Thursday, April 11, 2013

Mobilizing political will and commitment to address water issues in Belarus

"Joint actions for clean water" was the title of the Water Management Policy Forum that was organized on 27 March 2013 in Minsk, Belarus. After the Environmental and Technological forums, it  was the third  bilingual event organized by the international technical assistance project PRESTO (Project on Reduction of the Eutrophication of the Baltic Sea Today) lead by UBC Commission on Environment. PRESTO project develops joint actions between the EU and Belarus to combat transnational pollution risk and eutrophication of the Baltic Sea. The project has been officially registered in Belarus in May 2012 and supports the goals of both the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region and the National strategy for sustainable development and Water strategy of the Republic of Belarus for the period to 2020. Project supports Belarusian cities in their attempt to reach the HELCOM recommendation in nutrient removal from their wastewaters.

"It is impossible to solve the Baltic Sea’s challenges without the holistic approach to its entire basin. EU cannot achieve a healthy status of the Baltic Sea alone and thus cooperation with Russia and Belarus are of great importance" said Mikhail Durkin from Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, HELCOM.
Water Management Forum participants. Photo by Tuuli Ojala, John Nurminen Foundation
More than 100 invited guests from Belarus and Baltic Sea Region including representatives of Ministries, research experts and NGO’s attended the Forum. Intention of the Policy Forum in Minsk was to accelerate cooperation, investments and funding possibilities between EU member states and Belarus by drawing together different experts across the water management sector. The Forum provided a platform for policy dialogue and promoted best practices in sustainable management of water resources.

Sustainable water management is essential for our future and requires international cooperation. Year 2013 is officially recognized by UN General Assembly as International Year of Water Cooperation. We hope to intensify the cooperation in the Baltic Sea region to increase cost effectiveness of our common actions towards better water management and better state of environment” stated Björn Grönholm from UBC (Union of the Baltic Cities) Commission on Environment which is responsible for overall management of the project.

Laura Saijonmaa from the Ministry of Environment of Finland spoke at the Forum and highlighted the importance of communication across the borders and common goals in the framework of HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP). “It has been calculated that in a long term, benefits of BSAP implementation will significantly exceed the costs thus more action from all stakeholders in the region is needed. New innovative approaches, capacity building and alignment of funding lies in the core of the future success” said Ms. Saijonmaa.

According to Sergei Zavyalov from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Belarus “Much has been done recently in the field of water resources management in Belarus but much more is ahead. We are actively working on implementation of objectives of the Water Strategy for the period up to 2020 which foresees among others harmonization of EU and Belarus water legislation, revision of Water Code of the Republic of Belarus and increased public participation in decision-making”. Belarus has signed two transnational agreements regarding river basin management: trilateral agreement Belarus-Lithuania-Russia and bilateral intergovernmental agreement with the Russian Federation.  

In the afternoon session the possibilities of investments in water sector in Belarus and available financing instruments in the Baltic Sea Region were presented to all participants. Invited speakers shared their experiences on public-private partnerships and presented examples of successful investments in Belarus.

Panel discussion lead by prof. Dr-Ing Matthias Barjenbruch from Technical University of Berlin.
Photo by Tuuli Ojala, John Nurminen Foundation

The Forum concluded with the panel discussion where not only successful stories but also challenges in water sector were discussed. It became clear that overcoming these challenges requires sustained commitment, cooperation and investment of all stakeholders. Involvement and active communication is crucial for developing and implementing new opportunities and solutions for more sustainable water management policies and practices in future.

For further information please contact:
Pekka Salminen
Project Manager
Union of the Baltic Cities Commission on Environment Secretariat
Phone: +358 44 9075999

Check the Forum newsflash from the local media coverage.

Text by: Agnieszka Ilola, UBC EnvCom, Project Officer, PRESTO Project

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