large must seriously address the remaining non-sustainable

        Moreover, a number of obstacles to the abatement of water pollution
cannot be resolved unless relevant national policies and strategies are
rendered compatible at the international level.  Measures taken unilaterally
or among riparian countries alone may in some cases distort competition and
trade patterns.  Region-wide cooperation can ensure that the
national water policies in the various catchment areas are coordinated
effectively and that the various transboundary water agreements and the
activities of relevant bilateral and multilateral institutions are vigorously

                     Cooperation on the river Rhine

Between 1965 and 1986, the authorities in the five Rhine States invested about
USD 50 million in the construction and improvement of indusrial and municipal
waste-water treatment plants in the catchment area.  In 1987, the riparian
countries agreed that every State should reduce the remaining pollution of 47
most harmful substances by 50 per cent in the period between 1985 and 1995
which required investment in the order of USD 20 million. [4]

        A number of ECE countries have recently defined new
national strategies for the protection and use of water
resources or are in the course of drawing up new strategies. 
In most cases, however, the strategies are presented in very
general terms without quantifiable goals and objectives.  An
exception to this are the strategies of some riparian
countries in the catchment areas of the rivers Rhine and
Elbe, which have given rise to concrete action plans drawn
up under the auspices of joint bodies.

                  Achievements for the river Elbe

For the river Elbe and its catchment area, the first action programme to
reduce emissions of harmful substances was drawn up in 1992 to resolve the
most severe problems of water pollution from point sources.  The programme
included specific provisions for the construction of municipal waste-water
treatment plants in the Czech Republic and Germany.  15 priority substances
received particular attention as the goal was to reduce their input by
30 per cent by 1995.  From 1991 to 1995, 126 waste-water treatment plants with
a capacity over 20,000 population equivalents were constructed, 30 in the
Czech Republic and 96 in Germany.  From 1989 to 1994, the pollution of the
Elbe was reduced (station Schnakenburg, 474.5 km downstream the border with
the Czech Republic) by organic pollutants (40 %), phosphorus and nitrogen (30
%), mercury (80 %), cadmium (20 %) and AOX (50 %). [4]

        The same still applies to sustainable water management. 
It is most often described in general terms as a goal,
rather in terms of concrete criteria and action.  This makes
it difficult to compare national strategies and draw on
existing experience. In fact, clearly defined measurable
goals to be attained in both the short term and the long
term should be included.  This calls for an examination of
the methodological basis of existing strategies and the
development, if appropriate, of a certain set of minimum
requirements to be considered when improving existing
strategies on transboundary waters. 

                           IV.  POLICY RESPONSES

Promoting waste-water minimization at source and rational use of water

        While the promotion of low- and non-waste technology
will continue to be the cornerstone of ECE policies and
strategies to prevent water pollution from point sources,
the shortfall between realization of that objective and the
current situation must nevertheless be faced.  Therefore,
add-on measures for waste-water treatment will have to be
developed further and applied together with environmentally
sound in-process technology: 

-       Policies of integrated water management should give
        priority to promoting pollution abatement and waste-
        water minimization at source.  The core of these
        policies is the application of the best available
        technology (BAT) and the precautionary principle for
        containment and treatment of hazardous substances.  The
        control of pollutants within industrial processes, the
        selective treatment of industrial waste water allowing
        recycling of water, and recovery of valuable
        substances, where appropriate, is included.  

-       The appropriate measures also include total or partial
        prohibition of the production or use of hazardous
        substances.  Substitution of potentially hazardous
        substances in industry, trade and service is another

             Water management and investments in Austria

In Austria, the institutional framework is given by the Water Act which has
been amended in 1959 and 1990. A Water Management Fund provided in the
1959-1992 period long-term loans at low interest rate (1-3%) for water supply,
sewerage and waste-water treatment investments. The loans, with maturities
between 20 and 50 years, covered from 40% to 80% of investment costs. Since
1993, there was a shift to subsidies for interest payments on loans which
still cover 20% to 60% of investment costs. The necessary capital is
provided from general taxes (55%), bonds and credits (20%) and interests and
capital refunding (25%). Overall, the investment costs for pollution control
amounted to 25 billion USD (1996 prices) in the 1959-1996 period or 50.000
AS/capita. Investment and operational costs for sewerage and sewage treatment
amount to 1.5% of Austrian GDP. At present, 75% of the population is connected
to the sewerage system. The key success factors are seen to be: the
introduction of solidarity financial instruments and a long time to
implement policies. However, these factors were made possible by a number of
favourable circumstances including: needs of a flourishing  tourism, strong
ecological movement, technological development, effective state bureaucracy,
positive public opinion in the reconstruction period after the World War, and
participatory democracy. [5]   

