A combination of a growing population and climate change makes water one of the most pressing challenges the world faces in the 21st century. The EU is committed to enhancing its diplomatic engagement to make water a tool for peace, rather than a source of tension. We shall use many means at our disposal to promote and protect the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation.
The UN estimates that two thirds of world population could face 'water stress' by 2025. Water is a matter of survival and shortages of supply could have dramatic consequences for our security. And there are many more reasons why it is our shared, global interest to ensure water resources are well managed, fairly shared, and placed at the disposal of those who need them. This is why the water diplomacy conclusions adopted by the EU's Foreign Ministers are so important.
Water doesn't respect borders - international cooperation is essential
Most freshwater sources - like rivers or lakes – do not respect borders. Water is often the cause of international tensions and conflict over access and use. The importance of international cooperation and management of water is paramount.
It is important to remember that water connects people: EU water diplomacy supports the shared management of rivers, lakes and aquifers across several countries. International waters need international rules: the EU promotes international agreements on water cooperation and welcomes the global opening of the Water Convention to countries outside the wider European region.
Water is a tool for peace and must never become a weapon of war
The conclusions on Water Diplomacy adopted at the Foreign Affairs Council Monday 19 November by all 28 EU members, recognise that international cooperation is essential to prevent conflict and promote global peace and security. In line with the Global High Level Panel on Water and Peace, the EU considers that the global water challenge is not only about development and human rights but it is also about peace and security. The Conclusions welcome recent discussions at the UN Security Council linking water, climate, peace and security.
Water scarcity can fuel conflict and have grave human and economic costs all of which can impact the EU - for example through migration. Water can also be abused in a conflict as a weapon or a target. In recent years the world has witnessed deliberate human-induced water restrictions, floods and water poisoning for strategic purposes in Iraq, Syria, Yemen or the Lake Chad region among others. The EU firmly condemns the use of water as a weapon of war, in line with international humanitarian law.
Strengthened water governance is essential for long term stability
There are 263 transboundary river basins worldwide but around two-thirds of these do not have a cooperative management framework. A key objective of EU water diplomacy is fostering cooperative approaches to address the transboundary challenges of water. The EU supports transboundary water management and effective, sustainable and integrated water governance at all levels.
Leaving no one behind - water and sanitation in the Global Development Agenda
The EU is determined to implement Goal 6 (to “ensure that water and sanitation is available for all”) of the UN 2030 Agenda and help its partners to implement it. The challenges are huge: 844M people are currently living without access to safe drinking water and among them almost 159 million people still collect drinking water directly from rivers, lakes and other surface water sources. 260 million people (most of them women) spend more than 30 minutes per round trip collecting water. It is estimated that 2.3 Billion people still lack access to basic sanitation.
The conclusions adopted confirm the EU's continued commitment to addressing water challenges around the world. They also recall the importance of integrating a gender perspective in EU water diplomacy.
Water: a fundamental human right
The EU is committed to the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, as components of the right to an adequate standard of living.
The EU will continue to protect human rights defenders who fight for their water and environment.
Too much or too little water: Climate change creating floods and droughts
There is a fundamental link between climate change and water. Floods and droughts are becoming more frequent and damaging to lives, nature and the economy due to climate change. Poor communities, who are the most vulnerable to threats to water supply, are likely to be worst affected. Less water availability impacts health and food security. It can trigger displacement of people and political instability. The implementation of the Paris Agreement is key to address the water global challenges linked to climate change.
In line with the Paris Climate Change Agreement, EU Global Strategy and the New Consensus on Development, the EU recognises the need for concrete steps to enhance sound water policies, and better coordinate international efforts, interests and strategies.
Examples of EU supported water projects
The EU supports transboundary water management in different regions of the world. In Africa, the EU supports riparian governments and basin organizations, in order to enhance the potential for climate-resilient growth and the cooperative management of international waters. This includes support to the Cooperation in international waters in Africa (CIWA) programme managed by the World Bank and to several regional initiatives targeting the Senegal River Basin and the Mekrou River Basin. Transboundary water cooperation actions exist also for the Nile River Basin as well as for Lake Tanganyika and the Okavango River Basin. Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean are also key areas for cooperation on water. We are increasingly taking a 'nexus based' approach by addressing simultaneously the links between water, food and energy.
Through its development cooperation , the EU is also funding projects to promote access to water and sanitation: since 2004 more than 70 million people have been connected to improved drinking water and more the 24 million people connected to sanitation facilities.
The Conclusions include the EU’s commitment to consider the importance of water and sanitation in the programming of future financial and technical cooperation with partner countries.
Another example of the EU helping water management around the world is its mobilisation of the international communities' efforts to fund a desalination plant In Gaza which will provide a minimum of 55 million m3 of safe and clean drinking water per year to the people in dire need. EU pledged €70 million for the desalination plant plus €7.1 million for management costs. Currently 2 million Palestinians in Gaza rely almost exclusively on the coastal aquifer as a source of drinking water. The capacity of this aquifer is 55-60 million m3 per year, whereas total water demand is 180 million m3 per year. Only 3% of the water pumped from the aquifer complies with World Health Organisation drinking water quality standards, posing significant health risks for the Gazan population.
In Laos the EU has helped by distributing water filters both at schools as well as in households, to families in need, living in the poor village of Ban Nok. In addition a representative of the EU's Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) recently opened a new sanitary facility at a school in Don Puay, and installed a water filter, also explaining the importance of hands washing and drinking enough clean water daily, so that children can benefit from a safe and healthy environment when studying.