BRUSSELS, Belgium, September 9, 2002 (ENS) - It would cost US$200 billion to supply clean drinking water and sanitation for every village, town and city on the planet, says European Union President Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark. The EU has launched a program to accomplish that goal starting with Africa, eastern Europe, the Caucasus and central Asia through Water for Life partnernship agreements.
The EU Water for Life Initiative was formally launched in Johnnesburg at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who is also President of the European Union, said during the launch at the summit's WaterDome, "We have to take care of our environment. We cannot survive on filthy water. And we cannot fight diseases without proper sanitation."
The EU-Africa Water for Life agreement was signed in Johannesburg between Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and South African Water and Forestry Minister Ronny Kasrils, on behalf of Africa, and Danish Environment Minister Hans Christian Schmidt and President Romano Prodi for the European Union.
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 EU already spends close to 1.4 billion euros per year on water resource development and management. The EU will allocate further funds and is calling on other nations and private donors to contribute.
Rasmussen said, "I believe we have the moral obligation to do the right thing: to provide clean drinking water and sanitation for every village, town and city on the planet. By doing so, every year we can save many millions of lives and prevent hundreds of millions of people from suffering from serious diseases."
Water and sanitation are widely seen as key to sustainable development, health, regional stability and economic stability. Currently, over one billion people lack access to safe drinking water, and over 2.4 billion people do not have adequate sanitation. More than 2.2 million people, mostly children, die each year from water related diseases.
Rasmussen estimated the cost of supplying clean water and sanitation to all. "It would be a one-off expense of $200 billion," he said, "but it may very well be humanity’s best investment to achieve development and sustainability. We have the technology and talent. It is achievable. We have to act."
By comparison, the total expenditure of Denmark on all budget items in the year 2001 was was $51.3 billion.
The new EU global initiative promotes cooperation between countries sharing an international river basin in managing their water resources. Europe's experience shows that such cooperation stimulates economic development and regional integration as well as preventing conflict over water. Africa alone has 60 transboundary rivers.
European Commission President Romano Prodi said, "The global water crisis is a major threat for our planet and the future of our children. Together with our partners we are fully committed to achieving the WSSD'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.
The EU Water Initiative was developed in a multi-stakeholder process and is open to all partners and regions. It aims to improve the efficiency of existing financing mechanisms through better coordination.
"We are ready to increase financial resources over the coming years, in response to the priorities developing countries set themselves," said Prodi.
EU funding for the water projects is expected to attract additional financial resources.
A priority is to increase the transfer of knowledge through institutional capacity building, targeted research and scientific cooperation.
Through the initiative the EU will help its partners to develop integrated water resources management plans by 2005, a goal agreed at the summit. The partners will work to 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 appropriate priority in future. The creation of the African Ministers Council of Water is a historical step in this respect.
Rasmussen said, "The water crisis is a crisis of governance. This initiative promotes better water governance arrangements and transparency, building stronger partnerships between governments, civil society and the private sector. Effective public services are a basis for sustainable water governance."
Over 300 partnerships were announced at the summit including 21 water programs, 32 energy initiatives, and 32 programs for biodiversity and ecosystem management.
World Health Organization Water and Sanitation report: http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/index.html
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