The European Investment Bank (EIB) announces a further long-term loan of EUR 150 million(1) (BEF 6 billion), 75 million of which will be made immediately available, to Aquafin, the company responsible for managing wastewater treatment facilities in Flanders.

The finance contract was signed on 7 March 2000 at the EIB's head office in Luxembourg by Mr Ivo Van Vaerenbergh, Chairman of Aquafin, Mr Jacques De Greef, Deputy Managing Director of Aquafin and Mr Rudolf de Korte, EIB Vice-President.

The conclusion of this fourth loan, arranged in collaboration with Crédit Communal de Belgique, brings to EUR 470 million (BEF 19 billion) aggregate EIB lending since 1994 for the programme initiated and carried out by Aquafin.

This large-scale investment project encompasses construction and modernisation of mains sewers, pumping stations and sewage treatment facilities throughout the Region of Flanders. Of considerable public interest, it will ultimately serve a population of 6 million. Aquafin, established in 1990 at the initiative of the Belgian Government, currently manages 167 sewage treatment works and some 3 140 km of mains sewers. After 9 years of activity, 936 projects have been implemented on behalf of the Flemish Community, involving capital investment of EUR 932 million (BEF 37.6 billion), actual spending on which to date runs to EUR 220 million (BEF 8.9 billion). Aquafin is financing the balance of EUR 712 million (BEF 28.7 billion), primarily through long-term credit. Today, more than 45% of the Region's wastewater is treated before disposal, compared to 33% before Aquafin was set up.

Furthermore, this investment will have a positive effect on water quality in the North Sea. In keeping with the international campaign spearheaded by the 1985 "Convention on the North Sea" (aimed at reducing the level of marine pollution), it will help to safeguard the common heritage of several EU countries.

This project typifies EIB support for environmental protection. Over the past five years, the Bank has committed EUR 31.5 billion (more than BEF 1 270 billion) for this purpose, the bulk going to the water management (construction of sewerage and sewage treatment systems) and solid-waste processing sectors. Loans have also been extended for improving the quality of life in urban areas and introducing less pollutant means of production in the energy, chemicals, petrochemicals and automotive industries.

(1) EUR 1 = FRF 6.55957; GBP 0.6217.