Danube Water Program Aims to Bring about Smart Policies, Strong Utilities, and Sustainable Services for All
June 20, 2013
Recent floods throughout Europe brought considerable attention to the Danube River Basin. Yet, other challenges were on the minds of water professionals who attended a recent international conference marking the launch of the Danube Water Program.
Many water utilities in the catchment area are faced with the legacy of overdesigned, under maintained infrastructure, unsupportive governance and institutions, and stringent environmental requirements driven by European directives – in a context where tariffs increases are seen as politically and socially difficult. In the wake of the EU accession and harmonization process, the countries in the Danube region are undergoing a process of rapid modernization, often driven by the need to transpose European directives into national legislation. Yet, despite significant infrastructure investments in the water supply and sanitation sector, technical, operational and managerial skills vary broadly among the water utilities and institutions on the Danube; tariffs and cost recovery levels remain much below international standards; and sector structure and regulatory capacities vary strikingly.
In response to these variations, the World Bank has launched a water supply and sanitation sector capacity building program for eleven countries in the Danube region: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, FYR Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, and Ukraine. With the overall aim of improving the efficiency and quality of water supply and wastewater service delivery in the region, the Danube Water Program provides policy and regulatory support to national level authorities and helps increase the capacity of water supply and wastewater utilities throughout the participating countries. The program is being jointly implemented by the World Bank and the International Association of Water Supply Companies in the Danube River Catchment Area (IAWD), and is currently financed through a EUR 4.5 million trust-fund from the Government of Austria.
The design of the program allows the Bank to use its global knowledge and expertise in policy making and regulatory reforms in the sector to leverage IAWD’s deep experience in implementing capacity building activities in the target countries
An international event, themed Smart Policies, Strong Utilities, Sustainable Services, marked the formal launch of the Danube Water Program. The event, held in Vienna on May 22-24, brought together more than 100 participants from dozens of key organizations in the water supply and wastewater sector from around the region, including representatives from line ministries, regulators, utilities and national water associations.
Discussions during the event addressed some of the key challenges facing the water supply and wastewater sector in the region, and in particular focused on (i) sector governance and structure; (ii) regulation, tariffs, and subsidies; (iii) benchmarking; (iv) asset management and investment planning; and (v) service efficiency improvement. In each of these areas, participants had a chance to exchange on regional and international best practices and provide feedback on their needs and priorities.
Based on these discussions, the World Bank and its partners will begin delivering specific policy support and capacity building activities of the Danube Water Program which can adequately address the issues in the sector and ensure that these challenges are met.
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