        Considerable progress has been achieved in Western
Europe and some countries in transition in the development
and application of waste-water treatment and sanitation
technology, the establishment of appropriate design
standards, and the imposition of restrictive discharge
authorization procedures.   Total volumetric discharges of
effluents have been cut by introducing in-plant measures and
modifying production processes.  From the regulatory point
of view, discharge-oriented control based on technological
requirements is applied in a wide variety of industries. 
For new industrial plants, the application of best available
technology is frequently required to achieve maximum
pollution prevention together with an optimum degree of

        Water pollution control in countries in transition

An enormous task lies ahead if countries in transition are to prevent, control
and reduce water pollution from point sources.  Most central and eastern
European countries suffer the consequences of past developments.  Industrial
waste waters are frequently discharged into the sewer network or directly into
the recipient waters without any proper pre-treatment.  Moreover, many
municipal  treatment plants in central and eastern Europe are only
mechanical-biological plants.  Treatment plants are often overloaded and
improperly operated, and they use inappropriate treatment technologies.  The
degree to which the load of pollutants is reduced is therefore often smaller
than expected.

These countries have reported that improvements can only be achieved over a
period of time, that priority decisions have to be taken and stepwise
solutions sought.  However, a clear-cut approach to solving these problems 
has still to be found.  For example, emission limits have to be set for the
discharge of hazardous substances.  There is, however, little experience to
assess whether these limits are in fact realistic given their time frames and
the associated costs and other constraints in countries in transition.

In addition, many countries lack funds for the construction of municipal
waste-water treatment plants.  A prudent approach could well be not to build
new plants until facilities are upgraded and the pre-treatment of waste waters
discharged by industries into municipal sewers can be assured.  Such a policy
is already practised in some countries. [2] 

        The concept of rational water use, as developed in the earlier 1980s
under the auspices of ECE, remains an important element of policies promoting
pollution prevention at source.   It covers not only water-quantity aspects. 
The protection of the resource against pollution became an immediate component
of the concept, as it called for the control of pollutants within industrial
processes, recycling of water and recovery of valuable substances.  The
rational use of water also decreases the fundamental need for additional
energy and raw materials needed for abstraction, distribution, storage and
treatment of raw water as well as the treatment of waste water and, therefore,
lowers the pressure on other resources.  

Applying the polluter-pays principle

        Degradation of aquatic ecosystems and the inefficient use of water
resources require intervention to properly price environmental resources and
internalize environmental costs. Therefore, the perception of water as a
freely available public good can no longer be maintained.  

        In order to promote economic incentives to reduce pollution and
improve resources use, water prices and charges should be high enough to
induce changes in behaviour, and foster preventive measures and low- and
non-waste technologies.  However, such measures should be phased in gradually,
to take due account of the social and economic implications.

        The polluter-pays principle, by virtue of which costs of pollution
prevention, control and reduction measures should be borne by the polluter, in
many instances guides the elaboration and use of economic instruments.  With
the Water Convention, this principle also became a central element of the
protection and use of transboundary water resources.  The idea of applying the
polluter-pays principle to solve the problem of compensation for damage has
not yet taken on.  It is closely linked with responsibility and liability
issues related both to the prevention of water pollution and containment and
restoration of damage.

