In 2009-10 water scarcity occurred in much of Southern Europe – due to limited water resources, high demand for water and less rain. The Czech Republic, Cyprus and Malta reported that they faced continuous water scarcity. Five Member States reported droughts or rainfall levels lower than the long term average (France, Hungary, the UK, Portugal and Spain), and four experienced local limited water scarcity occurrences (the Netherlands, Sweden, France and Romania).
The report also revealed that Malta considers leakage reduction a relevant issue, although activities to integrate water scarcity and droughts into sectoral policies have been undertaken, in particular efforts to reduce water consumption. Malta also reported the use of its national budget and EU funds to finance better water management and to improve water efficiency. Besides, educational programmes and awareness raising campaigns were also organised.
The report confirms that water scarcity and drought is not limited to Mediterranean countries. Apart from some sparsely-populated northern regions with abundant water resources, this is a growing issue across the EU. Recent studies show that by 2050 most European regions are expected to be under medium or severe water stress – mainly due to unsustainable water use, exacerbated by the effects of climate change. Affected Member States have developed actions to reduce pressure on water resources and restrict water use.
The report identifies a number of important policy options where more action is required from Member States. For example, very few have introduced legislation to improve water efficiency in buildings. Measures to address illegal water abstraction and losses from water distribution networks are also still lacking in many parts of Europe.
The Commission will further address this growing challenge in a review of EU water scarcity and drought policy which will form part of a “Blueprint” for safeguarding Europe's waters scheduled for 2012. The main components of the review, which will focus largely on water efficiency, include water efficiency in agriculture and the urban environment, better planning, for example by integrating water scarcity and droughts into River Basin Management Plans and sectoral policies, and appropriate implementation instruments, such as water pricing and water allocation.
The Commission is carrying out several preparatory activities in view of the 2012 review. Over the next months, the focus will be on filling in the knowledge and data gaps and carrying out an impact assessment. The work will be supported by the outcomes of the assessment of the River Basin Management Plans and the forthcoming Communication on a road map towards a resource efficient economy.