There is no life without water. Water is a driver of development and plays a crucial role in alleviating poverty: it is vital for human nutrition and health, and essential for ecosystem management, agriculture, energy and overall planetary security. Water-related risks can have grave human and economic costs and represent some of the causes of migration. Water scarcity has the potential to affect peace and security.
Since 2010, access to water and sanitation has been recognised as a human right. However, in a world increasingly confronted with population growth and climate change, this right is often limited or denied: billions of people live in areas where water is scarce and societal inequalities persist.
This situation particularly affects women and girls who are often responsible for collecting water, managing the household and dealing with specific hygienical circumstances such as menstruation or childbirth. Difficulties with physical access to water and sanitation also affect older persons, persons with disabilities, victims of natural disasters, persons living in disaster-prone areas, refugees, asylum-seekers, migrants, internally displaced persons and returnees.
Together with our member countries, and in line with the UN human rights framework for water and sanitation, we are applying a human-rights based approach to support initiatives which facilitate access to water and sanitation. This approach can be summarised with the so-called AAAQ-criteria or simply 4A-criteria:
- Availability: Water supply for each person must be continuous and enough for personal and domestic uses: including drinking water; personal sanitation; washing of clothes; food preparation; and personal and household hygiene, including menstrual hygiene. Likewise, enough sanitation facilities must be available.
- Accessibility: Water and sanitation services should be accessible to everyone within, or in the immediate vicinity of households; health and educational institutions; public institutions; public places; and workplaces, without discrimination.
- Affordability: The price of sanitation and water services must be affordable for all.
- Acceptability: Services and sanitation facilities must be culturally acceptable. This may require gender-specific facilities, constructed in a way that ensures privacy, safety and dignity.
- Quality: Water should be safe for direct human consumption (such as for drinking water) and other personal or domestic uses, with no threat to human health. Sanitation facilities must ensure privacy and be hygienically and technically safe to use.
We base our interventions on the commitment that no one is left behind and that the services and facilities provided are sustainable, i.e. available for present and future generations alike.
Our action plans
Many of the EU member countries are parties to the UNECE Protocol on Water and Health which aims to protect human health through better water management, reducing water-related diseases, and improving equitable access to water and sanitation – thereby putting into practice the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation.
Water in our international cooperation
€3.7 billion were disbursed under the last programming 2014-2020 by EU institutions on water, €1.12 billion being under EIB3. Of this amount, around €1.7 billion was disbursed in Africa. To tackle the gap, the Commission is working in a Team Europe approach in the water sector using different financing tools, including blending and guarantees.
During the UN 2023 Conference, the EU will commit to support the access of 70 million individuals to an improved drinking water source and/or sanitation facility by 2030. The EU also commits to mobilize the private sector with innovative financing under the European Fund for Sustainable development (EFSD+), to further increase its reach.
SDG6 – Clean water and sanitation
UNECE Protocol on Water and Health
UN statistics on clean water and sanitation
UN-Water webpage on water, sanitation, and hygiene
2019 UN world water development report
EU human rights guidelines on safe drinking water and sanitation
Council conclusions on the EU human rights guidelines on safe drinking water and sanitation
Action plan on human rights and democracy