UNUnited Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Press Release

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EASTERN EUROPEAN COUNTRIES MEET IN MINSK TO EXCHANGE EXPERIENCE ON COMMON CHALLENGES AND SOLUTIONS ON WATER AND HEALTH ISSUES

Minsk, 6 April 2011 --

Facilitating exchange of countries’ experiences on the regulatory, institutional and technical aspects connected with the implementation of the Protocol on Water and Health to the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes is the key objective of the workshop organized on 5 and 6 April 2011 in Minsk by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe (WHO/Europe), in cooperation with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of Belarus, with the support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 

The workshop gathered representatives of ministries of environment, health, housing and utilities, of national health and hygiene institutes, water authorities and water committees, as well as NGOs from Belarus, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. It was the first event in which such a broad community came together in a joint effort to share experience and discuss challenges related to the Protocol’s implementation.

Vitaly Kulik, First Deputy Minister of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Belarus, who opened the workshop, underlined that “almost every human activity is related to water and human health and life expectancy depend directly on the access to water resources and their safety. In Europe the need for clean water is continuously increasing, while water resources are depleting. The lack of sanitation, unsafe methods of chemical disposal and overuse of fertilizers undoubtedly lead to the degradation of water resources, affect human health and generate serious economic problems”.

The First Deputy Chief State Health Inspector, Mr. Yury Fiodorov also highlighted that “the supply of good water quality to the population is among the most determinant factors of public health protection. Our joint efforts should be primarily focused on ensuring access of all communities to a safe drinking water, both from the epidemiological and chemical point of view. These activities should be implemented in the framework of the main international obligations and standards”.

Access to improved water supply and hygiene has in general increased across the pan-European region, resulting in an 80 per cent decrease in diarrhoeal disease in young children from 1995 to 2005. However, more than 50 per cent of the rural population in the eastern part of the region still lives in homes that are not connected to a drinking-water supply, and access to water in some countries is even regressing. The Protocol on Water and Health is the first international legal agreement adopted to attain access to safe drinking water and provision of sanitation for everyone. Jointly serviced by UNECE and WHO/Europe, the Protocol was adopted in 1999 and entered into force in 2005. To date it has 24 Parties.

All four countries taking part in the workshop are Parties to the Protocol. They are at different stages in its implementation and have different levels of experience as demonstrated by the first reporting cycle conducted under the Protocol in 2009/2010. Institutional arrangements and national legislation differ from country to country. They share however similar legal, environmental and social background and common challenges. These relate, for instance to increasing the access to safe water and sanitation in rural areas, maintaining water supply and sanitation infrastructures whose decay threatens health, limited financial means for water supply and sanitation sectors, and to the need to strengthen their surveillance systems. This makes the exchange of experience among them particularly relevant.

The workshop focused on the implementation of article 6 of the Protocol, which requires Parties to establish national and/or local targets and target dates in different areas to achieve or maintain a high level of protection of human health and well-being and for the sustainable management of water resources. Despite the remarkable progress achieved, there are still several challenges to be addressed, in particular related to difficulties with cross-sectoral cooperation and coordination of activities among different authorities responsible for management of water resources, water supply, sanitation and health; as well as prioritization of activities, and involvement of the public in the implementation of the Protocol.

For more information, please visit the web sites of UNECE and WHO/Europe:

Contacts:

Ms. Francesca Bernardini
Co-Secretary of the Protocol on Water and Health
UNECE
Tel.: +41 (0)22 917 24 63
E-mail: francesca.bernardini@unece.org

Mr Roger Aertgeerts
Co-Secretary of the Protocol on Water and Health
WHO Regional Office for Europe
European Centre for Environment and Health, Rome Office
Tel.: +39 06 4877 528
E-mail: watsan@ecr.euro.who.int

Ref: ECE/ENV/11/P12