125. In responding to the challenges identified in the previous sections, the region can also build on a few important opportunities. Compared to other regions of the world, the water services sector in the Danube region has a few important assets it can turn into opportunities to continue advancing its development, often by turning existing challenges around.
- The EU integration process continues to present a tremendous policy and financing opportunity for many countries. The EU accession process has proven, for many recent EU members, an important vehicle to build institutions and strengthen rule of law. The water sector is bound to benefit from such changes. More specifically to the sector, the process of negotiating and delivering accession commitments creates a higher scrutiny of sector financing and organization. Countries such as Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania have used those processes to plan and implement far-reaching changes in the sector. In addition, EU funds, if used properly, can drive change for the sector and reduce inequity in service provision.
- Recent history has shown that the water sector is open to change. Despite their somewhat haphazard nature, the policy reforms that have occurred over the last 15 years—ranging from decentralization to public-private partnerships and from regionalization to regulation—show that the water and wastewater sector in the Danube region is much more open to change than in other parts of the world. In fact, governments in at least a third of the countries of the region are currently considering one reform or another. If those reforms are based on a solid analysis of the underlying sector challenges and incremental improvements, they can continue to build positive momentum in the sector.
- The widespread adoption of formal regulatory frameworks and utility corporatization reforms can help promote greater accountability. The massive decentralization of waterworks to local governments in the early 1990s greatly empowered mayors and local governments, shortening the accountability lines. Recent changes in many countries to establish stronger regulatory frameworks, the progress of open information platforms and legislation, and more structured local utility governance forms (the corporatization process) can help establish proper checks and balances among the various actors at the national and local level.
- Despite managerial shortcomings, the sector can count on a strong technical workforce. The region has many excellent technical schools and universities, and utility staff and midlevel management are often technically highly qualified. With the proper managerial training and capacity building, those resources could contribute to turning around many of the sector’s institutions. Waterworks associations such as ÖVGW in Austria, ARA in Romania, and SHUKALB in Albania, have recognized the important role they can play in promoting such professionalization, and are offering formal training curriculums and, when possible, are lobbying for staff accreditation schemes to be anchored in the legal framework of the sector. In fact, the International Association of Water Supply Companies in the Danube River Catchment Area (IAWD) itself is currently in discussions with waterworks associations around the region to set up a more formal regional training partnership.