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Environment: Water scarcity and droughts a growing challenge to Member States

The European Commission yesterday published a report on Member States' progress in addressing water scarcity and droughts. The balance between water demand and availability has reached a critical level in many areas of Europe, a trend that is expected to become more marked as climate change progresses. In the run up to a major water policy review in 2012, the report presents the water management measures introduced by Member States to tackle water scarcity and droughts and highlights the areas for further action.

In 2009-10 water scarcity occurred in much of Southern Europe – due to limited water resources, high demand for water and less rain. The Czech Republic, Cyprus and Malta reported that they faced continuous water scarcity. Five Member States reported droughts or rainfall levels lower than the long term average (France, Hungary, the UK, Portugal and Spain), and four experienced local limited water scarcity occurrences (the Netherlands, Sweden, France and Romania).

The report confirms that water scarcity and drought is not limited to Mediterranean countries. Apart from some sparsely-populated northern regions with abundant water resources, this is a growing issue across the EU. Recent studies show that by 2050 most European regions are expected to be under medium or severe water stress – mainly due to unsustainable water use, exacerbated by the effects of climate change. Affected Member States have developed actions to reduce pressure on water resources and restrict water use.

Better water management needed

In June 2010, the Council of ministers concluded that water scarcity and drought are a serious problem in many European regions and invited Member States to step up action to promote more efficient and sustainable water use. Today's report shows that many Member States have already adopted policy options such as water pricing, improved water management tools, and water efficiency and saving measures.

The report identifies a number of important policy options where more action is required from Member States. For example, very few have introduced legislation to improve water efficiency in buildings. Measures to address illegal water abstraction and losses from water distribution networks are also still lacking in many parts of Europe.

Towards a 2012 Water Blueprint

The Commission will further address this growing challenge in a review of EU water scarcity and drought policy which will form part of a “Blueprint” for safeguarding Europe's waters scheduled for 2012. The main components of the review, which will focus largely on water efficiency, include:

  • water efficiency in agriculture and the urban environment,

  • better planning, for example by integrating water scarcity and droughts into River Basin Management Plans and sectoral policies, and

  • appropriate implementation instruments, such as water pricing and water allocation.

The policy review will also address the external dimension of the water scarcity and drought as the EU's considerable water footprint exerts increased pressure on resources outside the EU. The Blueprint will foster a move towards prevention and preparedness with a view to ensuring a sustainable balance between human activities and natural ecosystems.

The Commission is carrying out several preparatory activities in view of the 2012 review. Over the next months, the focus will be on filling in the knowledge and data gaps and carrying out an impact assessment. The work will be supported by the outcomes of the assessment of the River Basin Management Plans and the forthcoming Communication on a road map towards a resource efficient economy.

The report is available at: