Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twenty-Seventh Report





COM(02) 132

(a) Commission Communication: Water management in developing countries: Policy and priorities for EU development co-operation.

(b) Annex to the Commission Communication: Water management in developing countries: Policy and priorities for EU development co-operation.

Legal base:


Document originated:

12 March 2002

Deposited in Parliament:

25 March 2002


International Development

Basis of consideration:

EM of 28 March 2002

Previous Committee Report:


To be discussed in Council:

30 May Development Council

Committee's assessment:

Politically important

Committee's decision:

Not cleared: further information requested



The Document

  7.1  The Commission says that in a world with a population which is still expanding rapidly, and in which urbanisation and economic development are increasing, there is growing international recognition of the pressing need to achieve "global water security".

  7.2  Freshwater is a finite and precious resource. No strategy for the reduction of poverty in developing countries can ignore people's vital requirement for it, yet there is a large unmet demand.

  7.3  The Commission says that the whole donor Community has to join with partner countries to find solutions to the challenge of the growing scarcity and decreasing quality of the world's water resources. This is particularly the case in developing countries where special attention needs to be paid to the poor in ensuring sustainable and equitable access to safe water for all its uses.

  7.4  The Commission suggests that the priorities for developing countries are:

integrated water resource management, with particular emphasis on water supply and sanitation;

water for food production; and

transboundary water management.

  7.5  The implications for health, education and food security of the growing pressure on water quantity and quality are emphasised.

  7.6  In assessing what the response should be to these challenges, the Communication identifies the need to integrate, or mainstream, cross-sectoral water management issues into programmes which help beneficiaries to develop their own water management and poverty reduction policies and strategies. Water and sanitation services must be integrated with health and education. Awareness-raising and capacity building is essential. Political commitment, good governance, management at the lowest appropriate administrative level, and stakeholder ownership will be explicitly required.

  7.7  The Commission says that, to achieve these goals, a shift in thinking is necessary. All water users must recognise that they have a responsibility to regard water as precious and to search for innovative solutions to achieve long-term sustainability.

  7.8  Under the heading water for food, the Communication says:

"Ensuring food security at household, community, and national levels is a vital component of poverty reduction. Food security cannot be divorced from water availability, with a high proportion of the world's freshwater resource devoted to irrigated agriculture; this question relates also to livestock and fishery/aquaculture needs. Advocating sound water use and management for food means placing an emphasis on small-scale water-efficient approaches and the application of water-efficient technologies (rain-water harvesting, small-scale drip irrigation). Crop vulnerability to drought and floods is also an important issue in water policies. Besides, promotion of environmentally sound agricultural practices, minimising the use of chemicals, is needed to avoid contamination of waters by their unsafe use and storage.

"While the impact of urban (and peri-urban) food production on the urban poor needs to be recognised, actions to promote food security in poor rural areas should include livelihood diversification, together with water saving methodologies (e.g. rainfed agricultural systems, which have spill over effects on environmental sustainability, through reduction of methane emission) and more sustainable management systems (e.g. irrigation which maximise productivity per unit of water, specific agriculture practices in arid areas that reduce salinisation, etc.). This would ensure alternative income generating opportunities for the poorest people, and also decrease the pressure on scarce water resources."

  7.9  Addressing the impact of trade on water management, the Communication notes that the connection between international trade and food and water security has only recently begun to receive some attention: "Many countries have traditionally perceived food self-sufficiency as an important strategic concern and have used valuable water resources in pursuing this objective." It suggests that, for some countries, importing "virtual water", in the form of water-intensive food crops, may be a more practical and cost-effective approach to national food security than growing them. However, all policies need to take into account any possible negative effect on the poor, particularly subsistence farmers.

  7.10  As the major single donor in grant financing, the EC has the remit and the resources to make a significant contribution to the global effort to achieve water security at household, community, national and international levels.

The Government's view

  7.11  The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short) comments:

"Providing access to safe water and sanitation is a fundamental requirement for reducing poverty. The poverty emphasis of the Communication is in line with UK policy, as are the issues of integrated, cross-sectoral responses through programme support. There is divergence from UK development policy in relation to water for food and trade implications, particularly in relation to the concept of virtual water. These issues are not sufficiently covered, nor are they resolved in the Communication. We hope to address these in the Resolution which the Council is currently preparing in response to this Communication."


  7.12  The Secretary of State draws attention to several issues where UK development policy diverges from the propositions put forward by the Commission in this document. She does not spell out what they are but says that the Government hopes to address them in a Council Resolution which is being drafted.

  7.13  We ask the Minister to submit an Explanatory Memorandum on the draft Resolution, giving us a clear indication of government policy in these areas. Meanwhile, we shall not clear this document.


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