"We all know that water is central to sustainable development: solving water problems means progress across all pillars of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental. It is crucial to achieve all the Millennium Development Goals. No strategy for the reduction of poverty can ignore people's vital requirements of water and sanitation," said EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.
Under the UN MDGs, many EU countries have committed to increasing direct development aid for basic services, including water and sanitation.
The UK Department for International Development (DFID) argues that national water and sanitation plans should be drawn up by each country to provide a single coordinated framework for action. Such a plan would assess current levels of access to water and estimate the levels of investment required. DFID also thinks that a single water and sanitation coordination group is required to allow government, civil society and donor representatives to work together. Countries without such a group could create one with the help of the EU's water initiative, DFID argues.
As for coordinating UN aid in different countries, DFID suggests identifying a single UN lead body for water and sanitation at the national level, through which all donor aid for water would be coordinated.
According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the key to an effective water policy lies in managing demand rather than ability to supply water. WBCSD notes that demand management involves policies and practices that influence how people use water, adding that "the main tools are water conservation and tariff policies". It also underlines that demand for water must be managed to discourage over-production and thus water wastage, which it identifies as a main cause of deprivation.
SABMiller, one of the world's leading brewers, notes that many of its operations are in areas of water stress. Therefore, "industries such as ours, which depend on water quality and availability, have a particular responsibility to manage water effectively," said chief executive Graham Mackay.
The brewer, which operates in many African countries, is committed to making "more beer with less water" by using water more efficiently, understanding watersheds and engaging with suppliers. It has developed a specific watershed mapping tool to examine sites in areas under threat from long-term water stress and has undertaken a water footprinting exercise to evaluate the water used in its supply chain.
The Stockholm International Water Institute thinks industry can be a driving force in promoting cleaner, water-saving production techniques, because the sector uses twice as much water worldwide as individual consumers.
NGOs from both Europe and the ACP countries are critical of the Commission's policy for water management in developing countries, describing it as a means of subsidising water management for private companies. NGOs, including Action Aid International, Both ENDS, the African Network of Civil Society Organisations on Water and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, argue that the ACP-EU water facility in particular supports the expansion of the private sector into water management. "The record of the private water industry in developing countries in the last years has not been systematically assessed, despite high-profile failures and malpractices," the NGOs said in a joint statement. They believe the EU water facility should be dedicated to supporting and upgrading public-run drinking water and sanitation infrastructures.
However, local governments in the developing world are not always in a position to finance expensive water and sanitation infrastructure themselves and the EU seed money can provide easier access to other means, including private sector funding, know-how and management skills.
Nevertheless, the devolution of water distribution services to private companies in Europe and across the world has been much criticised. "Privatised water services have been heavily promoted by international agencies, including the World Bank, IMF and even the European Union, as a solution to increased investment needs in water services," stated Corporate Europe Observatory and the Transnational Institute. But "the tide now seems to be turning," according to the two NGOs. "Increased tariffs and a failure to deliver promised improvements have left water multinationals facing increasing opposition," they say.