Improving small water-supply systems in eastern Europe, the Caucasus and central Asia


Participants from 12 countries discussed ways to improve small water-supply systems in Bishkek, Kygyzstan in June 2014.

Small water-supply systems face a range of managerial, financial and institutional challenges. They are more at risk of breakdown and poor service, which can cause the contamination of drinking-water and endanger people’s health. The WHO water safety plan (WSP) approach recommends managing these risks proactively to protect health. These were the central themes of discussions at back-to-back events held on 24–27 June 2014 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan: a WSP workshop and a meeting of the international network for the management of small communities’ water-supply systems. Participants from the health and water sectors in 12 countries in eastern Europe, the Caucasus and central Asia attended.

WSP workshop

The workshop focused on building blocks to scale up the WSP approach. About 40% of European countries have some experience with WSPs at present, ranging from pilot projects to regulations or national strategies. The 80 participants learned about and shared experience with implementing WSPs, including challenges as well as supportive factors.

Dr Dinara Sagynbaeva, Minister of Health of Kyrgyzstan, opened the event, stressing the importance of ensuring access to safe-drinking-water in the most hard-to-reach rural areas of the country: “This leads to the reduction of water-related diseases and to the strengthening and sustainability of the entire health system.”

New WSP field guide

A new WSP field guide was launched in Russian and English. It provides hands-on advice for people working on rural water supply.

Implementing WSPs in small water-supply systems would ensure that people in rural areas can enjoy regular access to safe drinking-water. This would help to reduce the risk of waterborne disease.

Meeting of the international network for the management of small communities’ water-supply systems

Small water-supply systems serve about 195 million people in the WHO European Region, 30 million of which take water from supplies that are not regulated, according to a recent survey. The 60 participants at the meeting discussed good practices to regulate and manage these systems, to protect public health.

Dr Marat Kaliev, Deputy Minister of Health of Kyrgyzstan, opened the meeting. He expressed concern about the use of surface water by many rural communities in Kyrgyzstan and stated that access to safe drinking-water in rural areas is one of the country’s priorities.

People living in rural areas are mostly served by small water-supply systems. It is important that these systems are covered by regulation and that communities are empowered to manage their water supplies safely in the long term, in order to decrease risks to health.

Both meetings supported the implementation of the Protocol on Water and Health to the 1992 Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes. The priorities of the Protocol’s programme of work for 2014–2016 include WSPs and small-water supply systems. The Protocol is the first international instrument linking the prevention and reduction of water-related disease with the sustainable use of water resources.

The meetings were organized by WHO/Europe’s European Centre for Environment and Health and the WHO Country Office, Kyrgyzstan, with the Ministry of Health of Kyrgyzstan and the Federal Environment Agency of Germany, and with financial support from the Advisory Assistance Programme of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety of Germany.