Europe Funds Clean Water in Africa, Caribbean, Pacific

BRUSSELS, Belgium, March 23, 2004 (ENS) - The European Union celebrated World Water Day on Monday by finalizing a special funding mechanism to promote access to clean water and sanitation for people in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

Called the Water Facility, the idea was originally proposed by European Commission President Romano Prodi in 2003. In the first phase, it could be worth up to 500 million (US$616 million) and is designed to stimulate the generation of additional funds for water and sanitation.

Following the decision by EU foreign ministers to support the Water Facility, President Prodi, joined with Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Poul Nielson, and Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom in a statement welcoming the move.


European Commission President Romano Prodi at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (Photo courtesy UN)
They said it "sends a strong signal" that the EU is prepared to stand by its commitments to ensure that the Millenium Development Goal of halving the number of people without clean water and sanitation by the year 2015 becomes more than just a goal but a reality.

One in every two hospital beds in the world is occupied by a victim of a water borne disease, the three commissioners said, and an estimated 6,000 children are dying every day of diseases caused by poor sanitation and hygiene. "Access to clean water and basic sanitation is a matter of life and death. For billions of people around the world this is a harsh reality," they said.

The meeting of ministers from the European Union and the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) region planned for Botswana in May will take a final decision on the establishment of the Water Facility.

The European Union spends approximately 1.4 billion (US$1.72 billion) a year in international aid for water and sanitation programs.

Within the framework of the 9th European Development Fund 555 million (US$684.6 million) have already been allocated to water programmes in 14 ACP countries.


Hungry and thirsty, millions of people in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have been displaced by fighting between rival militias. (Photo by Lori Waselchuk courtesy WFP)
The Water Facility is intended to function on three levels. It will promote governance, by investing in measures to build or strengthen institutional and regulatory frameworks in those countries that "display real commitment to the development of sound national water policies," the commissioners said.

The facility will be demand driven. It is intended to be an instrument to support and deepen the involvement of ACP countries in the design and implementation of water policies.

And it is intended to provide access to flexible sources of funding. A maximum impact will be sought by offering creative combinations of grants with other financial sources such as soft loans, loan guarantees, or micro-financing arrangements to fund basic water and sewer infrastructure. These funds could constitute the seed capital required to get projects off the ground.

The facility is envisioned as a tool in forging the public private partnerships needed to increase funding.

Water is at the top of the Commission's political agenda, the commissioners said, "but funds remain scarce," and they expressed the hope that the Water Facility agreement "will mark a turning point and will prove a catalyst in generating additional funds for this vital campaign."

The commissioners recognized the increasing pressure on the world's freshwater supply and the continuous degradation of water quality in some regions that makes the Water Facility such a necessity. "We face a formidable challenge," they said.