Speedy solutions are needed to combat water shortages, according to experts and politicians who debated the issue at a conference hosted by the European Water Forum in the European Parliament on 16 April.
Water crept up the EU’s political agenda last summer, following the serious droughts that swept across Europe. The events forced the Commission to react, publishing a communication on water scarcity and drought, which proposes higher water prices to deter overuse (EURACTIV 19/07/07).
“The EU is looking at addressing the issue through water pricing policies,” confirmed Commission official Andrea Tilche, pointing also to a Commission project called AQUAMONEY, which brings together sixteen research institutions to determine correct water pricing policies.
But Tilche added that the maintenance and operation of water resources in Europe will continue to be paid for by consumers.
Water shortages are becoming more common in Europe, with the Catalan region in Spain the latest area to be affected by decreasing reservoir levels. Catalonia has started importing water from as far afield as Southern France.
MEP and chairwoman of the conference Cristina Gutierrez-Cortines observed that recycling of water should be used more widely. Spain currently leads Europe in this area, with 12% of water being recycled. Countries like Israel recycle 75% of their water.
“Water should be used and re-used,” agreed Tilche, adding that harvesting rainfall, de-salination and the use of drainage water should be seriously considered as alternatives for reducing water stress.
The conference also focused particularly on water scarcity in the Middle East, due to the acute shortage of water in the region. The participants agreed on key areas, notably conservation technologies and various water stress mitigation options, that should be supported in the region.
In his concluding remarks, Bernard Zamaron, who was a personal friend of EU founder Robert Schuman, suggested a form of the European Coal and Steel Community could be formed in the Middle East – replacing ‘coal and steel’ with ‘water’ and ‘European’ with ‘Middle Eastern’.
“Political things are hard to sort out,” Zamaron said, “but the practical things like water are easy because we already know what needs to be done. We just need an authority to implement it”.