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12 July 2016
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More and more Europeans are experiencing lack of water; Ministers call for a common solution

Bratislava (12 July) - Climate change and associated alternating periods of drought and floods were the main topics of the Ministerial Conference on Water and the informal EU Environment Council.

The debate has clearly shown that each EU country is experiencing this phenomenon differently. Some states are suffering prolonged droughts, others more frequent floods, and still others are experiencing both types of extreme events. For example, the Mediterranean is experiencing longer-lasting water shortages, and according to some prognoses there is a risk that the region may face an African climate scenario.

Up to 70 million Europeans are affected by water problems during the summer months, and this trend will worsen dramatically. Shortages are already being perceived in northern Europe, while the Baltic states are affected by frequent flooding. The EU spends €5 billion  a year to deal with the aftermath of floods and 3 billion Euros for drought damage. These costs will rise, according to the European Commission's assessment.

Although each country's problems are unique, ministers called for clear common European objectives to be set in the fight against climate change, even though there is no single universal solution.

"Water is not granted, its resources are limited, demand for it is increasing. We have to appreciate it more. Although it does not seem to, it concerns us all, because a dearth of water may bring many risks, including social instability. There is no time to procrastinate. We need to find common, European, flexible and sustainable access to effective water management," Minister for the Environment László Sólymos said on Tuesday, July 12 at a press conference where he led a two-day informal discussion.

"There is no time to procrastinate. We need to find common, European, flexible and sustainable access to effective water management."

L. Sólymos

Ministers agreed on the need to improve water reuse and recovery. In the EU, it is possible to recycle about 17% of water, but this potential is still underused.

They highlighted the need for  better water management in agriculture, because this sector consumes most of it as a result of drought and population growth. Several ministers think that the issue is not entirely negative in character, but should be seen as a good opportunity to introduce new technological solutions regarding, for example, transportation of water, innovation in irrigation systems, more efficient natural water retention measures and greater involvement of science and research.

The discussions showed that awareness raising must play a large role in solving the shortage of water, letting people know how to manage this vulnerable resource better.

The delegates' discussion will serve to develop the conclusions of the Council of the EU in this field, which will contribute to a wider debate about the nature and focus of future EU water policy.

Ministers responsible for climate change appealed for the earliest possible ratification of the Treaty of Paris at the meeting. So far, among EU countries only France and Hungary have ratified. "I am glad that we are all aware of not only the procedural, but also the political importance of rapid ratification so that the European Union can continue in the fight against climate change and be a leading example," said László Sólymos.

He added that Slovakia would like to finalise this process by the end of the year.  Speakers emphasised that the implementation of commitments in the Paris Agreement will be an opportunity for new investment and jobs.

The delegates met on Monday July 11 at the Reduta, in Bratislava, for the  Ministerial Conference on Water and then at the informal meeting, which continued on Tuesday July 12, when the ministers responsible for climate change were joined by the ministers for energy. The meetings were held at the beginning of Slovakia's presidency of the EU Council. The theme of water is one of Slovakia's national contributions to the European debate.

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