Decentralised cooperation for sustainable water management and sanitation between European regional, local authorities with their counterparts across the globe is key to help localise sustainable development goals, stakeholders say.
“Faced with the urgency of the global climate crisis, many regions in the world face more frequent, severe, and longer lasting extreme weather events, water cycle and temperature changes, or sea level rise putting people’s livelihoods and ecosystems under additional stress,” the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell and the European Commission’s environment, oceans and fisheries boss Virginijus Sinkevičius said in a joint statement a month ago, on World Water Day.
“Based on our long experience of transboundary water management, the EU strongly encourages and where possible directly supports increased cooperation and transparency in water governance at all levels,” they added.
However, an often overlooked benefit of engagement across the EU’s borders between municipalities is how decentralised development cooperation can alleviate water stress at home, an increasing problem in Europe.
Currently, only 40% of Europe’s surface water bodies have achieved a good ecological status, the European Environment Agency’s data has revealed.
Vanesa Corrales Argumánez from Fons Mallorquí, the Majorcan fund for solidarity and cooperation, said her organisation is working on helping to develop indicators to measure their contribution to achieving the UN’s water-related goals.
However, their work in Bolivia and Burkina Faso has implications at home where the island’s freshwater reserves are limited.
“We are sharing these metrics and these indicators with local authorities here, in Majorca,” Argumánez said, adding that the ultimate goal is to develop a common approach to water issues.
“It’s also an old tradition of alliances that we have been developing between local authorities and here in Majorca and in the South,” she added.
There is much to learn, since often municipalities and regions in the global South have more developed strategic plans than their counterparts in Europe, often required by international aid institutions.
“Sometimes there is more eagerness to exchange from the South than from the North”, she said, adding that the COVID pandemic has made keeping international cooperation a priority harder for local authorities, as the public health emergency has taken over of the agenda.
This is why, Argumánez pointed out, awareness-raising at home of the fund’s activities abroad goes hand in hand with development cooperation.
“You have to show what you’re doing to keep the commitment with your actions,” she said.
Other regions in Europe have institutionalised development cooperation.
Since 2008, the Basque country allocates 5% of its water levy, paid after water consumption that could have a negative environmental impact, to international solidarity in order to help mitigate the water stress in partner countries.
The money raised through the tariff in recent years has helped to fund the Basque country’s cooperation programme on water and sanitation with Costa Rica and El Salvador, running between 2018-2021 and costing €1.9 million.
“This programme stands out for the use of peer learning and technical co-operation practices,” Paul Ortega, director of the Basque Agency for Development Cooperation told EURACTIV.
The agency has already started planning the second phase of the program running until 2024.
“With this initiative, the Basque subnational institutions intend to overcome the traditional scheme based on the donor-recipient logic and move towards a different model in which public administrations play a more active role based on their own competencies and expertise,” Ortega said.
“Over the last decades, and especially since the approval of the 2030 Agenda, subnational Governments are gaining relevance as development actors. Decentralised development cooperation agents are rethinking their roles as to better contribute to the global agendas,” he added.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]