Worldwide, 3.5 billion people - or 40% of the population - live without safe toilets, shorthand for safely managed sanitation system. A safely managed sanitation system ensures human waste is properly contained, transported, and treated, safeguarding human health and the environment.
The willingness of the Eastern Partnership countries to improve their environment and the well-being of their populations is reflected in their bilateral agreements with the European Union, in which they commit themselves, to varying degrees depending on the country, to align with EU water and wastewater legislation. They have also all signed the Protocol on Water and Health under the United Nations Water Convention, and three of them (Azerbaijan, Moldova, and Ukraine) have ratified it, becoming parties to it, which means that they are obliged to set targets for water supply and sanitation and to monitor progress.
The EU supports the Eastern Partnership countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) in their efforts to reduce the pollution of their rivers, lakes and groundwater.
Untreated wastewater is one of the biggest sources of water pollution in the Eastern Partner countries
Inadequately collected and treated domestic wastewater discharged into rivers and lakes is a major source of surface water pollution and, in some cases, groundwater contamination. Agricultural runoff (e.g., pesticides, fertilizers) and industrial wastewater (e.g., mining, chemical, and processing industries) can also be important sources of pollution in certain regions.
In addition to damaging the health of populations and aquatic ecosystems, this pollution results in economic damage, e.g. to fisheries, drinking water supplies, agriculture, or recreation and tourism.
In the 8 river basins with existing EU-backed management plans, 72% of expenses are devoted to sanitation for human and ecosystem health. The amount of investment in sanitation in these river basin management plans represents an average of EUR 110 per inhabitant. This trend is expected to continue in the three basins where a plan is under development.
Among the many measures to be implemented, improving sanitation is one of the most effective because its positive environmental and health effects are easier and quicker to measure. Typically, countries begin to invest significantly in water supply, but sanitation and pollution control remain critical issues. This is the case in most of the Eastern Partnership countries.
Developing wastewater monitoring to inform future public health measures
Wastewater surveillance aided in detecting past pandemics like polio. During the COVID-19 pandemic, health agencies in the EU utilized this tool as an early and low-cost source of information to identify virus presence and gauge its intensity. To deal with future public health challenges, wastewater-based epidemiological monitoring will provide a valuable source of information for public health decision-makers to support health-related measures.
The EU4Environment Water and Data programme promotes monitoring COVID-19 in wastewater in the EaP countries. In 2022, the SarsCov-2 virus was analysed for the first time ever in wastewater samples from Yerevan, Baku, Tbilisi and Chișinău with the help of the programme. Austrian experts also provided guidance on the elaboration of the procedures, evaluation and interpretation of data. Non-infective RNA (Ribonucleic acid, a molecule that is present in the majority of living organisms and viruses) fragments of SARS-CoV-2 are also present in the faeces of individuals infected with the virus regardless of their health status (symptomatic, asymptomatic, pre-symptomatic, convalescent). When combined with clinical testing, hospitalisation rates and epidemiological data, wastewater surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 can track and identify whether the virus is present at an early stage, and determine its geographic coverage and intensity.
UN-Water 2023 synthesis report on SDG 6 on water and sanitation; www.unwater.org/publications/sdg-6-synthesis-report-2023
Our articles on the same topic: