Climate change will alter completely the EU's aid policy to developing countries in the future, and "water and land use will gain in importance," said Luis Riera Figueras, director at the European Commission's development department, addressing the European Parliament's intergroup on water on 24 February.
As more than 1.2 billion people still lack access to safe drinking water, including more than 40% of Africans, there is "a strong case" for more progress on the matter, he said.
This year's mid-term review of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) presents an opportunity to integrate a comprehensive water strategy into development strategies across the world, he suggested.
Riera Figueras stressed that more investment in water is necessary as it is a core element of the fight against poverty. Intergroup members agreed that access to water and sanitation is indeed a prerequisite for achieving other MDGs and should be put higher on the agenda, particularly as food security and health goals, for example, directly depend on the availability of water.
Meanwhile, Peter Gammeltoft, the head of the EU executive's water unit, stressed that a lot more funding than currently available is needed to respond to the challenge. As well as mobilising funds from various sources, "we need to address absorption capacity," he said, arguing that a number of small water projects that are not linked to any overarching strategy have resulted in the fragmentation of aid.
Communication on food security
As part of this year's mid-term review of the MDGs, the European Commission will adopt a 'spring package' on development by the end of April, including the first assessment of the EU's contribution to the MDGs.
As part of the package, the Commission will publish a communication on agriculture and food security. Riera Figueras said that the communication would address, among other issues, water, land use, and the position of small-scale farmers.
Once the communication has been published, he said, EU member states could launch a "major initiative" to enforce the guidelines on land use recently adopted by the African Union.
His comments come as so-called 'land-grabs', or the large-scale acquisitions of farmland, gain ground in Africa, Latin America and Central and South-East Asia, with private investors and governments investing in farm projects beyond their borders, either as part of a strategy to secure basic food supplies or simply for profit.