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No more water privatisation, says EESC

The Committee also calls for measures to discourage disproportionate water use

The EESC believes that an updated Drinking Water Directive – following the Right2Water citizen initiative - should be based on the WHO guidelines. In its opinion Drinking water directive the Committee also calls for a stop to water privatisation and wants to see measures that motivate citizens to make a mindful use of this finite resource. The potential problems of the mineral water industry should also be anticipated, says the EESC.

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) regrets that the Commission's proposal does not clearly recognise the universal right of access to drinking water and sanitation called for by the ECI initiative and the Sustainable Development Goals. The WHO model, based on minimum quantities of water per person per day, could be a viable option, argues the EESC.

While welcoming the Commission's proposed update of the Drinking Water Directive, particularly since it is the first legislative response to a European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) - specifically the Right2Water initiative – the EESC believes it fails to address all the complex issues linked to water.

"Drinking water is a primary good which is not only essential for the health, well-being and dignity of every human being but also indispensable for economic and productive activity", says Gerardo Larghi, rapporteur of the opinion. "We consider water - including groundwater and hydrogeological basins - as a primary public good, and believe large natural water reserves should no longer be privatised."

Policies should aim to improve access to drinking water for consumers - in accordance with the WHO guidelines - based on the following indicators:

  • safety: the tolerance values must be observed;
  • acceptance with regard to colour, smell and taste of water;
  • accessibility: water and sanitation facilities should be in close proximity to the home, school, workplace or health institution;
  • water costs should not exceed 3% of household income (United Nations Development Programme - UNDP). The Committee calls on Member States and the Commission to monitor price developments and price transparency.

Citizens should also be motivated to drink tap water, and for this it is important to guarantee its safety and raise awareness with clear and easily understandable information, stresses the EESC.

Access to safe drinking water for all citizens

The EESC proposes that Member States adopt specific measures to facilitate access to drinking water for vulnerable and marginalised groups, particularly people in disadvantaged and remote rural areas.

Support for possible restructuring measures for mineral water producers

In its opinion the Committee also looks at the considerable repercussions the directive could have on mineral water producers. Industry restructuring and support for workers who will need to reskill should be tackled at European level.

A resource in short supply to manage carefully

The Committee also targets water management and calls for measures to promote appropriate behaviour as regards the use of water. Measures should be targeted at discouraging the use of disproportionate amounts of water not only by citizens but also in industry and agriculture. New approaches to alternative sources, rational use of groundwater and reuse of water need to be explored.

Water reserves increasingly important

40% of the world's population depend on cross-border basins for their water supply and by 2030 some two billion people may live in areas affected by water scarcity. Given the already noticeable effects of climate change, the EESC considers it important to monitor water supply sources and where necessary also to establish water reserves for emergencies.