IMPORTANT LEGAL NOTICE - The information on this site is subject to adisclaimerand acopyright notice
Contact   |   Search
Last update: 20-03-2002  
Glass image Graphic element
World Water Day menu Graphic element
Graphic element
Graphic element Top of the page
  World Water Day, 22 March 2002 - Getting serious about water


"All too often, water is treated as an infinite free good. Yet even where supplies are sufficient or plentiful, they are increasingly at risk from pollution and rising demand…Fierce national competition over water resources has prompted fears that water issues contain the seeds of violent conflict."

UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan


To highlight the challenges faced by the global water supply-demand imbalance, the UN has designated March 22 each year as World Water Day. This year marks the 10-year anniversary of the event and will focus attention on the critical issue of "water for development".

The ongoing challenge of providing safe water and sanitation to the citizens of the developing world requires urgent action. The European Union has put water resource management and protection at the forefront of its research work.

Graphic element Top of the page
  EU water legislation in force
Fresh water fountain
Child drinking fresh water from a fountain at Villa Pamphili, Italy

Sustainable management of water resources not only impacts the developing world, it is a global issue requiring a coordinated global solution. Given the alarming statistics, it is not surprising the European Commission has made water protection and sustainable management one of the priorities of its environmental and research work.

Water first came under scrutiny in the mid-1970's when standards for rivers and lakes used for drinking water supplies were set down. Since then, numerous European directives have been put in place to address issues such as pollution prevention and control, urban waste water, drinking water, and nitrates in agriculture.

With over 30 years of experience behind them, EU policy makers came up with a new Water Framework Directive. This directive covers the protection of all European waters and sets ambitious targets to ensure:

  • these waters meet what they call 'good status' by 2015
  • cross-border cooperation between countries
  • participation of all stakeholders in water management activities
  • the polluter pays for clean-up operations

Graphic element Top of the page
  A framework for water research

To avoid a global water crisis, the EU must find more efficient ways of dealing with water quality and management. European Union research in this field is a priority under the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Framework Programmes for research.


EU Framework Programme activities

Fourth Framework Programme (1994-1998)


  • Evaluating and understanding processes of global change
  • Improving knowledge of ecosystems
  • Scenarios and strategies
  • European contribution to the development of world observation systems
Fifth Framework Programme (1998-2002)


  • Integrated management of water resources and wetlands
  • Monitoring and protection of pollution of groundwater and surface water
  • Surveillance, early warning and communication systems
  • Regulation of stocks in water-deficient regions
Sixth Framework Programme (2002-2006)


  • Global change and eco-systems
  • The impact of climate change on the water cycle
  • Understanding the mechanisms of desertification and natural disasters


Graphic element Top of the page
  Tapping into international research

EU-funded international research cooperation with developing countries is also a major focus of the Commission's Framework Programmes. The aim is to encourage cooperation between researchers in the developing world and the EU. Managing natural resources is a critical part of such projects. Research activities focus on identifying ways of improving the productivity of renewable resources, and on promoting sustainable relationships between population growth, food production and ecosystems.

Here are a few examples of water-related research projects funded by the EU:

  • Study of rural water contamination - Researchers from the UK, Italy, South Africa, Ireland, Kenya and Zimbabwe are taking part in a four-year study looking at rural water policy in Africa. The project will analyse the impact of water quality deterioration (see image gallery).

  • Water use in cities - Eighty per cent of EU citizens live in cities. The critical issue of supplying water to these large metropolitan areas is the focus of a cooperation study undertaken by researchers in the UK, Greece, the Netherlands, Israel and Spain. Researchers examined the water supply and use systems of five large European cities. The objective of the study is to improve understanding of the issues at stake and to develop fresh strategies, policies and tools for the sustainable management of water resources for current and future generations of city dwellers.

  • Groundwater and river resources - Around 15 per cent of Europe's total water needs comes from groundwater supplies. Improving the management of these vital resources is a priority for the EU and the focus of a three-year EU-funded project undertaken by universities in Spain, the UK, France and Greece. Researchers identified the major issues and used their findings as a basis to develop a framework for the sustainable management of groundwater supplies. This framework is in the form of a set of step-by-step guidelines for policy makers.

  • Regional impact of droughts in Europe - Increased demand on European water resources has led to a conflict between direct human needs and the indirect requirement to sustain freshwater ecosystems. This conflict becomes critical during times of drought. In order to improve understanding of current and future drought characteristics in Europe, the EU funded one of the largest pan-European drought studies involving experts from Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal, the UK, Spain. Details of their findings can be found online.

  • Water resource management under drought conditions - Seven partners from six Mediterranean countries (Italy, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Spain and Cyprus) are working on a research project to improve water resources management and environmental control in drought prone regions of the Mediterranean. Criteria for the efficient use of marginal water resources - including the reuse of treated waste water for irrigation and the withdrawal of deep ground water - will be defined.

  • Water purification systems - Universities in France, Spain, Egypt, Morocco, Israel, Austria and Algeria are working together on a three-year EU-funded research project studying drinking and waste water purification. The project is part of the MedAqua initiative, which aims to bring together water application research projects in the South Mediterranean countries.

  • Water and ecosystems in regional development - Scarcity of water in the Okavango River Basin in Botswana causes socio-economic problems. Researchers from universities in the UK, the Netherlands, Namibia, Botswana, Sweden and South Africa are finding a balance between societal needs on the one hand and the sustainability of natural resources of the river basin on the other. This three-year EU-funded project will strengthen contacts between various stakeholders and policy makers in the region.

  • Managing surface and ground water pollutants - A team of researchers from universities in China, Belgium and Portugal are working together on a four-year project identifying effective and sustainable policies to manage surface and ground water pollutants, taking into account their relationship with food production and human health.

  • Integrated water management - Water scarcity is one of the most pervasive natural resource problem facing policy makers in Cyprus. It has created fierce competition for water from the residential, industrial and agricultural sectors. Finding ways to deal effectively and fairly with this critical issue was the focus of an EU-funded research project undertaken by researchers from the UK, Cyprus, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Graphic element Top of the page
  Gallery of images from the Aquapol project in Africa

All images in this gallery are courtesy of the European Commission's Aquapol project.

Water being taken from a borehole close to home.
Low - High resolution

Dilution bottle
Pouring sterile water into a dilution bottle.
Low - High resolution

Filling containers
Filling containers transported on the back of a pickup truck.
Low - High resolution
Transferring water
Transferring water from simple water transport containers.
Low - High resolution
Spring water
Local women taking water from a spring near the school.
Low - High resolution
River sample
Researcher taking water samples from an inland waterway.
Low - High resolution
Hand-dug well
Local woman extracting water manually from a hand-dug well.
Low - High resolution
  Top of the page

Fast facts

Selected publications

Water: A vital resource under threat

Water Framework Directive brochure

Search for water-related 'Headlines' on DG Research's website
Search for water-related articles on DG Research's News Centre
Search for water-related articles on DG Environment's Environment for Europeans website

Other links

DG Environment links

Institute for Environment and Sustainability, Ispra

European Environment Bureau water website

UN Sustainable Development Conference

Stockholm International Water Institute links

Water Matters

Water Aid

Key World Water Day events

The UN agency in charge of this year's activities, the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, will officially launch the event with an exhibition of artwork by school children from Austria and Uganda.

Winners of the Stockholm Water Prize announced.

A seven kilometre human chain formed along the Ganges River in India to highlight pollution concerns.

International seminar in Brussels on 'Water, a lever for development'.


Julia Acevedo-Bueno

Getting serious about water Eu water legislation in force A framework for water research Tapping into international research Gallery of images