World Water Week 2012 - Statement by Andris Piebalgs, Commissioner for Development: Turning the tide: how the EU is using water to save lives and feed the population

To mark World Water Week (26 - 31 August), Development Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs stated:

"Today, I want to confirm the EU's strong commitment to making sure that everyone, no matter where they live, has access to clean, safe water and sanitation. We don't start from scratch and our aid has already triggered good results. Over the period 2004-2009, EU aid has provided access to clean drinking water to more than 32 million people and to sanitation to over 9.5 million people across the world.

Thanks to the European Commission, more than 60 countries currently benefit from major water and sanitation projects. Access to water and sanitation has been one of top priorities of the EU and over the last decade, our aid has almost tripled to reach around €2bn a year.

Yet every minute, three more children die from drinking dirty water - that's 4,000 every day. Half of the hospital beds in developing countries are taken up with people suffering from diseases caused by poor water, sanitation and hygiene. This is simply unacceptable and it's clear that more and faster progress is necessary. We are committed to doing all we can to step up our efforts to create a world where all human beings can drink, bathe and clean with water without fearing a deadly disease from it.

Contributing to the Millennium Development Goal of access to water and sanitation is at the core of the EU's work on reducing poverty. Two years ago, at the MDG Summit in New York, we launched the EU Millennium Development Goal initiative, which is allocating an extra €1 billion for African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries to help them meet the most off-track Millennium Development Goals (as well as further support those who have made particularly good progress). Water and sanitation is one of the four MDGs being specifically targeted by the initiative, with €266 million, which just shows how much of a priority this is for us.

But water is not only vital for drinking and hygiene purposes, it is also key to agriculture. Worldwide, 70% of water is used as irrigation water to grow food, for example, and in some developing countries, this figure increases to over 85%. It's clear that access to water and food security are therefore closely interlinked.

Sustainable agriculture and food and nutrition security are at the top of the EU's long-term development cooperation agenda. We are determined to enhance our support to provide the three key requirements of water, energy and food.

In World Water Week, I'd urge other donors, partners and the private sector to join us and help us turn the tide and do all we can to preserve our precious water supplies before it's too late."

Background – Some examples of EU actions

The two examples below illustrate how the EU is committed to improving irrigation systems and to making sure that water is used as efficiently as possible in agriculture, which means using less while at the same time improving crop production.

- Zambia offers a good example of using water efficiently by using "conservation agriculture" as a production system. This sustainable agricultural method, which has already been adopted by 20% of Zambian farmers (250,000), uses principles like continuous soil cover (using plants to prevent soil erosion) and crop rotations (the successive planting of different crops on the same land to improve soil fertility).

The results are more than promising and show us the way forward: the water capacity of the soil is increased and more nutrients are available for crops. As a result, fields using this system produce almost three times more than those using conventional agricultural methods in Zambia.

- In Zimbabwe, food insecurity is very common, as low and uneven rainfall leads to crop failures. Yet by providing irrigation schemes in more than 90 local communities, we are making a great deal of difference to thousands of smallholder farmers who can both grow enough food to eat, through the production of maize, and secure an income, through the production of vegetables.

For more information

Fact sheet on Water and Sanitation:

EU Water Initiative's website:

EU Water Facility website:

Website of Andris Piebalgs, European Commissioner for Development:

Website of EuropeAid Development and Cooperation DG:

25 August 2012

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