It appears that the government of Slovakia is going to submit a law, in spite of considerable opposition, that will allow the export of water from Slovakia. Dr. Danka Thalmeinerova, GWP’s Senior Knowledge Management Officer, who is from Slovakia, explains the situation.
To mark World Environment Day 2014 (June 5), Dr. Mikulas Huba, a member of the Slovak National Parliament, organized a seminar titled, “Europe and Slovakia through an Environmental Lens” which took place in the Parliament building. Representatives from municipalities, central government, non-governmental organizations, and the general public discussed the “Europe for Citizens” funding programme 2014-2020. Although the seminar was about new European Union (EU) funding schemes for the environment and other priority investments in Slovakia, the most discussed issue was water.
Slovakia is a small country rich with water: natural springs, diverse water-dependent ecosystems, abundant groundwater resources, and with few problems in allocating water to users. Such riches are tempting the government to allow this ‘blue gold’ to be exported to other countries just as oil-rich countries export their ‘black gold.’
But should this be allowed? Dr. Elena Fatulova, Chair of GWP Slovakia, reminded seminar participants that there was a public campaign at the end of 2013, supported by more than 8,500 signatures, urging the Ministry of Environment not to sell Slovakia’s water resources – a resource which the constitution calls a ‘National Heritage.’ The Ministry of Environment insisted that the revision of the Slovak Water Law must include water exports in order to harmonize it with EU rules on internal markets (e.g., the free movement of capital, goods, services, and labour).
However, Dr. Fatulova pointed out that in March 2014 the European Commission published Communication from the Commission on the European Citizens’ Initiative “Water and sanitation are a human right! Water is a public good, not a commodity!” [COM(2014) 177] which declares that “water distribution and supply and wastewater services are expressly excluded from the application of the cross-border freedom to provide services.” Hence there is no obligation to permit the export of water abroad. Ironically, based on this Communication, Slovak authorities could actually do the opposite of what they are planning: they can prohibit water exports without having to defend it against EU internal market rules. In a further irony, virtually all NGOs and professional organizations support the government in wanting to amend some legal provisions in the current Slovak water legislation, but the clause on water exports might end sinking the entire piece of legislation.
Some people have argued that Slovakia should export its water the way others export their oil (even with the knowledge that oil resources are also finite). In addition, there are water-scarce countries that use water to irrigate fields to produce food that is sent abroad (called “virtual water” exports). Nevertheless, the counter arguments are compelling:
- There is a lack of data on how much disposable volumes of groundwater there are in Slovakia and how long they will last. The data is not sufficient to estimate current and future water consumption of citizens, economic sectors, and ecosystems. Such an assessment is required by the EU Water Framework Directive and was supposed to be completed by the end of 2013.
- There is evidence that groundwater availability is decreasing and is more difficult to extract.
- There is also evidence that groundwater quality is deteriorating. Only recently, some water resources were excluded from the public water supply because of poor quality (in other words, it’s polluted).
GWP Slovakia, like other GWP Country Water Partnerships, provides a neutral platform for a multi-stakeholder partnership of government, civil society, and the private sector to address water issues. It is a difficult space to occupy especially when there are conflicting views within the partnership. While GWP Slovakia has not taken a formal position on this issue, it is important to speak up for the resource itself, that is, for water resources to have its voice heard at the table. What do you think?