                   Economic and financial instruments

Economic and financial instruments are used to complement other policy
instruments.  Their basic objective is to ensure the appropriate pricing of
water resources and water-related services in order to promote an efficient
use and allocation of these resources.  Charges, levies and fees for
abstractions and discharges are intended to promote both the rational use
of water and the control of pollution in accordance with the polluter-pays
As one would expect, the method of determining charges and the use of charge
revenues varies from country to country.  To be an effective incentive against
pollution, charges and fines must be set at high enough levels to make it
costly to continue the ways of the past.  However, due to the present
situation and state of industry in some countries in transition,
the charges have been set at a fairly low level.  In Croatia, for example,
charges amount to some DM 0.16 for each cubic metre of waste water.  The
ability to enforce tax levies is also of paramount importance.  In Hungary,
the law states that non-compliance by dischargers can lead to the cessation of
the activity, however, this has happened in very few cases.  Another important
element in economic policy is how the funds collected from polluters are
used, for example, to control pollution, improve the environment, or cover the
general expenses of the Government. [2] 

        Integrating the true environmental costs and risks into economic
activities will help make decision makers aware of the implications of their
policy decisions, although obviously the price of many environmental assets is
difficult to determine.  This is a further challenge for research and

        Issues associated with the physical and financial assessment of damage
resulting from transboundary impact need to be further resolved through
regional cooperation under the Water Convention.  In particular, there is a
need for methods which would enable European countries to evaluate the adverse
effects on water uses and related ecosystems caused by the chronic pollution
of transboundary waters. 

Promoting best environmental practices

Water pollution from agriculture

        The prevention, control and reduction of water pollution from diffuse
sources also demonstrate the need for international coordination and the
convergence of policies among countries:

-       In many instances, information on technical measures to prevent and
control diffuse water pollution is adequate. This applies particularly to the
control of diffuse sources in agriculture through best environmental practices
for the reduction of inputs of nutrients and pesticides into waters.

-       Lack of implementation is, however, more often the key problem, for
economic or policy reasons. This is why achievements in the prevention,
control and reduction of water pollution originating from agriculture vary
among European countries.  Enforcement of provisions to restrict certain
activities in sensitive areas, both for surface waters and groundwaters, meets
with enormous difficulties in some countries.  Moreover, a total or partial
prohibition of the production or use of substances hazardous to waters and
related ecosystems is not yet common practice.

-       Codes of good agricultural practice are a new form of assistance to
farmers to reduce water pollution by fertilizers and pesticides.  As
country-wide action guidelines, they become the basis for evaluation, support
and control in a number of countries.  

-       The understanding that good agricultural practice should be adhered to
without financial compensation is gaining ground.  In order to meet specific
environmental objectives, however, compensation is paid.  This includes, for
example, compensation for making more environmentally sound changes in
agricultural production, going beyond good agricultural practice, such as
extensification and the restoration of flood plains and former wetlands.

        There are a number of areas where further action is required.  In
particular, a better coordination or even integration of agricultural policies
with environmental protection policies and land-use planning is needed. 
Moreover, there is a need for economic measures, at both the national and
international levels, to bring agrarian policy tools, which - in a number of
countries - currently aim at keeping down production, in line with protection
measures for water and the environment in general.  Furthermore, mechanisms
for financial regulations and distribution of environmental protection costs
are not yet sufficiently developed.

                 Cleaning up of contaminated sites

In the discussion concerning the degree to which contaminated sites are to be
cleaned up, the proposed goals range from mere hazard prevention required by
regulations to the ecologically desirable restoration of the status quo ante
or of an area's multi-functionality.  The ultimate goal in cleaning up
contaminated sites is to prevent hazards to human life and
health.  Another clean-up goal is to prevent hazards to the natural
environment, especially to the groundwater itself, taking into account the
existing or planned uses of the relevant site.

Basically, the clean-up of contaminated sites cannot meet the aims of the
precautionary principle.  This also applies to groundwater protection.  Strict
application of the precautionary principle would disregard the difference
between general, precaution-oriented protection of water bodies and clean-up
restricted to hazards prevention.  Such a strict application would accord
groundwater greater priority than that accorded to human health as far as
protection is concerned.

In general, groundwater damage should be cleaned up with the aim of restoring
the "original" condition where possible;  i.e. with the aim of restoring the
natural exchange mechanisms within the groundwater.  On the other hand,
groundwater pollution, as a rule, cannot be completely cleaned up, due to
hydrogeological factors and the limited effectiveness of technical procedures.

Nevertheless, the minimum aims of the clean-up of groundwater damage must be
to prevent health hazards wherever possible; prevent strong ecotoxic effects
and other massive environmental pollution; restore the potential for use;
and restore the extent and function of valuable resources.

