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World Soils Day: epidermis of the land, soil is as crucial to life on Earth as water

Country: Regional
Component: Water resources

Soil separates rocks from the atmosphere and constitutes the epidermis of the land. Soil is as crucial to life on Earth as water.

Soils are made up of solid, liquid and gaseous materials that organise porosity. They are assembled in horizons (successive layers) and form a continuous cover of highly variable thickness. The nature of soils varies in space depending mainly on geology, topography, climate, time and living organisms. Our knowledge of soils through morphological observations on the field and analyses helps us understand their qualities, fragility, and the pressures they are subject to. Soils are classified and named. Despite their importance, we know little about them.

However, soils should be the subject of more attention because they are decisive in water dynamics (regulation, reservoir, distribution), in pollution processes through a protective effect (filtration, buffer effect, decomposition, degradation or immobilisation of pollutants) or a source effect (when they have been contaminated), and for ecosystems (plant rooting, animal life in and on soils). They support economic activities (primarily agriculture, followed by human infrastructures), play a role in carbon sequestration (as a climate change moderator) and can be a receptacle for materials (sludge, sewage, treated waste water). Soils contribute to several Sustainable Development Goals1.

However, soils are subject to many types of pressure: sealing due to urban sprawl and infrastructure; erosion by rain, wind and certain agricultural practices; diffuse or point source pollution by contaminants; overexploitation with a drop in fertility and biodiversity of soil organisms; drying out due to drainage; waterlogging due to floods; compaction by agricultural or forestry machinery; salinisation due to irrigation and rising sea levels; acidification; desertification; etc. Soil degradation can be very rapid and is irreversible on a human scale. Indeed, it takes thousands of years to reconstitute soil (1,000 years for 1 cm in temperate zones). Soil is therefore a non-renewable resource that must be preserved.

A first step is to preserve soils with high agronomic quality for agriculture.

Due to their role in regulating the quantity and quality of surface water and groundwater, we should also consider soils in water management.

1-Source of production and income if well managed (MDG 1), support for agricultural production and fight against hunger (MDG 2), retention of dangerous elements to preserve health (MDG 3), protective role with regard to water quality, purifying power and receptacle of sanitation by-products (MDG 6), regulation of rainwater and sources of amenity in urban areas (MDG 11), fertility and agricultural production (MDG 12), climate action through carbon dioxide sequestration (MDG 13), support and habitat for terrestrial life (MDG 15)

COVID-19 surveillance in Eastern Partner countries

Country: Regional
Component: Water resources, Environmental Data

Supported by the programme EU4Environment - Water Resources and Environmental Data, four of the European Union’s Eastern Partner countries successfully developed a COVID-19 monitoring concept and performed pilot analyses in urban wastewater: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova.

During September 2022, the SarsCov-2 virus was analysed for the first time ever in wastewater samples from Yerevan, Baku, Tbilisi and Chișinău. The now proven concept for sampling, analysis and evaluation has been developed with the support of the European Union. In the framework of the EU4Environment – Water Resources and Environmental Data programme, experts from the Environment Agency Austria and Vienna University of Technology provided guidance on the elaboration of the procedures and enabled the first analysis of Covid-19 in wastewater in each of the countries. In order to obtain valid and comparable results, a minimum data set and more inflow (sewer) data for normalization are needed as a next step.

During the next months, the European experts will guide the programme’s partners in the Eastern Partner countries to go from first sampling to continuous practice and train them on evaluation and interpretation of data. In parallel, the sampling will be extended to increase the coverage of the COVID-19 monitoring. This will improve monitoring the pandemic for overall health protection in each country and even internationally.

Covid-19 surveillance in Europe

Since 2021 EU Member States are strongly encouraged to put in place a national wastewater surveillance system targeted at data collection of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants in wastewaters. This system serves as a rather simple, low-cost instrument on top of the more complex public testing. Austria was one of the pioneers in the implementation of such a system, kicked off with the Coron-A project in spring 2020. Monitoring still persists and delivers timely information about the pandemic situation.

The Environment Agency Austria in a nutshell

As Austria´s most important expert organisation for the environment and one of Europe´s leading environmental consultants we are committed to transforming the economy and society in order to ensure sustainable living conditions. Our experts provide the basis for decision making at local, regional and international level. We are committed to transparency and impartiality in our work and we engage in dialogue with politics, administration, business, science and civil society.


World Toilet Day: Improving urban wastewater treatment to tackle water pollution in Eastern Partner countries

Country: Regional
Component: Water resources

Untreated urban wastewater has been identified as one of the biggest sources of surface and groundwater pollution in the 11 River Basins located in Eastern Partner Countries.

The River Basin Management Plans developed during the European Union Water Initiative Plus project (2016-2021) identify this significant issue as in need of urgent action.  

