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EBRD promotes cooperation between Bulgarian and Romanian water sectors

By Olga Rosca

Water utilities share experiences, discuss challenges and further reform

Challenges in and reform of the water and wastewater infrastructures in Bulgaria and Romania were the focus of a conference organised by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in cooperation with the Bulgarian and Romanian national water associations, held in the central Bulgarian village of Starosel.

The one-day event brought together representatives of water and sanitation utilities, as well as national water associations and sector ministries, to share their experiences and encourage cross-border cooperation. Facing similar challenges under pre- and post EU accession obligations, both countries have chosen different paths to water sector reform and introducing the necessary structures for financing.

The discussion focused on the regionalisation and consolidation of water service operators and their relationship with regional development associations, the implementation of EU directives, the absorption of EU funds, tariffs and water sector strategies.

Matteo Patrone, EBRD Director, Regional Head of Romania and Bulgaria, said: “Today’s event is the result of the EBRD’s ongoing initiative to promote cross-border cooperation between Bulgaria and Romania. The water sector has been selected as one with obvious synergies and we want to bring water operators closer in order to share lessons learned and initiate a discussion on future cooperation. Our ultimate goal is to support water operators in both countries in their efforts to enhance infrastructure and quality of services to improve people's lives.”

Ivan Ivanov, President of the Bulgarian Water Association, said: “The Bulgarian water sector has been undergoing a major transformation in the past few years and this event provides a great opportunity for Bulgarian water operators and other stakeholders to share their experiences and learn from their Romanian counterparts. We believe that knowledge-sharing plays an important role in overcoming many of the challenges faced by the water sectors in our countries.”

Felix Stroe, President of the Romanian Water Association, said: “The partnership between the EBRD, the Romanian Water Association and other state institutions in Romania have helped advance the water sector by improving the quality of services and increasing the access to services for Romanian citizens. By sharing our experience and know-how with the Bulgarian Water Association, we aim to consolidate the cooperation between our associations and our members and bring an added value to the water sector from both countries in order to offer water services at European standards to all our citizens.”

The EBRD is a key financier of water and wastewater sector modernisation in Bulgaria and Romania and is working closely with the European Union (EU) Cohesion Fund which is providing grant financing for these projects.

In Romania, the EBRD has financed 24 regional water operators under its Romania EU Cohesion Fund Water Co-Financing Framework (R2CF). The facility was approved in November 2010 with a volume of €200 million and further increased by €130 million in September 2012 following strong local demand. To date, the EBRD has mobilised over €2 billion of EU funding in Romania’s water and wastewater facilities.

In Bulgaria, the EBRD has financed five regional water operators, including the only private concessionaire in the sector, Sofiyska Voda, part of Veolia Group. Since 2000 the Bank has invested more than €70 million in improving the efficiency and quality of water and waste water services in Bulgaria. In addition, the Bank has provided €70 million of debt financing to the Fund for Local Authorities and Governments (“FLAG”) – an investment vehicle established for the purpose of co-financing EU grant-funded infrastructure projects, including investments in the water and waste water sector.

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