Particular attention should be given to soil pollution from substances that
can move easily through groundwater.  Such pollution should be cleaned up
immediately, to prevent further propagation within the subsoil and within the
aquifer.  This will reduce the costs of groundwater clean-up measures in the
long term. [6]

        The assessment of the impact of proposed measures in
the agricultural sector on all environmental media is
another area of concern, since many measures still address
the impact on water in isolation from the impact on soil,
air or the living environment. The objectives of education,
training and consulting will also have to be broadened,
since these measures are often still designed to achieve
higher agricultural production regardless of the adverse
impact of agricultural practices on the environment.

Other pollution sources

        There is also a need for strengthening international
cooperation and the convergence of policies among countries
to control water pollution from other sources, both diffuse
and line sources.  While activities under the 1979
Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution and its
related protocols contribute to the protection of waters
against possible impacts from air-borne pollution, there are
four particular areas of common concern which would require
cooperative activities in Europe:

                  Soil and groundwater pollution 

Soil and groundwater pollution problems from the carefree use of chemicals and
waste - disposal have become very pronounced in countries in transition when
the occupier or owner of land has changed and previously inaccessible areas
have suddenly become public or private property.

Large centralized industries have not paid much attention to the environment.
Many have exploited nature without hesitation, leading to extensive and
far-reaching pollution of the soil and the environment and the deterioration
of human health.

Reverting military bases and training grounds to civilian use has created huge
problems. The moral obligations and liabilities are easy to define, but the
armed forces have usually operated under their own rules. Requests for
corrective action or compensation often lead nowhere, especially in the case
of multinational military forces. However, in most countries national military
forces are developing an increasingly positive attitude to the environment.

        One area is water pollution from waste disposal sites
and other land disposal technologies and practices, such as
surface impoundments and land treatment, deep-well disposal
and deep-surface disposal.  Although nowadays waste disposal
sites are progressively controlled under licensing systems,
waste has in the past often been disposed of in a random way
at poorly engineered or even uncontrolled sites.  Even some
recently designed waste disposal sites do not have a
leachate management system.

        The release of hazardous substances from industrial
areas into waters during handling and storage is another
problem of common concern.  Although industry normally
receives detailed guidance for the handling and storage of
hazardous substances, leakage or uncontrolled disposal have
repeatedly been the source of severe surface-water and
groundwater pollution, including transboundary water

        Decommissioned industrial sites and land contaminated
by past industrial activities are another significant source
of pollution in a number of countries.  Abandoned sites for
manufacturing chemicals and chemical products, coke and
refined petroleum products, and basic iron and steel are a
particular problem.  Diffuse pollution from abandoned
military sites is another threat, particularly in countries
with economies in transition.  Uncontrolled storage, use and
disposal of hazardous substances were repeatedly reported to
deteriorate groundwaters.  It is often difficult to pinpoint
the precise cause and extent of the damage as there are no
adequate records to serve as guidance.

        The broad use of herbicides on non-agricultural land,
such as roads, railway tracks, airfields and other hard
surfaces, grass verges and amenity areas is a further area
of concern.  Some of these substances are persistent and
highly mobile in soil water.  They have already been found
in groundwaters with concentrations exceeding the maximum
permitted levels for drinking-water use.  For these reasons,
some countries have recently restricted and even prohibited
the use of some herbicides, such as atrazine and simazine. 
At the domestic level, guidelines for the control of weeds
on non-agricultural land have also been drawn up in some

        Cooperation in the application or research into and
development of effective techniques for the prevention,
control and reduction of transboundary impact, as stipulated
in the Water Convention, could focus on the evaluation of
the environmental hazards posed by contaminated sites, lay
the common ground for setting priorities for the
rehabilitation of such sites, and provide for cost-effective
rehabilitation measures.  Specific regulations, guidelines,
methods and techniques have to be drawn up and rendered
compatible between countries to control water pollution from
these sources.

Promoting contingency planning

        Policies promoting the prevention of, preparedness for,
and response to industrial accidents need to be been drawn
up or further developed, both at the national and
transboundary levels:

-       Water acts or accidents ordinances have introduced a
        system of preventive action, directly related to
        facilities, to avoid hazardous incidents and accidents.
        Owners of industrial facilities dealing with large
        quantities of hazardous substances are often required
        by law to meet certain safety standards.  In
        particular, they must carry out risk analysis,
        implement monitoring and control systems and plan
        detailed emergency measures.  

