Universal access to clean water 'far from being a reality'

Written by Cristian Dan Preda on 23 March 2015 in Opinion

Despite being the largest single aid donor in the water sector, the EU 'can and should do more', argues Cristian Dan Preda.

Two images from my recent missions abroad are still very vivid in my mind - vendors carrying water in yellow containers in the Republic of Guinea, and Tadjik women fetching water and cleaning their laundry by a spring.

What we take for granted in the comfort of our own homes when turning on the tap or flushing toilet is far from being a reality for everyone, especially in the developing world. At least 600 million people do not have sustainable access to safe drinking water, and a third of the world population still lacks basic sanitation. As a result, diseases spread, causing suffering and death. It is estimated that around 2000 children under five years of age die from diarrhoea every day. This is an appalling figure, since the vast majority of these deaths are linked to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene and are entirely preventable.

"At least 600 million people do not have sustainable access to safe drinking water, and a third of the world population still lacks basic sanitation"

The EU has long been committed to ensuring access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and promoting integrated water resource management in partner countries. It is the largest single donor in the water sector, with the EU and its member states currently providing close to €1.5bn a year for water supply, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes in developing countries.

The Africa-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) - EU parliamentary assembly water facility, established in 2004, is a concrete example of the EU's efforts to boost sustainable delivery of water and sanitation infrastructure and improving water governance in these countries. According to the European commission, as a direct result of EU assistance, 70 million people gained access to improved water supply and 24 million people acquired better sanitation facilities between 2004 and 2013. But as the figures mentioned before clearly show, we can and should do more.

We must ensure that human rights remain central to our development policy in terms of access to safe water and sanitation. The EU should support the inclusion of safe drinking water and adequate sanitation and hygiene for all by 2030 in the sustainable developments goals (SDGs) that will be adopted at the UN summit in September. But we must also bear in mind that achieving this, along with the other SDGs, will require far more financing. We should see to it that safe drinking water and sanitation are given high priority in the allocation of EU funds and assistance programming.

The EU could also encourage solidarity arrangements in the water and sanitation sector. Citizens and authorities from some member states have launched initiatives such as the 'one per cent solidarity for water and sanitation', which aims to support projects in developing countries using funds from consumption fees. The commission could support this kind of initiatives, for instance by disseminating information, facilitating partnerships and knowledge sharing.

Finally, we should move towards a more integrated approach to development assistance, focusing on the synergies between water, energy and food security as a way to promote development and inclusive and sustainable growth. World water day is the perfect opportunity to think about these issues rather than engaging in our usual ideological battles on public versus private water distribution and sanitation services.


About the author

Cristian Dan Preda (EPP, RO) is parliament's rapporteur on the follow-up to the 'Right2Water' European citizens' iniative

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