Water and sanitation

Water and sanitation

Water and sanitation


The Millennium Development Goal on sustainable access to drinking water was reached in 2010. The objective of ensuring that 88% of the world’s population has a reliable supply of safe water was even slightly exceeded. The EU contributed prominently to this achievement.

However, water sector needs to be considered in a wider and diversified way, taking into consideration links with other sectors and its strategic role in maintaining peace and political stability in the context of cross-border cooperation.

Background - The 2004-2013 EU policy in the water sector

In 2000, at the Millennium Summit of the United Nations, leaders from 189 countries agreed on an array of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), setting targets for poverty reduction. Two of these targets, defined as part of the MDG for environmental sustainability, relate specifically to water and sanitation:

  • the 'water target': halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water by 2015;
  • the 'sanitation target': halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to basic sanitation by 2015.

In the years 2004-2013, the EU built upon the international consensus on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and focussed its water policy on the implementation of the water and sanitation targets.

From 2004 to date, an average of nearly € 400 million per year has been committed to the water sector.  Under the current programming period (2007-2013), more than € 2.2 billion have been committed in the water sector, and water projects are being implemented in more than 60 countries.

In 2010, the Millennium Development Goal on sustainable access to drinking water was reached. The objective of ensuring that 88% of the world’s population has a reliable supply of safe water was even slightly exceeded. The EU contributed prominently to this achievement. It is estimated that EU funded projects connected more than 70 million people to improved drinking water sources and more than 24 million people to sanitation facilities.

However, huge disparities subsist and much remains to be done. While coverage of improved water supply sources amounts to 90% or more in Latin America and the Caribbean, Northern Africa and large parts of Asia, it only reaches 61% in sub-Saharan Africa, with progress stalling or even reversed in some regions. In addition, the sanitation MDG is still the most off track of the MDG targets, with no more than 63% of the world's population having access to improved sanitation (against the aim of 75% by 2015). Taking population growth into account, this means there are almost as many people without basic sanitation today as there were in 1990.

Fostering integrated management

Aware of the crucial role of water as a driver of development and for the alleviation of poverty, the European Union allocated substantial funding[internal link to sector funding page] to water and sanitation programmes in developing countries. The EU's development policy promotes an integrated water resources management (IWRM) framework based on three principles:

  • ensure supply, to every human being, of sufficient drinking water of good quality and an adequate means of waste disposal;
  • promote sustainable and equitable management of transboundary water resources, taking into account all interests and integrating the competing needs of the various users;
  • develop cross-sectoral coordination to ensure fair and appropriate distribution of water between users of different kinds by mainstreaming water management principles into related policies: water for food security, environment, energy, industry.

Targeted initiatives and instruments

The European Water Initiative (EUWI) was launched in 2002. It is an international political initiative that aims to advance the achievement of the water-related MDGs and to nurture IWRM principles in partner countries and regions, by improving coordination and cooperation in delivering development assistance more effectively. The EUWI has established partnerships with Africa (Africa-EU Strategic Partnership on water affairs and sanitation), the Mediterranean region, the Eastern Europe/Caucasus/Central Asia region and Latin America. It has also set up networks on financing and research.

As a direct result of the EUWI, the ACP-EU Water Facility was created in 2004 to deliver and leverage investment in water and sanitation services in sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. This facility has mobilised local governments, local water operators and civil society around the provision of services and the improvement of water governance and management. It has a budget of €712 million, which breaks down into a contribution of €12 million from the Spanish government and an amount of €700 million allocated by the 9th and 10th European Development Fund.

The EU-Africa Partnership on Infrastructure, launched in 2007, provides the framework for political dialogue on developing and financing infrastructures and water institutions responsible for transboundary water management. Water stands in the partnership as one of the four infrastructure sectors, together with transport, energy and ICT. The partnership responds directly to the need for regional integration and growth voiced by the African Union. It is supported by an Infrastructure Trust Fund designed to leverage additional funding for infrastructure development by blending EU grants with loans from the European Investment Bank and other European and African development financing institutions.

In 2010, at the MDG Summit in New York, the EU launched its MDG Initiative, which allocated an extra €1 billion for African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries to help them meet the most off-track MDGs. The initiative also offers further support to countries that have made particularly good progress. Water and sanitation is one of the four MDGs specifically targeted by the initiative, with an additional allocation of €266 million.

