Current and future initiatives to combat water stress
Numerous initiatives are currently underway in Europe. For example:
- The Environmental Programme for Europe (EPE), endorsed by Ministers of Environment at Sofia, Bulgaria in October 1995 was the first attempt to set out long-term environmental policies, including those on water, aimed at improving the environment throughout Europe.
- About the same time, the Council of Ministers and the Environment Committee of the European Parliament called for a fundamental review of Community Water Policy. A "Water Resources Framework Directive", which requires integrated water management planning on a river-basin basis and sets guide-lines to ensure comparability of effort and results, is drafted and under discussion.
- Work continues on the Groundwater Action Programme, which deals with both water quantity and quality. One of the main themes is the integration of groundwater protection requirements into other policy areas, especially agricultural and regional planning.
- A Task Force on "Environment-Water" has been set up under the auspices of three EU Commissioners, and is being co-ordinated by DG XII and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission. Its objectives are to contribute towards the development of a European strategy for the sustain-able management and rational use of water.
- Because much of the pollution of oceans originates from land, the linkages between rivers, coastal areas and oceans are being addressed. As secretariat to the Global Programme of Action for Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities, UNEP is encouraging the integrated management of Freshwater, Coastal and Marine areas.
- In Europe, UNEP is focusing its relevant activities on the promotion of effective management and protection of water, including implementation of Chapter 18 of Agenda 21 in countries with economies in transition. A "Sourcebook of Alternative Technologies for Fresh Water Augmentation in East and Central Europe" has been prepared which describes technologies that maximise the efficient use of existing freshwater resources. In addition, for inland sea regions such as the Caspian Sea where there is an urgent need for co-ordinated action at the international level, the possibility of creating a framework convention to address transboundary environmental problems is being actively explored by UNEP.
- The UNEP Cleaner Production Programme has gathered practical examples of the new approach to water resource management through the International Cleaner Production Information Clearinghouse (ICPIC). Cleaner production in industry is a simple concept. It is easier and less costly to prevent pollution at source than it is to clean it up afterwards. The implications for water of cleaner production are also evident. Reducing the amount of water used and preventing water pollution are, in most cases, prefer-able to using expensive processes to treat waste effluent.
- Efficient water use comes from the UK project on the rivers Aire and Calder. Within 2 years from 1992, eleven companies achieved savings on water use and effluent production of almost £1 million a year; a three-fold reduction in water to sewers and a two-fold reduction in Chemical Oxygen Demand to sewers. Similar savings have been achieved in the 16 other projects (such as the Project Catalyst on the River Mersey), that have been inspired by the Aire/Calder project.
- The EU Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC), 1996, will also encourage cleaner production and the more efficient use of water by industry.
- On the initiative of the Environment Commissioner, Ritt Bjerregaard, the European Commission has proposed strengthening the environmental dimension of the EU treaty. The goal is to make environmental policy more effective by better integrating its provisions into other EU policies.
- The considerable investment made to comply with the Bathing Waters, Nitrates, and Urban Waste Water Treatment Directives, should also produce benefits in the form of significant and permanent improvements in water quality.
- The Environmental Health Action Plan for Europe, under WHO auspices, provides a framework for national planning (National Environment and Health Action Plans or NEHAPS). The plans allow water issues to be fully integrated with other environmental components.
- The Helsinki Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Water Courses and International Lakes was signed by 25 countries and by the European Community in 1992. The signatories agreed to set emission limits for discharges of hazardous substances from point sources based on the best available technology. A clear goal of the Helsinki Convention is to prevent any adverse environmental impact on transboundary waters. To this end, the countries bordering shared water bodies agreed to adopt environmental impact assessments and ecosystem approaches as the way forward. The intention is to ensure that any changes caused by human activities do not result in adverse effects on human health and safety or on biological diversity, soil, air, water and climate.
- In its report published in January 1996, the UN/ECE Task Force on Monitoring and Assessment set out the practices followed in 26 countries and 10 international networks. It was found that most of the transboundary rivers and lakes for which information was available are used for diverse purposes including fisheries, recreation, agricultural run-off and industrial discharges. Power generation and drinking water withdrawal are also important functions of several rivers.
- The UN/ECE Task Force on Monitoring and Assessment, which is led by The Netherlands, has agreed to publish its guidelines on Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment of Transboundary Rivers. These will help riparian countries to identify gaps and weaknesses in their current practices, and enable proven measures to be implemented to overcome difficulties.
- Based on analysis of existing monitoring activities in EEA countries, and of the legal requirements for water monitoring, the EEA is proposing in a report to be published in early 1997 ("Design of a Freshwater Monitoring Network") a comprehensive system for obtaining comparable and reliable information on the quantity and quality of Europes groundwater, rivers, lakes and reservoirs.
- Early warning and the development of a transnational network of monitoring stations are two of the main topics of the work being developed by the Environmental Programme of the Danube River Basin. Accidental spills from ships or industry (such as the Sandoz incident on the Rhine in 1986) are likely to endanger the functions of many rivers, but only a few countries, chiefly those bordering the River Rhine, together with the Czech Republic, Spain and Portugal, have installed early warning systems. Other countries, including Hungary, Latvia and Slovenia, have advanced plans to implement early warning programmes.
- Other Regional Environmental Programmes, such as the one for the Black Sea, are also facilitating co-operation in dealing with the transboundary issues of freshwater pollution.
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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