India is one of the EU’s strategic partners. Cooperation between the world’s two largest democracies covers many areas, from security, trade and investment to research and innovation and sectorial cooperation. The India-EU Water Partnership is a great example of these close ties. Minister for Water Resources Uma Bharti and I recently signed the Memorandum of Understanding on water cooperation at the World Sustainable Development Summit in New Delhi. Water is an essential element of life — now we can pool our expertise to help manage its use.
Last year, at the United Nations, world leaders adopted clean water and sanitation as the sixth of 17 sustainable development goals for 2030. As the number of people on our planet grows, so does the demand for water. Drinking water, irrigation and sanitation are pre-conditions for life and livelihood. Water scarcity also exacerbates conflicts between neighbours, states and countries. Even business leaders warn that water-associated risks are one of the greatest global dangers to the world economy — this is confirmed by the 2016 United Nations World Water Development Report Water and Jobs, according to which three out of four jobs worldwide are water-dependent. And water is central to discussions on climate change. With both the EU and India having ratified the Paris Agreement, we have reached the threshold for the entry into force of the first ever universally binding climate change agreement. The timing for our memorandum could not be better.
India, with 2.45 per cent of the world’s land area, but 17.5 per cent of its population, has been going deeper into the ground for water to sustain its people; the water and sanitation requirements of its growing population are largely unmet. Tackling water challenges is a real priority to reach our economic and environmental goals.
In Europe, we have made progress in managing our waters. We want to share the insights we have gained to support the rejuvenation of the Ganga, an iconic river in India and one of the great rivers of the world, as well as India’s other river basins. In Europe, we have a well-planned framework of laws and systems based on the Water Framework Directive adopted in 2000 and the management of river basins, many of them cross-boundary in nature, by interstate river basin authorities. I am convinced that this model could be very beneficial for India to overcome some of the many water challenges in a holistic and integrated way. And to best integrate the work of researchers and companies, a European Innovation Partnership on Water both facilitates innovations and supports the further development of the water sector in Europe.
The Memorandum of Understanding with the Indian government gives us the opportunity to exchange experiences on water law and governance, promote research and innovation and encourage sustainable commercial involvement.
Commercial operators will soon see those opportunities. Thanks to our water policy, a vibrant water sector has grown in the EU with businesses providing water supply systems and improving urban wastewater treatment. Our new initiatives to move towards a more circular economy, where nothing is wasted and where materials are recycled and reused as long as possible, will also boost water reuse and the technology needed for it. There are currently more than 9,000 SMEs in the European water sector. They employ almost 500,000 people out of a total working population of 300 million. In India, this corresponds to several million jobs in the water sector alone.
Another promising field is water research and innovation. EU-India cooperation in this area has been fruitful, with the application of natural water treatment systems as well as new technologies for the treatment of wastewater throwing up several low-cost options. In addition to its participation in the EU Research Programme Horizon 2020, India is in the process of negotiating its participation in the EU Joint Programming Initiative “Water challenges for a changing world”. Once finalised, it will strengthen research and innovation cooperation between India, the EU and EU member states in the field of water.
We have had considerable experience over the last decade of working together in the water sector. In Rajasthan alone, the recently concluded EU-India State Partnership (Rs. 500 crores) supported the development of a policy for Integrated Water Resources Management and its application to 3,200 villages of 82 blocks in 11 districts. Going forward, the wide-ranging India-EU Water Partnership will build on this and other experiences to achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and provide succour to tens of millions of people who face the struggle of obtaining clean and sufficient water for their families and their crops every day of their lives.