-       Individual contingency plans have often to be approved
        by the provincial or local water inspectorate.  Water-
        management authorities have to regularly check the
        status of such measures and the compliance with legal
        regulations.  Contingency systems and guidelines for a
        safe drinking-water supply in the municipalities are
        also being developed.  

                        Industrial accidents

While most industrial accidents with the potential of adversely affecting
water quality can be contained within the boundaries of the industrial plant,
there are those cases where impacts extend beyond these boundaries and have
adverse effects, both short-term and long-term, on life, life-support systems
including water, or property.   Accidental groundwater pollution has also had
severe consequences for drinking-water supplies, and increasing attention is
being given to the operation and monitoring of chemical storage facilities and
waste-disposal sites.  Some countries reported on water acts or accident
ordinances that had introduced a system of preventive action, directly related
to facilities, to avoid hazardous incidents and accidents.  Contingency
systems and guidelines for a safe drinking-water supply in the municipalities
are also being developed.  In many other countries, however, proper
contingency planning is still lacking. Recent reports have even
shown a degree of unpreparedness at the subregional level. [2]

        At the transboundary level, the 1990 Code of Conduct on Accidental
Pollution of Transboundary Inland Waters provides guidance to the competent
authorities in individual member countries in their task of protecting
transboundary inland waters against pollution resulting from hazardous
activities in the event of accidents or natural disasters.  It also formed a
basis for the ECE Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial
Accidents, which covers issues regarding the prevention of, preparedness
for, and responses to industrial accidents, including those with a
transboundary impact on waters and related ecosystems.


Developing and applying water-quality objectives

        Water-quality objectives are increasingly used in Europe as an
important policy instrument to prevent, control and reduce pollution in
surface waters, including transboundary waters.  They aim at ensuring the
multi-purpose use of fresh water, while supporting and maintaining aquatic
life and/or the functioning of aquatic ecosystems.  Water-quality objectives
are being developed by water authorities to set threshold values for water
quality to be maintained or achieved within a certain time period:

-       Water-quality objectives, set at a level that provides for the
        protection of the most sensitive use of a water body, are considered
        as the ultimate goal, that is, as a target value which indicates a
        negligible risk of adverse effects on water uses and the ecological
        functions of waters.

-       In some countries, the setting of water-quality objectives is
        accompanied by the development of a time schedule for compliance with
        the objectives.  Such objectives, which represent the result of a
        balance between what is desirable from an environmental point of view
        and what is feasible from a technical and economic point of view, are
        regarded as a policy goal to be attained within a certain period of

        For some river basins, action plans covering both point and diffuse
pollution sources have already been designed, which permit a phased approach
to the prevention, control and reduction of water pollution.  The setting of
emission limits on the basis of best available technology, the use of best
environmental practices and water-quality objectives became integral parts of
these action plans to provide for measures which are both technically and
financially feasible, and legally implementable.

Ecosystem approach to water management

        The ecosystem approach is a new instrument for integrated water
management.  It is a departure from the earlier focus on localized pollution
and the management of separate components of the ecosystem in isolation, and
from planning which often ignores the profound impact of land use on water
quality.  As a concept for managing water resources, the ecosystem approach
has been discussed in scientific circles for well over a decade, but had never
fully achieved the status of a working principle until recently. 

        Through its Guidelines on the Ecosystem Approach in Water Management, 
ECE aims to promote a holistic approach to the environmentally sound
management of inland water resources and riparian vegetation, wetlands,
riverine floodplains and associated wildlife and habitats.  In this approach
humans are central to the well-being of the system.  The approach recognizes
the social, economic, technical and political factors that affect the ways in
which human beings use nature, because of their ultimate effect on the
integrity of the ecosystem.

