Majority of Europeans are worried about quantity and quality of water

Almost two out of three of Europeans consider that the quality of water in their country is a serious problem, according to a special Eurobarometer survey on Europeans' opinion on water issues published by the European Commission. The report also shows that Europeans see the quantity of available water as an equally serious problem. More than a third of Europeans feel that over the last five years the quality of rivers, lakes and coastal waters has deteriorated. Industry and agriculture are seen as having the biggest impact on the quality and quantity of water in their country and an overwhelming majority of Europeans think climate change will have an impact on water resources.

Some 68% of Europeans think the quality of water in their country is a serious problem. The most worried are the Greeks where 90% of people are concerned about water and the least alarmed are the Austrians (26%).Concern about the quantity of water is greatest in Cyprus where 97% of Cypriots feel water quantity is a serious problem compared to 63% of Europeans on average. Least concerned are the Finns with 23%.

More Europeans (37%) feel the quality of water in their country has deteriorated over the last 5 years against 30% who think it has stayed the same and 27% who say it has improved. Three out of four Cypriots believe the quality of water deteriorated compared to 16% in Austria and 48% of Danes. Only 17% of Greeks think water quality is the same as before while 48% of Dutch and only 5% of Cypriots say it has improved.

Climate change one of main threats to water

Chemical pollution (75%) and climate (50%) are perceived by Europeans as the main threats to water resources in their country. As many as 85% think climate change would have some impact on water resources in Europe. Water shortages are seen as a great threat to water resources in southern European Member States (73% in Cyprus). Flooding is seen as a greater threat in Member States in northern Europe (75% in the United Kingdom).

Europeans are almost evenly divided on their views to what impact climate change will have on water resources. Some 23% feel it will result in changed ecosystems, 22% in rising sea levels, 21% in more floods, and 20% in water shortages and droughts, the four main expected impacts of climate change in the EU. Czechs are the most numerous (37%) in thinking climate change will result in more floods while 44% of Dutch think rising sea levels is the most important impact, 74% of Cypriots believe it is the scarcity of water and 44% of Finns believe it will change the face of eco-systems.

Some 90% of Europeans think industry and agriculture have an impact on water quality and quantity. Eight out of ten Europeans judge that water consumption of individual households and the waste water they produce also have an impact. Some 95% of Portuguese believe so while only 60% of Swedes do.

Europeans take action

A large number of Europeans say they are taking steps to reduce water-related problems. Some 84% of them have reduced their water consumption, with 97% of Cypriots saying they have done so over the past 2 years while 56% of Romanians have. The use of environmentally-friendly household chemicals is another way Europeans are reducing their household's impact of water. With 78%, Austrians are the most likely to use such chemicals while only 33% of Romanians are.

The Water Framework Directive requires Member States to prepare River Basin Management Plans for all river basin districts by the end of 2009. Consultations open to the public for 6 months must be carried out on draft plans, to be available at least 12 months prior to this date. The process is currently on-going in most Member States, but relatively few European citizens polled have taken part despite widespread interest.

On 2-3 April a conference is taking place in Brussels focusing on the involvement of interested parties in water management. Debates will cover strategic water management issues and what is expected of River Basin Management Plans. On 1 April the Commission will publish a White Paper which outlines what the EU needs to do to adapt to climate change.

Internationally, the European Union and its Member States collectively provide about €1.4 billion annually to water and sanitation projects in developing countries. Between 2004 and 2007 the European Commission also provided €1.6 billion to water projects. African, Caribbean and Pacific States account for 61% of assistance in the field of water and sanitation, Mediterranean countries 26% and Asia 13%.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "Without enough good quality water our economies and societies can neither thrive nor survive. Europeans realise the seriousness of the issue and they understand that action is needed to maintain clean and sufficient water resources for the survival of our society. Member States must swiftly take steps to fully implement all EU legislation on water."