The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal for Water (SDG 6) sets major objectives regarding access to safely and adequately managed services, water quality, water efficiency, integrated water management, and the protection and restoration of water-related ecosystems. The SDGs also called on the water and sanitation community to expand supporting instruments of cooperation and capacity-building and increment local communities’ participation. Although important steps were taken at the international level in increasing access to quality and efficient services to the population, significant challenges still remain.
The water sector in the Western Balkan region is currently facing a triple challenge: first, providing quality and sustainable water and sanitation services to their citizens, second, meeting the requirements of the EU legislation “acquis” on water, and third, acting in the context of a changing climate, increasing stress on water resources especially in urban areas and uncertain economic growth, recently worsened by the energy crisis.
In the four Western Balkan Countries, i.e. Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia, the water sector has some common aspects, such as:
- a high degree of non-revenue water (from 55% to 67% );
- need to ensure access to water infrastructure to all the population in the region and particularly in rural areas and among minority groups (i.e. vulnerable categories of population);
- low water coverage, from 78% to 85%;
- lack of an appropriate wastewater management (i.e. low treatment rate of wastewater, with around 20% of wastewater being treated in the region);
- ageing assets without adequate planning for renewing them;
- need of powerful financing tools to cover the huge capital expenditure for new infrastructures;
- a very fragmented sector with 77 water operators in Macedonia, 57 in Albania and 25 in Montenegro (need for aggregation);
- need for an adequate training of management staff in the sector;
- affordability of services becoming an issue, as growing capital expenditure will have to be covered by consumers through tariffs;
- lack of sound data and analysis to inform decision-makers, that would help to design potential reliable solutions;
- need to improve national water legislation and develop strategic capacities to advance in implementing water and wastewater European Directives and standards;
- face the risk of water source shortage due to adverse climatic events, particularly in Kosovo.
Regulation of the Water Sector
In the region, only the regulators of Kosovo and Albania have the full power to decide on tariffs. At the same time, Montenegro and North Macedonia can only suggest tariffs, and the final decision is in the hands of the local governments.
Challenges for the Regulators:
- require an improvement of national legislation to guarantee the independence of the regulator, especially in Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo;
- introduce more instruments for capacity-building to strengthen management capacity and provide consistent recommendations to national governments in drafting strategic documents for the sector;
- improve regulatory tools and strengthen the effectiveness of tariff methodologies;
- improve licensing requirements for operators and introduce stricter rules to guarantee that water and wastewater services are provided more professionally and to ensure safety standards to protect the health of the population;
- play an active role in promoting aggregations of water operators;
- increase requirements for data accuracy and reliability;
- play a more direct role in planning investment for utilities, for instance, by setting-up mandatory requirements for Assets Management Plan, and Safety Management Plans.
These common challenges in the regional water sector were the main drivers to strengthen the collaboration among the four national regulators that is already taking place in WAREG, the Association of European water regulators. In fact, the four Regulators will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in Tirana on the 16th of December. The MoU intends to increase the exchanges of information, to improve the regulators’ know-how and, more in general, to develop the water sector in the region. At the same time, the MoU will allow to promote a common view of the regulators on regional water issues in the Western Balkans in their dialogue with EU Institutions and to request more institutional expertise and access to adequate EU programmes and financing support instruments, aimed at improving the water sector.