Water as a cross-cutting element

The Agenda for Change, adopted in 2011, sets out a new framework for EU-funded  development interventions. It recognizes the inter-linkages between water, nutrition, health, energy and cross-border security. These connections emphasize the catalytic role of water for inclusive growth and sustainable development.

  • Nutrition
    Nutrition is about more than food, as highlighted in the recent Lancet Series on Maternal and Child Undernutrition (Bhutta et al. 2013). Nutrition specific actions have a potential for reducing up to 20% of the under-five stunting. The remaining 80% should be tackled by nutrition sensitive actions. One of the most important of these ‘nutrition sensitive’ interventions is WASH – water, sanitation and hygiene. How does WASH influence nutritional status and the growth of children? There are at least three direct ways in which this might happen: repeated bouts of diarrhoea, intestinal worm infections and a sub-clinical condition of the gut referred to as environmental enteropathy (Humphrey 2009). Food is clearly critical but if a child cannot absorb the nutrients that it provides, the benefits will be limited.
  • Health
    With no choice but to use water from dirty ponds or polluted rivers, and without access to basic sanitation facilities, some of the world's population still suffers from diarrhoea, tuberculosis, cholera and other water-borne diseases. The consequences are disastrous: more than 4,500 children under the age of five die each day from preventable diseases caused by pollution, dirty water and poor hygiene. The lack of clean water, hygiene and basic sanitation is a great human tragedy.
  • Agriculture
    Given the current population growth trends, it is estimated that there will be a need to increase food production by 50% by 2030. The world's ability to do so will notably hinge on the availability of water for irrigation. The access to food and the price of food supplies will therefore strongly depend on the availability of water resources and the efficiency of their use.
  • Energy
    Power demand is also set to grow. In Africa, it is projected to increase by 410% by 2040. So far, only 5% of the hydropower in the African continent has been exploited, which suggests low water-storage capacity but a huge potential.
  • Cross-border security
    As the demand for water grows, conflicts over this vital resource could, potentially, threaten peace and security in regions where it is scarce and where several countries share a body of water. Water and sanitation is also an important element of the Commission work on resilience and humanitarian assistance.

Ongoing financing instruments

The EU channels most of its financial support for water and sanitation projects and programmes through geographical instruments. This aid is provided to countries that have prioritised and requested such assistance within their cooperation strategies.

Geographical instruments target different parts of the world. The European Development Fund (EDF) assists African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) covers Latin America, Asia and South Africa, and the European Neighbourhood & Partnership Instrument (ENPI) supports the EU's neighboring regions.

  • Under the current programming period (2007-2013), more than €2.2 billion have been committed in the water sector, which is a focal sector in 28 countries.
  • To the above amounts we should add the contribution of the EU Regional Blending Facilities  for the period 2007-2013, which financed 30 water supply and sanitation projects mainly in the Neighbourhood and Latin America regions with €270 million that triggered more than € 2,0 billion loans (leverage effect 1:8).
  • Under the 10th EDF (2008-13), €200 million has been allocated to the Water Facility, increased by a €12 million contribution from the Spanish government. Three calls for proposals and a pooling mechanism were launched between February 2010 and December 2011. The calls respectively focused on partnerships for capacity development in the ACP water and sanitation sector, sanitation in poor peri-urban and urban areas in ACP countries, and water, sanitation and hygiene promotion for the MDGs. As of December 2012, a total of 115 projects have been financed for a total amount of €183 million.
  • Under the 9th EDF (2002-07), €497 million was allocated to the Water Facility. Most of the funds went to 174 projects selected via two calls for proposals. As a result of these projects, about 14.5 million people are expected to benefit from access to safe water. Of these 14.5 million people, some 3.5 million are also expected to benefit from access to improved sanitation and 10.5 million from hygiene promotion programmes.

Further funding for development initiatives is provided through thematic programmes. The Thematic Programme on Environment and sustainable management of Natural Resources including Energy (ENRTP) is a specific programme addressing the environmental dimension of development and other external policies. It supports activities in a number of areas that are not priorities under the geographic instruments and promotes the European Union's environmental and energy policies abroad.

Since 2007, the European Commission has provided nearly €2 billion to water and sanitation projects in over 60 countries worldwide – almost €400 million per year. During the period 2004-09, EU aid has brought clean water to more than 32 million people and improved sanitation for over 9 million people across the world. Today, the European Union (the European Commission and the member countries) jointly allocate nearly €1.5 billion each year for water and sanitation programmes in developing countries, making the EU the world's biggest contributor to such initiatives.


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