Inadequate sanitation systems harm human health and the environment

When municipal wastewater collection and treatment systems are lacking or faulty, nutrients, pharmaceutical products, pathogens and synthetic substances can spread into rivers, lakes and groundwater, which is often used for the drinking water supply. And often, groundwater is abstracted in rural areas, where untreated domestic wells can be unhealthy for local inhabitants and their animals.

Significant investments urgently needed

In all EU Eastern Partner countries, significant efforts and high investments are urgently needed to establish proper sanitation, collection and treatment systems, and to ensure that they are properly maintained. The EU4Environment Water Resources and Environmental Data programme (2022-2024) works to attract investments in wastewater treatment in the Eastern Partner countries and make them sustainable, preparing the ground for a “zero pollution” ambition in the region.  

Kick off for EU4Environment – Water Resources and Environmental Data Regional launch online event on 9 February 2022

Kick off for EU4Environment – Water Resources and Environmental Data Regional launch online event on 9 February 2022

Country: Regional
Component: Water resources

The post-COVID-19 green recovery is at the center of a new European Union programme in the Eastern Partnership country that started with a regional kick-off meeting on 9 February 2022. EU4Environment – Water Resources and Environmental Data will contribute to longer-term environmental, climate, and socio-economic resilience. The programme aims to improve human health and wellbeing, as well as the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. The regional kick off meeting was held in an online format and will be followed by a series of national meetings with representatives of each participating country.

EU4Environment – Water Resources and Environmental Data builds upon the success of previous programmes like the European Water Initiative Plus and the Shared Environmental Information System Phase II. It will further support Eastern Partnership countries in the preservation of natural resources in line with the European Green Deal and a post-COVID-19 green recovery.

The EUWI+ project has helped countries implement their existing Agreements with the EU, or gradually adopt EU water management practices where formal agreements are not in place. Under EUWI+, around 30 million citizens (40% of the countries’ population) on over 500,000 km² (50% of the countries’ land surface) have benefited from 11 new or revised River Basin Management Plans, a planning tools that helps protect water resources and share them between the different water uses. Twenty-five organisations in the 6 countries have benefitted from 400 units of state-of-the-art equipment items for water monitoring and analysis. Six water laboratories (in 4 countries) were renovated, and more than 1000 sites were covered by surveys carried out in rivers, ground- and coastal waters.

The ENI SEIS II East project supported implementation of the principles and practices of the Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS) to strengthen the production of environmental data, indicators and assessment reports in biodiversity, water, land, waste and air. The project developed countries’ institutional capacity in environmental assessment and accounting, and as an example introduced new tools for improving the accessibility and use of air quality measurement data in the region based on the EU Air Quality Directives and the European Air Quality Index.

The European Commission and the implementing partners look forward to continuing their engagement with the Eastern Partnership countries under this new European Union support. Together they will strengthen the management of water resources and environmental data to benefit the environment and wellbeing of citizens in the Eastern Partnership region. 

The programme is part of the Team Europe Initiative on Water and Zero Pollution, which aims at moving towards a toxic-free environment for all citizens.

Latest updates (September – October 2022)

Country: Regional
Component: Water resources, Environmental Data


Water governance

On 3 October took place the 20th meeting of the National Policy Dialogue on water in Armenia. This dialogue marks an important milestone, with the recent revision of the Water Code of Armenia, which brought the country closer to the EU water legislative framework.

The following day, on 4 October, a workshop on Nature-Based Solutions and potential applications for the water sector in Armenia was organized.

Water monitoring

Water monitoring surveys took place in Armenia (groundwater), Georgia and Azerbaijan (surface water). For surface waters (rivers, lakes) biological, chemical, and hydro-morphological parameters are monitored in order to determine the ecological status of selected water bodies. The data collected will be a valuable inputs for the River Basin Management Plan of this river basin.

Water and Health

In September 2022, the SarsCov-2 virus was analysed for the first time in wastewater samples from Yerevan, Baku, Tbilisi and Chisinau. On 24 October, EU4Environment Water and Data presented the first results of COVID-19 virus monitoring in wastewater in the EaP countries at the "Grand Challenges Annual Meeting 2022" in Brussels.

Ukraine achieved the fifth reporting exercise under the Protocol on Water and Health (November 2021-April 2022). The report (English and Ukrainian) is available here.

Environmental data

Open data missions were organized in the Republic of Moldova and Azerbaijan in October. EU4Environment Water and Data supports the Republic of Moldova in the development of an Integrated Environmental Data System and Azerbaijan in the development of its Portal on environmental data.  The aim of open data is to improve the collection, exchange and use of environmental data and information by relevant institutions, as well as facilitate public access to information on environmental data.

A cross-border regional seminar on water accounting was organised on 5-7 October, with the participation of Armenian and Georgian beneficiary institutions. The seminar was conducted in the villages of Natakhtari, Dusheti Municipality of Georgia, and was combined by a training session, a discussion panel, and site visits at critical water infrastructures for drinking water supply and energy generation for Tbilisi agglomeration.

