08.06.2017 - Natural Sciences Sector

'Wastewater, The Untapped Resource' presented at the European Parliament

Stefan Uhlenbrook (WWAP, UNESCO), Flavia Schlegel (UNESCO), Esther de Lange (MEP Water Group)

On June 6, the WWDR 2017 has been presented at the European Parliament during a public session, co-organized by the MEP Water Group and the WWAP.

Under the auspices of the EU Maltese presidency, the MEP Water Group in cooperation with the World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP) of UNESCO hosted a successful public session on the 2017 United Nations World Water Development Report “Wastewater: The Untapped Resource'' on the 6th of June at the European Parliament. 

Dowload the agenda

The session chaired by Esther De Lange, MEP Water Group Chair, was opened by the following speakers:

  • Giovanni Pugliese, Italian Ambassador at the European permanent Representation
  • Flavia Schlegel, Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, UNESCO
  • Edward Vernon, Coordinator, Environment Unit within Malta’s Permanent Representation to the European Union
  • Guy Ryder, Chair UN-Water and Director General ILO (via video message)

With the United Nations World Water Development Report (WWDR) as a departure point, the panel highlighted the importance of wastewater as a valuable resource instead of a costly problem. Guy Ryder, in particular, pointed out that “Wastewater is a valuable resource in a world where water is finite and demand is growing and everyone can play a part to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal target to halve the proportion of untreated wastewater and increase safe water reuse by 2030.” He also disclosed the topics of the upcoming UN-Water World Water Development Reports: 2018 on “Nature-Based Solutions for Water”, 2019 on “No One Left Behind” (touching upon issues related to migration, human rights, gender equality, traditional knowledge, among others in relation with water resources management) and 2020 on “Climate Change”.  

The session continued with Stefan Uhlenbrook, Coordinator and Director, World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP) of UNESCO, who explained more in detail the key messages of the report. A large proportion of wastewater is still released into the environment without being either collected or treated. This is particularly true in low-income countries, some of which only treat an average of 8% of domestic and industrial wastewater, compared to about 70% in high-income countries. The collection, treatment and safe use of wastewater are at the very foundation of a circular economy, balancing economic development with the sustainable use of resources.

A panel discussion followed, bringing together the perspectives from the water policy side, industry, the utilities and civil society. The first panellist, Katrine Rafn from the Danish Government explained that in Denmark treated wastewater is better than what guidelines require and operators are receiving economic incentives when this happens. 'Legal barriers are one of the obstacles' underlined Boris Lesjean, Veolia Germany, who reminded the audience that biogas from industrial sewage and biogas from agriculture have the same quality, but the first does not receive any incentives leaving a great energy potential locked. In this regard, Marjoleine Weemaes from Aquafin, a Belgian utility, also, emphasized that the regulatory framework should stimulate markets for recovered products. Awareness of citizens and involvement of civil society parties are also key issues that need to be taken into account, explained Danka Thalmeinerova from GWP, who brings forward the cleavages existing throughout the EU when it comes to stakeholder involvement.

Before the closure, all speakers underlined how important is to give the right value to water. “Cheap water is very expensive” closed Stefan Uhlenbrook. The session concluded with a short movie produced by WWAP UNESCO, “An (In)finite World', and the official bestowment of a symbolic art piece (created by artist Anna Kubelik)to Esther De Lange from Flavia Schlegel.

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