        As the approach also takes a long-term view, it is part of policies to
achieve sustainable water management.  Some lessons can already be learned
from the practical application of the ecosystem approach in water management,
both at the domestic level and in transboundary waters:

-       Practical experience suggests, for example, that the maintenance and
        improvement of conditions in aquatic ecosystems should be laid down as
        basic requirements in water laws and other related legislation. 
        Moreover, legal provisions should, as far as possible, provide
        concrete guidance for planners and decision makers in cases where
        trade-offs have to be made between ecosystem-maintaining functions of
        water, on the one hand, and perceived short-term economic benefits, on
        the other.

-       The ecosystem approach requires planning to be based on ecosystem
        boundaries rather than on political or jurisdictional borders.  It
        also calls for increased intergovernmental cooperation at all levels,
        since many aquatic ecosystems cross national boundaries.  Riparian
        countries should incorporate ecosystem considerations both into the
        water management plans for their respective parts of catchment areas
        of transboundary waters and into bilateral or multilateral action
        plans for the entire catchment areas of these waters. 

-       Ecosystem-based water management requires strengthened
        coordination of water-management activities carried out
        in key water-related sectors within the catchment area,
        including water-supply, pollution control, hydropower
        production, transport, industry, agriculture, fisheries
        and aquaculture, forestry, tourism and recreation. 
        Governmental institutions should involve private sector
        organizations, land-owners and public-interest groups,
        both in the preparation and the implementation of
        action plans, in order to reach broad consensus.  They
        should also encourage concerted action by policy
        makers, industrialists, farmers, planners, water
        managers, scientists and the general public.

-       The ecosystem approach to water management gains
        momentum by channelling substantial management
        responsibility to local authorities, as they generally
        take land-use decisions.  Land use and activities in
        the catchment area have an important influence on
        aquatic ecosystems.  Coordinating land-use planning and
        water-management planning helps to further the
        ecosystem approach.

        Ecosystem approach in the catchment area of the river Danube

In the catchment area of the river Danube, the joint goals and principles of
strategic action plans in general are well established, the key issue remains
to set the real priorities. So far, 180 hot spots have been identified, the
majority affecting the Danube tributaries, but only a small number of them
have been addressed through investment projects. Priorities among
the hot spots still need to be set.  The Strategic Action Plan (SAP) for the
Danube drainage basin needs to establish guidelines for setting real
priorities for creating real bankable projects linking environmental and
economic effects. To that end, more political support and commitment is needed
from various governments to address environmental problems. The Danube River
Protection Convention  serves as umbrella for programme activities, and the
Programme Coordination Unit (PCU) integrates EU activities (PHARE, TACIS) with
the input from GEF (Global Environmental Facility).  There is a need to
involve even more the relevant business sectors (industry, transport,
agriculture) in the process of implementation. [5]  

Environmental impact assessment

        Environmental impact assessment (EIA) has already
proven to be a major instrument to implement and strengthen
sustainable water management as it not only combines the
precautionary principle with the principle of preventing
environmental damage at source but also arranges for public

-       EIA has become an important tool for an integrated
        approach to the protection of the environment as it
        requires a comprehensive assessment of the impacts of
        an activity on the environment contrary to the
        traditional sectoral based approach. 

-       EIA looks into alternatives of a proposed activity and
        brings facts and information on environmental impacts
        to the attention of the decision-makers and the public. 
        In this respect, EIA is already used as an effective
        instrument for improving the quality of the environment
        at the national level.

        In many European countries, EIA is already required for such 
water-related investments as hydropower projects, dock construction and large
dredging activities.  Other examples include the establishment, removal or
substantial modification of a water body or its banks and the construction of
dykes and dams; the expansion, construction or removal of a national waterway;
and the construction and operation or the substantial modification of
waste-water facilities with a certain minimum capacity.  Non-water-management
activities which may have an adverse impact on water resources are also
subject to an EIA in some countries.  These include, for example, the
construction of oil and gas pipelines, opencast mining and sludge-storage
areas. The use of EIA in water management tends to be limited, however, to
internal waters.

ECE Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context 

This Convention specifies the procedural rights and duties of Parties with
regard to transboundary impacts of proposed activities and provides
procedures, in a transboundary context, for the consideration of environmental
impacts in decision-making. The EIA Convention also requires Parties to
endeavour to apply the principles of EIA to policies, plans and programmes. 
In accordance with its relevant provisions, a risk assessment has to
be undertaken as part of the EIA procedure in relation to the appropriate
proposed activity in order to assess the potential risk on, inter alia, water
resources and aquatic ecosystems.