Air quality monitoring

A round table "Clean Air in peace and war time: monitoring air quality in Ukraine" was organised in Ukraine on the occasion of Clean Air Day on 7 September.

Air quality monitoring achievements and challenges in the EaP countries were presented by EU4Environment Water and Data at the 9th Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference in Nicosia, Cyrpus. A side-event allowed to showcase Georgian, Ukrainian and Armenian achievements in monitoring air quality.


On the occasion of Clean Up Day in Ukraine, people gathered in Natalka Park on the banks of the Dnipro on Saturday 17 September to raise awareness on water issues. The Ministry of Environment of Ukraine, the State Water Resources Agency of Ukraine, Obolon District State administration in Kyiv, NGO Pochayna and charitable foundations “Native Obolon” and “Via Concordia” organised this event with the support of EU4Environment Water and Data.

World Water Day: Perspectives for the Environment in Eastern Partner Countries

World Water Day: Perspectives for the Environment in Eastern Partner Countries

Country: Regional
Component: Water resources

World Water Day, held on 22 March every year since 1993, celebrates water and raises awareness of the 2 billion people living without access to safe water. Water is a key asset also in the six Eastern Partner (EaP) countries of the European Union: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus[1], Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine’s. Their water resources are experiencing increasing pressures, not least because of climate change. Industry, energy, agriculture and households, among others, all use freshwater resources. Effective water management is fundamental for economic resilience, people’s well-being and sustainable livelihoods. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted water’s significant role in ensuring health.

To support the EaP countries to address their water challenges the European Union launched in January 2022 a new programme EU4Environment - Water and Data in Eastern Partner Countries. The Programme contributes to sustainable water resources management and policy development, sound environmental statistics and open data. Following up on the comprehensive EU support provided in the scope of the European Water Initiative Plus (EUWI+) and the Shared Environmental Information System Phase II, the new programme focuses on updating and reinforcing the capacity of water management agencies and laboratories and of environmental data producers in the partner countries. 

COVID monitoring in wastewater

The management of the pandemic continues to be a real challenge worldwide and for Eastern Partner countries. A tried and approved method to monitor the incidence of COVID-19 infections in a timely manner can help to maintain an overview of the pandemic development and plan timely response measures.

Subsequent to various aid provided from the European Union since 2020, the new offer is to set up in each country the new surveillance of virus in urban wastewater that has become standard across the EU member states. This can become an important method for early monitoring of infections and subsequent increase of health protection, or targeted or a reduced local health restrictions based on virus loads. In the framework of EU4Environment – Water and Data, knowledge and experience on this specific monitoring will be transferred into a pilot exercise in the Republic of Moldova.

 The regional and national kick off meetings of the new Programme in February and March 2022 showed a very high interest of competent Government bodies and relevant stakeholders from the water use sectors, IFIs and the donor community, academia and civil society. Countries are eager to make use of EU support in policy reforms, river basin management and environmental data collection as a basis for decision-making and public engagement . Over the next few months, the programme will discuss with countries the strategic priorities to develop the work plans.

The programme in a nutshell

Within the EU4Environment – Water and Data programme, strategies for the protection and careful use of water in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus[2], Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine will be further developed and prepared for implementation in the period 2022-2024. The basis for these strategies are the Sustainable Development Goals, international agreements such as the Water Convention and the Protocol on Water and Health and the requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive.

The Programme will also support strengthening environmental information on waste, land use, agriculture, air and water quality and improve access to this data for decision-makers and citizens. Special topics refer to the economic soundness of water strategies and policies (economic instruments, water accounting) and support through new finance mobilisation for innovative and low-cost solutions. Experts from the Environment Agency Austria, the Austrian Development Agency, the International Office for Water (France), UNECE and the OECD support the partner countries on behalf of the European Commission.

The new EU4Environment - Water and Data reinforces the on-going EU4Environment- Green Economy programme in the EaP countries. It is also part of the “Team Europe Initiative on water and zero pollution”, which aims to re-energise Europe and its partners after the pandemic and to support the green recovery. The Programme supports the priorities of the EU's Eastern Neighbourhood which include access to clean water for all and a pollution-free environment.

[1] With regard to the participation of Belarus, and in line with the EU Council Conclusions of 12 October 2020, the EU support will focus on intensifying cooperation with non-state stakeholders, including notably civil society, independent media and youth.

[2] With regard to the participation of Belarus, and in line with the EU Council Conclusions of 12 October 2020, the EU support will focus on intensifying cooperation with non-state stakeholders, including notably civil society, independent media and youth.

The EU-funded “EU4Environment – Water Resources and Environmental Data” Programme, launched in 2021, aims at supporting a more sustainable use of water resources and improving the use of sound environmental data ... Read more




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