EU Initiative unites countries over common waters

Continents are uniting to bring safe drinking water to the world’s poorest. Europe’s new global water initiative is forging African, eastern European and central Asian partnerships to implement water and sanitation targets set at the World Summit.

Following recent calls from the Stockholm Symposium to bring urgently needed safe drinking water to over one billion people (see related story), the EU Water for Life project, launched at the World Summit, hopes to attract additional funding to help its own programme of transferring knowledge and finances from the developed to developing world. Scientific research and cooperation are the keys to better water management.

European Commission President Romano Prodi said: “Together with our partners we are fully committed to achieving the Summit’s now-agreed targets to halve the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation by 2015. The EU is already investing €1.4 billion a year in water-related development aid and scientific cooperation. We are ready to increase financial resources over the coming years, in response to the priorities developing countries set themselves.”

The EU-Africa Water for Life agreement was signed in Johannesburg between Nigerian President Obasanjo and South African Water and Forestry Minister Ronny Kasrils on behalf of Africa, Danish Environment Minister Hans Christian Schmidt and President Prodi for the EU. The agreement with eastern Europe, the Caucasus and central Asia will be signed soon. Mediterranean and South American countries have signalled their intention to participate in the near future.

The global initiative promotes collaborative management of water between countries sharing an international river basin. Europe’s experience shows that cooperation stimulates economic development as well as preventing conflicts over water. Africa alone has 60 transboundary rivers. The idea is to improve governance over water through better partnerships between governments, society and industry.

Through the initiative the EU hopes to help its partners develop integrated water resources management plans by 2005 – another Summit goal – and achieve a sustainable balance between human water needs and those of the environment. All partners are committed to ensuring that clean water and sanitation are given priority in future. The creation of the African Ministers Council of Water is a historical step in this respect.

Water is already a focus for many EU programmes in Africa. President Prodi concluded: “Together with President Mbeki I am proud of what we have already achieved to bring water and sanitation to the people of South Africa. We are committed to giving our full political support to all those who are working hard every day to achieve water security, in quantity and quality, for everyone on Earth, today and for future generations.”

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