Clean water is a necessity for health. Investments in drinking water systems, sewerage and wastewater treatment have been priority areas for the Structural Funds: they received EUR 22.10 billion for the 2007-2013 period, over 6% of total Cohesion Policy funds allocations.

Understanding the policy context

The EU has a comprehensive acquis in the water sector, whose effective implementation depends on both investments as well as good management.

  • Under the Water Framework Directive, Member States develop management plans for their river basin districts; the Directive also calls for cost recovery for water services: these two elements form the ex ante conditionality for the investment priority.
  • The 1998 Drinking Water Directive sets quality standards for drinking water quality at the tap, as well as a general obligation for drinking water to be wholesome and clean. It requires regular monitoring of drinking water quality.
  • The 1991 Urban Waste Water Directive sets requirements for wastewater treatment from urban areas and certain industrial sectors.
  • The 2006 Bathing Water Directive sets standards for recreational bathing water quality and requirements for its monitoring and classification.

Developing Operational Programmes

River basin management plans provide a starting point for Operational Programmes in this sector. Major investments in the water sector will have health benefits. Paying attention to health can strengthen the effectiveness of OP investments. For example, the needs of vulnerable and marginalised groups may be a key for health gains.

There are a number of ways in which Structural Funds investment in the water sector can affect public health. These include:

  • Upgrade and extension of water supply systems
  • Raising the share of the population connected to wastewater treatment, particularly to systems implementing tertiary treatment
  • Improvement and maintenance of sanitation (sewer) systems
  • Reduction and control of diffuse water pollution (mainly in rural areas)
  • Reduction and control of point source pollution (mainly in urban areas)
  • Enhancement and interoperability of reporting systems on water pollution, especially for recreational and bathing water

The table below provides examples where links between water and health have been recognised by Member States and regions in the 2007-2013 programmes.



Where to find it

In Andalucía, the importance of water and wastewater management for public health and overall well-being is recognised in regional planning documents.  

Andalucía ERDF OP 2007-2013, Priority axis 3, p. 142 ff., p. 148 ff.

Document in Spanish

Regional authorities in Border, Midland and Western (Ireland) have identified the protection of vulnerable water sources from point and diffuse sources of pollution (particularly in rural areas) as a potential contributor to public health improvements.

BMW ERDF OP 2007-2013, Priority Axis

2, Environment and Risk Prevention, p. 56.

In Slovenia, indicators measure water and health: “population connected to new drinking water supply systems”; “decrease of population potentially exposed to chemical or microbiological pollution of fresh water”; and “decrease of population to inadequate fresh water” are among the indicators used.

Slovenia environmental and transport infrastructure development OP 2007-2013, section 3.2.5. on environment protection – water sector, p. 108.


Developing Projects

The causal pathway for water shows that well-designed and efficient water management and water treatment systems are fundamental contributors to good overall public health. Below we have identified a few good practice examples of projects that demonstrate the positive impacts of water-related investments on health gains.

The upgrade of the water and sewage systems in Białystok (pop. 295,000, Podlaskie region, Poland) will have a total estimated cost of EUR 42.16m and will receive EUR 28.37m from the Cohesion Fund. The project addresses various problems detected in the existing water supply and sewage system, namely the lack of water supply and sanitary networks in some parts of the city and the poor condition of the existing sewage system, which often results in breakdowns, sewage seepage and water infiltration to the canals. Further challenges include the poor condition and insufficient capacity of combined sewer pipelines, water supply disruptions and secondary contamination of drinking water in the pipeline network.

The project is expected to enable a further 5,400 inhabitants of the city to use the city’s sewage system and link up an additional 1,450 people to the drinking-water supply system. This would bring the city’s sewage network coverage rate from 96.3% to 98.1%, and the water supply system coverage rate from 99.1% to 99.5%. Improved quality of life and public health is likely to follow.

The reconstruction of drinking water and wastewater networks in Narva city, Estonia, with a total cost of EUR 44.36m, with 28.58m from the Cohesion Fund. The project encompasses investments in drinking water treatment and distribution, as well as wastewater collection. As to water supply, the project consists of works for the reconstruction of the surface water intake, the replacement of some 26 km water distribution pipelines, and the reconstruction of a drinking water treatment plant and water reservoirs. As regards wastewater collection, the project involves the reconstruction of about 27 km of sewer pipelines.

Some 65,000 inhabitants are expected to benefit directly from the project in the form of drinking water of higher quality. Most importantly, safe drinking water will contribute to the reduction of health risks for the population, and wastewater disposal will improve the hygienic conditions and the quality of the environment. It is important to note the preventative approach adopted by the project: a drinking water pre-treatment unit will be reconstructed and it will raise water quality before the main treatment process.