European Droughts Could Become Common

With droughts expected to worsen, the EU mulls rules to establish the "right" price for water and promote water conservation

The European Commission has kicked off an EU-wide political debate, aimed at establishing the "right" pricing on water as well as promoting water-saving habits such as efficient devices on shower heads. This comes with the prospect of most EU countries suffering from droughts by 2070.

"The major impacts of water scarcity and droughts are expected to be made worse by climate change", EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas warned on Wednesday (18 July), adding "we thus need an integrated approach on water".

Brussels is set to push EU member states to apply a "user pays" principle and introduce compulsory metering programmes -- something that they have committed to do by 2010, but so far have shown a lack of enthusiasm for.

For example, Germany and Austria still provide free-of-fees water for the agricultural sector.

"We need to put the right price on water which would reflect the level of water scarcity...and provides incentive [for users] to economize water use", Peter Gammeltoft from the Commision's environment directorate said, while warning EU capitals of legal steps if they failed to fulfil their commitments.

According to Pieter de Pous from the European Environmental Bureau, "the Commission is right to support charging the right price for water", although failed to provide sufficient answers to all challenges.

"It is ignoring whether we should continue to grow water-hungry crops in places where water is increasingly scarce. What we really need is radically different water management", Mr de Pous added, underlining the fact that farming is one of the thirstiest users.

It is responsible for 44 percent of all water abstracted in Europe.

Shift in people's minds needed

In addition, the EU's executive body said it was inevitable to promote water-efficient technology and habits such as using water-saving devices on taps, shower heads and toilets as well as an efficient irrigation system.

"We need to create a public opinion and culture similar to what we did for energy", Mr Gammeltoft said, underlining Europe is currently wasting between 20 and 40 percent of the water sources available.

According to the commission's findings, the droughts are no longer limited to southern Europe, but are fast spreading to other parts of the 27-nation bloc due to global warming as well as increasing demand for water linked to growing population and economies.

By 2070, water scarcity and droughts are expected to be "the rule rather than the exception", with Ireland, the UK, Scandinavian countries and north of Germany being the only EU states listed among those exceptions.

"All activities should be adapted to the amount of water available locally", Brussels warned, stressing the time has come to address the quantity of water at the EU level.

In the course of past 30 years, the costs of droughts to the EU economy have mounted to €100 billion, while the average annual cost quadrupled in that time.

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