The FINANCIAL — Many countries in the Danube River basin face a double challenge of meeting the high standards of the European environmental acquis while extending sustainable water services to all citizens, with 22.5 million people lacking access to piped water and 28 million without flush toilets, according to the World Bank’s new Water and Wastewater Services in the Danube Region – A State of the Sector report, released on May 6 in Vienna.
The report, which analyzes water services access, affordability, quality, and financing, comes ahead of the “2015 Danube Water Conference” to be held in Vienna, May 7-8, in which government ministries, regulatory agencies, utility companies, professional associations, and local governments will contemplate the future of water services in the Danube region.
The Danube River basin is the second-largest river basin in Europe, home to a total of 81 million people in 19 countries, a majority of them EU members. The Danube connects with 27 large and over 300 small tributaries from its spring in the Black Forest in Germany to the Black Sea in Romania, and, as such, is the largest water basin in the EU.
According to the report, despite improvements in the last 15 years, countries across the Danube region still show very different levels of progress in providing sustainable services for all their citizens. Many long-standing EU members have benefited from a generally stable policy environment and a steady stream of EU funding. Access, in particular, to wastewater services has increased, the performance of their utility companies is at par with international standards, and the financing of their services is sound.
In contrast, more recent EU members, candidate countries and non-EU countries of the Danube region continue to suffer from important public services gaps, especially among the most vulnerable, and from struggling service providers. This leaves millions of people without access, services underfunded, and water sector governance incomplete or unclear. Roughly one-third of water from these service providers never reaches its intended destination, the report says.
As the report notes, Governments are often facing a double challenge of ensuring the transposition of EU legislation and development of wastewater management infrastructure, while also addressing the sector’s fundamental goal of providing sustainable services for all.
The analysis recommends that countries look closely at local context to best understand and overcome the challenges that undermine water institutions’ ability to deliver. Governments and water service providers could implement clear accountability and incentive mechanisms, improved financing strategies, including tariffs covering efficient costs and targeted and poor-inclusive subsidies, and improved management practices. Broader water sector financing frameworks will also be needed to overcome an estimated annual €2.5 billion gap in financing.
“European integration has provided a powerful incentive for progress in provision of affordable and sustainable water and sanitation services. Yet recent EU members, candidates and non-EU countries of the Danube Region must strive to overcome significant gaps in both provision of basic services and governance of the sector” said Ellen Goldstein, World Bank Country Director for South East Europe. “The needs are large, so countries will need to sequence reforms and investments in line with their financial and technical capacities, in collaboration with international partners like the World Bank.”
The report is accompanied by DANUBIS.org, an online repository that allows utility managers and decision makers to benchmark the performance of more than 400 utilities in 13 countries in the Danube region. The platform also lists key strategic documents and legal texts from each country to facilitate sharing of experiences in the region.
The report, conference, and online platform are supported by the World Bank and the International Association of Water Supply Companies in the Danube River Catchment Area (IAWD) under the Danube Water Program with seed financing from Austria. The Danube Water Program supports smart policies, strong utilities, and sustainable and wastewater services by partnering with regional, national, and local stakeholders, promoting an informed policy dialogue around challenges and strengthening the technical and managerial capacity of utilities and institutions.
Lead author of the report and head of the Danube Water Program, David Michaud concludes “With this report and platform, countries now have the diagnosis. But the development and implementation of policy decisions are in their hands. We stand ready to help.”