By Thomas Van Gilst and Marco Beroš
Sharing knowledge and experience is hard work. It takes a lot of time and research to understand the capabilities and needs of clients and then gather the right experts to offer guidance quickly and effectively.
The global water and sanitation crisis that is hurting the lives of billions of people around the world requires an urgent increase in action, and one key solution is knowledge sharing. People have always had basic skills to find water for survival. However, the scale of the challenges and the solutions we need to find require expertise not readily available everywhere. To provide clean water and dignified sanitation services to people in remote and poorer parts of the world in sustainable, effective ways, we need to fill a significant gap in knowledge and expertise.
Global population and urbanisation are growing quickly. We consume resources faster than they are being replenished. City water authorities in many poorer countries are working with small budgets and little training. In less developed countries, there is more investment and advice needed for good water and sanitation projects than is available.
Inside and outside Europe
The European Investment Bank is unique because it works inside and outside the European Union. Inside the EU, we have raised service levels to very high standards over the past decades, developing significant experience and expertise at the same time. Our experts are well equipped to help weaker promoters mobilise the necessary expertise to prepare and implement tailored projects that best serve their communities’ needs, all in line with our procurement, environmental and social standards.
The European Investment Bank is one of the largest lenders to the water sector, with €33 billion invested in over 300 projects in the past 10 years around the world through loans, grants and technical advice. In Africa, the Bank has provided nearly €2 billion to water and wastewater treatment projects over the last decade. The projects signed in 2020 alone are expected to offer safe drinking water to 29.6 million people and improved sanitation for 15.5 million people.
Skills, knowledge, tools
For the vast majority of projects outside the European Union, a large part of our work involves defining and mobilising technical assistance or capacity building. Before we sign a finance contract with a public authority or a private company, we make sure they have the skills, knowledge, tools, equipment and other resources needed to complete a project and manage the assets far into the future.
Working in the water sector isn’t easy. There are continually problems to solve, such as treatment plant performance, supply disruptions, leak repairs, pollution events, billing and collection. Water is also expensive to move. It weighs 1 000 kilograms per cubic meter and pushing it over vast distances and elevations from source to tap requires expensive pumps that consume plenty of energy. It is easy to see how poor performance leads to high costs.