EU governments ' breaking pledge to poorest'

Posted: 11 November 2003

EU governments are blocking the spending of a 1 billion euro fund that could be used to bring fresh water and sanitation to millions of the world's poor, a British Member of the European Parliament claims.

The European Commission has identified hundreds of projects in Africa that could proceed rapidly in partnership with national governments and private sector companies if start-up finance is provided. But the Council of Ministers is refusing to release any new funds to meet the aims of the 'Water for Life' programme announced last year at the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).

With more than two million people, mostly children, dying each year from water-related diseases, the EU-led agreement to halve by 2015 the 1.1 billion number of people without access to safe drinking water and 2.4 billion without adequate sanitation was a high point of the Johannesburg summit.

Immense task

But although working groups have been set up and initiatives developed on paper, more than one year on not a single new project is actually underway.

Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom has expressed her frustration with the situation, (and MEPs are calling for governments to release the funds.

UK Liberal Democrat MEP, Chris Davies, a member of the European Parliament's delegation to the WSSD, said that if the ambitious targets were to be met sanitation provision would have to be made for 250,000 people every day, or the population of Greater London every month.

He said: "It's an immense task. Wells must be dug, pipes laid and sceptic tanks built in great numbers if the aims are to be realised. Every week of delay makes the task more enormous and makes the grand gestures of EU governments a year ago look more shallow."

New secretariat

The European Commission proposed in April 2003 that E1 billion from the European Development Fund (EDF) be allocated towards 'Water for Life' initiatives. It wants to dedicate the money for water projects and set up a new secretariat to ensure effective communication and delivery.

Ministers on the General Affairs Council have blocked the bid, claiming the need for assurances that the money will be used effectively and pointing to the EU's poor record in the past at delivering development projects.

But Commission officials argue that reforms now underway will ensure that the organisation's performance is as good as that of many member states. They point out that ministers have put forward no alternative suggestions for meeting the Johannesburg commitments.

EU governments do not have to provide the resources until money is allocated towards specific projects. MEPs accuse governments offilibustering because finance ministers coping with budget deficits at home want to avoid spending the money.

'Flat refusal'

MEP Chris Davies is calling for the Italian Presidency to justify the Council's position to the European Parliament.

He said: "It is a betrayal of pledges made by governments just a year ago to the poorest people on the planet.

"If EU member states genuinely want to meet the water and sanitation commitments they should release the money while insisting that theCommission makes more reforms to improve its performance.

"What we are seeing instead is a flat refusal to authorise any action at all. Not only have ministers not allocated money for specific projects, they have not even taken the first step of setting up a secretariat to organise the task."

Source Water Aid