15/02/19Safe drinking Water 

AquaFed Viewpoint - The European water and sanitation sector must stay focused on the biggest priorities

15 February 2019
 
Introduction
Water and sanitation are long-term activities, which support nothing less than human development. The world undergoes major political and organisational swings under all latitudes. Private water operators believe that all players in the water sector need to work collaboratively to help decision-makers take the right decisions for a positive and sustainable impact. The challenging agenda should not be overwhelmed by ideologies and poorly-researched publications. We have to agree on effective ways to enhance people’s health, protecting the environment and ensure a resilient sector in the long-term. If the sector does not concentrate on addressing these urgent and indeed complex issues, the 2030 agenda will be missed, in the European Union and elsewhere.
 
Key Messages
European operators should stay focused on finding adequate solutions to overcome global challenges such as population growth, climate change, and ageing water infrastructure while ensuring access to efficient and sustainable water services for all EU citizens.
AquaFed has consistently called on the EU and its Member States to take the revision of the Drinking Water Directive as an opportunity to significantly improve access to water and transparency across Europe, but some influential Member States do not support it, unfortunately.
Debates over the public or private status of water management are futile given the lack of agreed common indicators to enable comparisons, and also because water and sanitation services remain anyway under the control of public authorities who can freely decide the performance targets, and how to best deliver the service, including outsourcing some value chain elements to private operators.
 
 
EU Concessions Directive
The European Commission was expected to present an impact assessment on the exclusion of water services from the scope of the Concessions Directive by April 2019, but we now understand this will be delayed.
 
Some activists have spread false claims about an alleged hidden agenda of “privatisation” pushed by the European Commission. It is essential to stick to the spirit of the Concessions Directive, which acknowledges the freedom of organisation of public authorities. The Directive aims to ensure the best use of public money, should they decide to outsource the construction or management of public infrastructure. Creating controversial debates over the public or private water management “model” or “privatisation” of the water sector is a cloak frequently used by organisations fearing transparency over their own practices. These organisations actually are opposed to the freedom of local competent authorities to seek the best solutions to modern and accessible public water services. 
 
Greater transparency
AquaFed is convinced that the implementation of common indicators would enable to objectively appreciate how operators meet the targets set by their public authorities. In the Drinking Water Directive revision, the Commission proposed to introduce obligations for operators to provide information to consumers about their performance (i.e. energy efficiency, leakage rate, customer complaints, cost structure, investments underway, etc), which are needed to explain the goals and expenditure of public services (whomever is involved with the operations).
 
Greatest challenges facing the sector
Private water operators represent only 10% of the global market, meaning that 90% is publicly managed worldwide (in Europe it is 30% private and 70% public). Public authorities, regulators, public and private operators and investors, are all needed in a collective effort to address the challenges EU is facing. Creating confusion in the public debate, and harming on purpose the perception of European Union, does not benefit European citizens.