Clean drinking water and effective sewage systems are taken for granted in Switzerland. But for many people in South-Eastern Europe the situation looks different. Existing installations are antiquated and more than half of the water seeps into the ground because of leaking pipelines. In rural areas water often comes from polluted wells and many people become sick because of poor water quality. For over 20 years now Switzerland has been working to improve this situation – with considerable success, as examples from Moldova and Albania show. This was the topic of the Annual Conference on Cooperation with Eastern Europe and the CIS that was held in Neuchatel on 25 November and jointly organised by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO.
In her opening speech, Mrs Calmy-Rey stressed that sustainable development and poverty reduction are closely intertwined and must mutually reinforce one another. Although the quality of life in many Eastern European countries has increased considerably, noted Calmy-Rey, “far too many people are still living in poverty and are severely affected by environmental pollution.” Switzerland has a vital interest in helping these people: “That’s why it will continue to work for a sustainable development that combats poverty and protects natural resources at the same time.”
Next, films were shown presenting the SDC’s and SECO’s water programmes in Albania and Moldova, which were then discussed by the participants. In Albania, SECO has been improving the water supply and wastewater treatment systems in urban areas since 2001. In addition to targeted investments to rebuild the infrastructure, local utility companies benefit from expertise to manage cost-covering operations. For the 160,000 inhabitants of Pogradec und Shkodra access to clean drinking water has been sustainably improved. Another project in the city of Lezha, with a population of 40,000, was launched earlier this year.
Since 2001, Switzerland has built with the active participation of the local population 27 drinking water systems in rural areas of Moldova, and thus made a significant contribution to improving the health of some 37,000 villagers. Experience has shown that about 40% of rural settlements can be supplied with clean drinking water in this way. In addition, in seven villages wastewater treatment facilities and in twelve schools dry toilets for 5,000 students and teachers have been installed.
In addition to representatives of SECO and the SDC, external experts and public sector professionals from both countries participated in the discussion. A representative of the town of Pully (VD) and the mayor of Cernier (NE) spoke about their experience at the municipal level. The discussions focused on the experience of Switzerland and on the price and value of clean drinking water. Also discussed was the transfer of responsibility for water and wastewater treatment from the central government to municipalities, as well as the question of how the expansion and maintenance of the water infrastructure can be funded over the long term.
Queries can be addressed to:
FDFA: Stefan von Below, +41 (0)79 723 24 37
SECO: Nicole Müller, +41 (0)31 324 09 10
Address for enquiries:
Tel.: +41 58 462 31 53
Fax: +41 58 464 90 47