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WECF goes to Brussels

WECF meets with the new European Environment Commissioner Mr. Stravos Dimas

13.06.2005 |Sascha Gabizon

Following the annual meeting of the WECF International Steering Committee, WECF's directors, president and members of the Steering Committee met for 1 hour with the new European Environment Commissioner Mr. Stravos Dimas on June 3rd 2005.

WECF presented key concerns where they expressed their wish that the Environment Commissioner could take a stance, in particular on:

  • Proposed Chemicals Legislation 'REACH'; urging not to accept the proposed changes by DG Industry
  • Gender mainstreaming in DG Environment; cooperation with WECF
  • Promoting alternative ecological sanitation for rural areas in Eastern Europe and the NIS

In particular, the steering committee members Michaela Vasilescu and Svetlana Slesarenok, proposed a number of actions.

Download WECF Recommendations to DG env on Water and Sanitation (doc, 44 KB).

Statement by WECF steering committee members Svetlana Slesarenok and Mihaela Vasilescu for the Meeting with the new European Commission Environment Commissioner Mr Stravos Dimas

Water source protection and organic farming

Within the implementation process of the EU Water Framework Directive, diffused sources of water pollution are not sufficiently addressed. In the villages where we carry out practical project to provide safe drinking water, we found pesticides from agriculture and nitrates from fertilizer and latrines in the drinking water wells. One of the easiest and cheapest method that can be put into place immediately, is the establishment of protections zones and sanitary protection perimeters in the vicinity of the wells, along the rivers used as sources for drinking water and around the abstraction zone; for these zones some types of activities are restricted, and other are forbidden, in order to avoid pollution. NGOs can be involved in pushing the responsible authorities to establish the protection zones and to mark them, as well in the education of the population to keep these places clean. For example, the most frequent sanitary risk factors around a domestic drinking-water well are:
  • Existence of pollution sources such as animal excreta, rubbish, etc.
  • Poor drainage, allowing stagnant water within 2m of the well
  • Lack of fencing around the well, which is an inadequate situation for keeping animal away
  • Latrine within 10m of the well
  • Latrine located on a higher ground than the well

Providing mini grants for NGOs, to support such activities of marking the severe protection perimeter along the abstraction zones and to publish educational materials for population to stop polluting activities within the protection zones, could significantly improve the present situation.

DG Environment could do more to promote Organic farming at least in buffer areas of drinking water sources protection zones.
Experience in e.g. Germany and scientific investigations showed, that

  • Organic farming is the best agricultural method to protect groundwater against infiltration of nitrates and pesticides, in contrast to conventional farming practices or integrated agriculture.
  • The regulations of the nitrates directive (91/676/EEC) are not sufficient to protect groundwater against pollution.
  • There are no clear regulations for the farmers for the implementation of integrated agriculture.

More support at least for farmers in drinking water catchments areas is needed, to protect ground water against nitrate and pesticide pollution.

Support for cleaning up obsolete pesticide and fertilizer dumps

In Romania there are many obsolete pesticide dumps, where the pesticides are no longer labelled, and we do not know what cocktail effects they could generate. WECF displayed on its website information regarding this situation, the international community got involved and some stocks have been incinerated in Austria, which has proved to be a successful measure.

In Ukraine, we find in one village where MAMA-86 works, 250-500-800 mg per litter of nitrates, which are coming from an obsolete fertilizer stockpiles. In another village where MAMA-86 works – Bobrik – there is a large obsolete pesticide dump, none of the pesticides are labelled, bags are torn and pesticides are leaching into the ground. For examples see our website

We find that it is increasingly difficult to find funds to clean up such stockpiles.
The EU should try to make this a priority for programmes with its new neighbour states.
Mini - Grants for NGO´s could contribute to raising awareness on different levels about obsolete stockpiles

Ecological sanitation versus septic tanks
We ask more attention from DG Environment for protection sources of drinking water in rural areas in Eastern Europe. In many areas, pit-latrines are one of the main sources of faecal-bacteria and nitrate pollution of drinking-water wells. Around 7.9 millions people in Romania, and 11 million people in Ukraine, use pit-latrines and rely on water wells.

We would request DG Environment to prioritise dry-urine diverting sanitation also called ‘ecological-sanitation or eco-sanitation  or ecosan’, instead of septic tanks. 

Currently, the NIS component of the EU Water Partnership Initiative focuses on septic tanks as the solution for rural sanitation. We think this is not a sustainable solution for this region. Septic tanks could be suitable for sparsely populated areas, but not for villages with a cluster structures, like most villages in NIS have. Septic tanks can only work if the circumstances are suitable for environmental infiltration of the wastewater in the soil and if there is a service to empty them and bring the mixture of faecal material and urine to a waste-water treatment plant. Many parts of cities and most villages are not connected to the sewage stations, so they have to rely on the service to empty the septic tanks. Especially for villages situated in remote areas the access is quite difficult due to the lack of infrastructure, and during the cold time which lasts almost 8 months a years, the access is impossible because of mud or snow. Overflowing septic tanks, which create an unhygienic environment, are  rather usual in that period. The further away from the main cities, the more costly it becomes for poor people to have the contents of their septic tanks properly treated. Poor people in rural areas can not pay for this.

WECF has been testing ecological sanitation successfully in Romania and Ukraine, and has started with demonstration projects in Uzbekistan and Armenia. In these demonstration projects we cooperate with the University of Technology of Hamburg, with the University of Life-Sciences of Oslo, and with the Swedish Environmental Institute. These universities are working with authorities in Africa, Asia and Latin-America on ecological sanitation, and the environmental, economic and health benefits are becoming increasingly well documented. 

International institutions have also on their agenda the issue of eco-sanitation. For example:
  • WHO Geneva office will publish in November 2005 their updated guidelines on the hygiene aspects of ecological sanitation.
  • The EU develops nowadays its Strategic Research Agenda, and the thematic working group 2 “Water Supply and Sanitation in urban, peri-urban and rural areas”, addresses the issue of water for people (Mihaela Vasilescu represents WECF in the DG Research working groups 2 “water and sanitation scientific and technological platform”,  preparing  for the 7th Research Framework  plan). The need to prioritise research on use of ecosan products in agriculture have entered into the draft document (chapter 1 “Balancing demand and supply”, at the item domestic sanitation equipment; the connected processes as grey water transport and separate urine treatment, are at the item “management and reuse of waste water”, and urine-based garden fertilizers are at the item system solutions). Eco-sanitation could be a valuable and sustainable alternative to septic tanks, if more support for capacity building and practical demonstration projects should be provided. So that more rural communities can start moving away from septic tanks to this sustainable and affordable solution. There is a need for mini-grants for local community organisations. NGOs are much closer to the community; they can work very cheaply and have highest levels of trust.
With an estimated 150 million people without access to sewage systems in the countries of Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia, this would be a major step ahead in order to achieve the MDGs commitments on water and sanitation.

Increase the involvement of women in river basin decision making
For the EU water framework directive, River Basin Committees have been established, in those countries that harmonized their national legislation to the EU Acquis Communitaire. We believe that it would be useful to support women to become active members of these committees, because they often express different needs of the community, and are able to make the natural link between the health of the eco-system and the health of the future generation.