The European Investment Bank (EIB) announces a further loan of EUR 75 million to Aquafin, the company responsible for managing wastewater treatment facilities in Flanders. This operation is being mounted under a EUR 250 million finance agreement concluded in September 2002, when an initial tranche of EUR 100 million was made available to Aquafin.

The new loan contract was signed on 17 September at the EIB's headquarters in Luxembourg by Mr Ivo Van Vaerenbergh, Chairman of Aquafin, Mr Luc Bossyns, Managing Director of Aquafin, and Ms Isabel Martín Castellá, Vice-President of the EIB.

This ninth loan, put together in partnership with Dexia Belgium, brings total EIB lending since 1994 for Aquafin's water management programme to EUR 722 million.

This large-scale investment project encompasses the construction and upgrading of mains sewers, pumping stations and wastewater treatment facilities throughout the Region of Flanders. Of considerable public interest, it will ultimately serve a population of 5.8 million. Aquafin, established in 1990 at the initiative of the Government of the Flemish Region, currently manages 200 wastewater treatment plants and some 3 670 km of mains sewers. After 12 years of activity, 1 330 projects worth a total of EUR 1 480 million have been implemented on behalf of the Flemish Region. On 31 December 2002, the overall investment portfolio (including both current and planned projects) amounted to EUR 2 800 million. Today, more than 60% of the Region's wastewater is treated in state-of-the-art facilities, compared to 30% before Aquafin was set up.

The investment will have a positive effect on the water quality of the Escaut and Meuse rivers, and ultimately 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 a number of EU countries and assist the Region is meeting its obligations under EU legislation (Directive 91/271/EEC on urban wastewater treatment).

This operation typifies EIB support for environmental protection in the Union. Over the past five years, the Bank has committed a total of EUR 32.5 billion in this sector.