European Union Backs Development of New Partnership Initiative on
||29 May, BALI, INDONESIA--European Union Environment Ministers have
endorsed the development of a new partnership that aims to reduce by half the
number of people lacking access to clean water and proper sanitation by 2015 in
parts of Africa and in Central Asia.
The 15-country European Union, which already spends close to 1.5 billion euros
a year on water projects, mostly in Africa, sees the World Summit on
Sustainable Development as an opportunity to enter into partnerships with
governments, non-governmental organizations and the private sector to pull
together widely disparate and uncoordinated programmes and turn them into a
coherent and unified platform to tackle water problems.
At present, there are over one billion people who lack access to fresh water,
and twice that who lack access to proper sanitation facilities. While there is
an internationally agreed upon target for improving access to clean water by
2015, there is not, at present, a target for improving sanitation. Even if the
present negotiations on the outcome document for the Summit does not provide a
target for sanitation, the European Union will still work toward meeting the
2015 target, EU officials say.
Palle Lindgaard-Jørgensen of the Danish Environmental Protection Agency
said the EU was fully committed to the target on sanitation. " Our efforts
have to be driven by targets. We are setting it for ourselves."
The move by the European Union ministers provides a significant boost to effort
to move the water issue up on the list of political priorities. United Nations
Secretary-General Kofi Annan has identified water as one of the five main areas
where the Johannesburg Summit should concentrate to achieve measurable
"We see water is not on the agenda of political leaders," according
to Friedrich Barth, an EU water specialist. Building roads, he said, is seen as
necessary, but the role of water in economic development, in health, and in
promoting peace and securing is overlooked.
"This initiative seeks to push the water up on the political agenda at
Johannesburg," he said. "You have to realize, if you don't make
progress on water, you don't make progress on sustainable development."
Barth said the initiative would help implement the document presently under
consideration at the Bali PrepCom, and which will be adopted in Johannesburg
The details of the new initiatives still have to be worked out between now and
Johannesburg, but according to Barth, the main objective is to coordinate all
the different water-related activities that are now ongoing. All the building
blocks for the partnerships are in place, he said, with support from the EU
environment ministers, the recognition of a water crisis by African water
ministers at a recent meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, and the many non-governmental
organizations presently working on projects.
But a priority for the initiative would be to help establish strong governance.
"The water problem is not a crisis over having it," Barth said.
Rather, he said, "it is a crisis over management and national
The development of a framework could help improve water management at the
regional and local levels. Proper management of transboundary rivers, of which
there are 60 in Africa, could lay the groundwork for regional cooperation
The initiative also sees a role for the private sector to help develop
infrastructure and for investment in resources, but Barth emphasized that there
was no agenda for privatization of water resources in the target countries.
"The EU believes in public ownership of water resources," he said.
But the private sector will not go into a country where there is a risk, Barth
said, and it was therefore necessary to establish good governance practices.
The initiative, possibly with the help of official development assistance,
could provide guarantees to cover some of the risk, he said, but emphasized
that the governance issue was key. "They won't go in if they can't protect
"If there is a strong government, there can be strong regulation,"
Barth said. "Then it doesn't matter if the service is provided by the
public or private sector. That's how it is back home."
Details concerning financial resources also have to be resolved, but Barth said
there are considerable resources already in the pipeline that can aid the
partnerships, and the new commitments made at the International Conference on
Financing for Development in Monterrey could be made available. "There's a
lot of money out there, but we need the commitment."
Discussions on the proposed initiative will be held in Bali at the ministerial
level between the EU and African and Central Asian countries next week, and it
is envisioned that Heads of State will jointly launch the initiative in
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24 August 2006