        Some 150 conventions, treaties and other arrangements
have been concluded between European countries to strengthen
cooperation on transboundary waters at bilateral,
multilateral and pan-European levels.  These agreements bear
witness to the concern and interest of European countries in
striving together to prevent the deterioration of water
quality in transboundary waters and to ensure reasonable and
equitable use and joint conservation of transboundary
waters.  An important element of cooperation under several
transboundary water agreements is the development - by joint
bodies (e.g. river commissions) - of concerted action
programmes to reduce pollution loads.  Examples include the
action programmes of the International Commission for the
Protection of the Rhine against Pollution (1987), the
International Commissions for the Protection of the Moselle
and Saar (1990), and the International Commission for the
Protection of the Elbe (1991).

        The cooperation under the Water Convention encourages
riparian States to make appropriate cooperative arrangements
for the protection and sustainable management of
transboundary waters.  In doing so, Parties are aware that
the problems that they are facing are not unique to transboundary
waters.  They are seen in the context of integrated water
management.  Thus, cooperation on transboundary waters will also
help to improve the management of internal waters and ensure
consistency in the protection and use of both internal and
transboundary waters.  The Parties will therefore apply, as
appropriate, the principles of the Water Convention when drawing
up, revising, implementing and enforcing their national laws and
regulations on water.

        Cooperation covers five programme areas: joint bodies,
assistance to countries with economies in transition, integrated
management of water and related ecosystems, land-based pollution
control, water supply and human health.  Since 1990, some 20
bilateral and multilateral agreements have already been revised,
supplemented and updated to meet the exigencies of integrated
water management, including the prevention, control and reduction
of transboundary water pollution.  Progress under these
agreements as well as achievements under the Water Convention
itself will be evaluated in the year 2000 on the occasion of the
second meeting of the Parties.

        One activity should be specifically mentioned: The Meeting
of the Parties to the Water Convention and the World Health
Organizationžs Regional Office for Europe launched an initiative
to prepare an international instrument on the prevention, control
and reduction of water-related disease for submission to, and
adoption at, the Third Ministerial Conference on Environment and
Health (London, 1999).  This initiative is supported by the
United Nations  Environment Programme. Water-related disease
refers to any significant and widespread adverse effects on human
health, such as death, disability, illness and disorders, caused
directly or indirectly by the condition, or changes in the
quantity or quality, of any waters.  The aim is to cover surface
fresh water,  groundwater, estuaries and coastal waters which are
used for recreation or the production or harvesting of shellfish,
as well as  any water in the course of abstraction, treatment or
supply and  any waste water in the course of treatment, discharge
or re-use.  Elements of this international instrument have now
been finalized for submission to intergovernmental negotiation


[1]     Europežs Environment - The Dobis Assessment.  Edited by D.
        Stanners and Ph. Bourdeau.  European Environment Agency.

[2]     Policies and Strategies for the Protection and Use of
        Transboundary Waters.  CEP/WP.1/R.1.  UN/ECE, Geneva, 1994.

[3]     Press release:  -Burst water main floods central Manhattanž
        - How Safe Are Our Water Supply Systems ? UN/ECE, Geneva, 12
        January 1998.

[4]     Proceedings of the International Conference -Management of
        Transboundary Waters in Europež, Mrzezyno, Poland, 22-25
        September 1997. [in preparation]

[5]     National communications on the implementation of the
        Strategic Action Plan in countries in the catchment area of
        the river Danube.  December 1997.  Unpublished.

[6]     H.P. LšHR: Assessment and Planning Techniques - Introductory
        report for the 1995 UN/ECE Seminar on the prevention and
        control of groundwater pollution from the storage of
        chemicals and from waste disposal, CEP/SEM.1/R.3. UN/ECE,
        Geneva, 1995.

[7]     Mr. J. PUOLANNE: Liability and Compensation for Damage -
        Introductory report for the 1995 UN/ECE Seminar on the
        prevention and control of groundwater pollution from the
        storage of chemicals and from waste disposal, CEP/SEM.1/R.2. 
        UN/ECE, Geneva, 1995.

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Date last posted: 8 December 1999 15:15:30
Comments and suggestions: DESA/DSD