Wednesday, 30 January 2008

EU sanitation policies and practices

I was invited by Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF), a network of 80 environmental organizations in 30 European countries, to attend the ‘High-Level Policy Dialogue on EU Sanitation Policies and Practices in IYS2008’ in Brussels on 29 January. Water and Sanitation is one of five WECF working groups and its work is mainly centred on the WatSan needs of millions of people in eastern Europe (details here) − hence this meeting in Brussels which had as its objective (in the words the organizers) “to raise awareness and stimulate political will within the European Union on the safe management of wastewater and excreta, a challenge worldwide, including in Europe”. Amazingly “in some of the EU member states still almost 40% of the population do not have access to safe sanitation” and “GWP estimates that a total of 20 million Europeans depend on unsatisfactory sanitary installations such as pit latrines, soak away pits and drains”. The presentations by several ‘high and mighty’ representatives of governments and the European Community showed that they knew little about low-cost sanitation, and this was also generally true of most of those attending the meeting, although ‘dry sanitation’ was constantly mentioned but seemed to refer only to EcoSan. Simplified sewerage appeared to be totally unknown − yet Bulgaria, for example, has plans to sewer many of its smaller communities. Cost is, of course, a major concern, as is political will at both national and EU levels − so there’s a real need for decision-makers to understand what low-cost sanitation systems are really applicable at scale in EU member states with a sanitation crisis. And then this knowledge has to reach municipal level. Quite a challenge!