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Safe and affordable toilets for all Europeans

WECF at Stockholm World Water Week: Europe needs a rural action sanitation plan

21.08.2008 |WECF Press Release

WECF – Women in Europe for a Common Future - gets attention for the more than 20 million Europeans who lack safe sanitation, during seminar at the Stockholm World Water Week.

STOCKHOLM - A lack of safe sanitary facilities, causing water pollution and disease is still a daily practice for 20 to 23 million Europeans within the European Union. In some EU member states, like Romania,  almost 40% of the population does not have access to safe sanitation. According to Sascha Gabizon, International Director of WECF, in her opening speech at the seminar addressing Europe’s sanitation problem, the situation is worse than most people, especially Europeans, can imagine: “I visited a school which had puddles of urine all over the place. The children preferred to defecate out in the open, behind the school building.  The pit latrines were overflowing, causing one child even to drown". She concluded: "Children in our region can still die because of bad sanitation. Safe sanitation should therefore be an issue of dignity, of human rights".

Sick people cannot work

Helmut Bloech of the European Commission agreed and said that the WECF seminar showed that we face a major problem in Europe: “Lack of sanitation is not only a health problem, it is affecting our competitiveness. Sick people cannot work and better sanitation makes people healthier and more productive.  We have seen low cost sanitation solutions available that work very well, but we have to ensure that the knowledge about these solutions is being transferred from this audience here at the Stockholm Water Week, to the people in the field. This can only be done in their language and with the participation of dozens of dozens and local citizens”.

Waste water Directive

Especially in the new member states of the EU a great number of people are deprived of decent sanitation.  Even in the ideal situation, when the EU Waste Water Directive would be entirely implemented, still 20 million people would have to use open pit latrines. Sascha Gabizon: “One of the reasons for this is that the EU directive on urban waste water treatments does not give an incentive to make rural sanitation a priority as it focuses on larger municipalities. EU funding is now aimed at larger cities and goes to building waste water treatment plants, instead of emergency measures to give the most deprived safe sanitation. To provide all 20 million Europeans with a safe dry toilet, a wash-basin and greywater treatment, not more than 600 Euro per household are needed, which means not more than 428 million annually till 2015. This is very little compared to the available 336 billion Euro in Cohesion funds. Safe sanitation should be a right for all Europeans, an obligation which the European Commission should set.

There is no such thing as wastewater

Sanitation should be a clear political target said Friedrich Barth, chair of the European Water Partnership. “Unfortunately the awareness is low and there is not much political will.” One of the main problems, according to him is that current EU legislation was written by the EU 15 for the EU 15. And the needs and views of the people in the new member states were not taken into account.  Apart from that we need a shift of mindset in our thinking about wastewater. Friedrich Barth: “Waste is something you want to get rid of; we don’t consider it to be valuable. I hope that with rising prices, people will consider closing the loops and re-using their toilet ‘waste’. Local sanitation can create a market for this. When you create a huge wastewater problem in the Baltic Sea like the Swedes have with their too high nitrate levels, you have to look at other options. We are not talking about waste; we are talking about resource management!”

The seminar also showed, according to the speakers, that sanitation is not a specific Eastern European problem. Sweden for instance has created a huge problem with its wastewater – even close to a scandal, according to Helmut Bloech.  Arno Rosemarin of the Stockholm environment Institute told that the need to re-think sanitation is necessary all over Europe. “London’s sewage collector system dates from the mid-1800’s. During heavy rains the sewage system overflows and it all pours into the Thames river. This only became alarming a couple of years ago, when the Olympic rowing team became sick after peddling the Thames.

Safe and affordable toilets for all

The WECF seminar which was attended by HRH the Prince of Orange, in his function as chair of UNSGAB, showed why with current policies and practices, it seems impossible to provide safe sanitation for all citizens of the European Union. Representatives of the European Commission, the Swedish Parliament, NGOs, leading scientists and representatives of governments debated on the barriers in legislation and markets for innovative decentralized wastewater technologies. Sascha Gabizon: “Giving everybody safe sanitation cannot fail from lack of money. In the International Year of Sanitation 2008, we have to make "safe toilets for all" a priority issue: Europe needs a rural sanitation action plan!"

International Year of Sanitation

Every year the water sector meets in Stockholm at the World Water Week. WECF is part of the Water Week Programme providing key experts on low cost sustainable ecological sanitation for rural areas and with a seminar on Europe’s sanitation problems.  WECF, the pan-European network of Women’s and Environmental organizations, has taken,  together with the Global Water Partnership, the Slovakian NGO Creative, the TUHH University Hamburg and the European Water Partnership, this
 issue at heart as children in the European Union continue to fall ill from diseases linked to lack of sanitation and hygiene. 

Right to safe and affordable sanitation

The right to safe and affordable water and sanitation is one of the main missions of WECF, Women in Europe for a Common Future. WECF is a network of more than 100 organisations in 30 countries. They mobilize women to find affordable solutions to the environmental health problems in their communities and encourage women to participate in decision-making.

For more information and/or pictures, please contact: 

Margriet Samwel, Water coordinator WECF, + 49-17 17 11 4262
Sascha Gabizon, International Director WECF, + 49-1728637586
Chantal van den Bossche, Press Officer +31-6 2812 9992, chantal.vandenbossche @

Women in Europe, +31 30 2310300,,

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