French policy on water and sanitation


Lack of access to drinking water and sanitation is the leading cause of death in the world and presents many challenges. The international community is working hard on this issue to achieve SDG 6 and the 2030 Agenda.

With its new International Strategy for Water and Sanitation (2020-2030), France is continuing its active commitment for access to drinking water and sanitation, as well as the sustainable and end-to-end management of water resources. France’s strategy for the new 10 years is based on 3 key focuses which aim to:

1) Improve governance of the water and sanitation sector, on a local and global scale
2) Strengthen the security of water supply for all against a backdrop of increasing pressure on water resources and increasing water-related crises
3) Bolster the effectiveness of resources and tools, by promoting the development of innovative solutions and inclusive financing mechanisms

Observations and challenges

In 2020, nearly 2.2 billion people do not have access to drinking water, 4.2 billion do not have access to “adequate and safely managed” sanitation services and 3 billion do not have anywhere to wash their hands according to the latest report by the WHO and UNICEF. Disadvantaged populations are most likely to be affected by the lack of drinking water and sanitation which are a factor of vulnerability, particularly for women and girls (increased risk of aggression, impact of menstrual hygiene on schooling, collecting water)

Water is essential for human life.

Fresh water plays a crucial role in sustainable development as well as reducing poverty and inequality. However, climate change is having a profound impact on the water cycle and is worsening the risk of natural disasters (floods, droughts, soil erosion and degradation, etc.). These changes to the quality and availability of water resources threaten the current uses of water (domestic, agricultural, industrial, recreational, ecological) and world peace. This deterioration also has an economic impact: water pollution reduces economic growth by one third (World Bank, 2019). According to the forecasts by the UN, the world population is set to reach 9.7 billion in 2050. The increase in needs coupled with the consequences of climate change will inevitably lead to increased pressure on resources.

What is France doing?

An international commitment

To confront these challenges, France has adopted a new International Strategy for Water and Sanitation (2020-2030). It is the result of wide, inclusive and participative consultations, drawing on the involvement of all French stakeholders in the field of water. Through this new strategy, France is dedicated to following the 2030 Agenda and affirms the importance of adopting an inter-sectorial approach and end-to-end management of water resources.

The first strategic focus involves strengthening governance in the field of water and sanitation. France therefore supports the enhancement of the role of UN Water and promotes the Helsinki (1992) Convention on the protection and use of transboundary watercourses and international lakes and the New York (1997) Convention on the non-navigational uses of international watercourses. These two instruments aim to bolster the sustainable and coordinated management of watercourses. France calls for their international ratification in order to ensure peace, security and the long-term sustainability of water use. This will help create the right conditions for the two other strategic focuses which aim to strengthen the security of water supply and bolster resources and tools by promoting the development of innovative solutions and inclusive financing solutions.

France is also heavily involved in the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Protocol on Water and Health associated with the Helsinki Convention, which combines water management and sanitation issues.

More generally, France’s new strategy aims to ensure cohesion between the sector of water and sanitation with other SDGs and to respond to the major current issues that are food and nutritional security (lien stratégie sécurité alimentaire), health, gender equality (lien stratégie F/H), reducing inequalities, education and economic development.

France therefore recognizes water and sanitation as a priority sector for official development assistance (ODA). France is among the top five global aid providers in terms of volume, behind the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan.

A national commitment

Through the Act on Development and International Solidarity Policy Strategy (2014), France reaffirmed its support for the development of the circular economy promoting the local use of available resources, waste processing and the creation of short supply chains.

In order to best respond to the needs of the sector, the Oudin-Santini Act (2005), also enables the water industry, local government bodies and water agencies to dedicate 1% of their water budget to cooperation and solidarity. Therefore, nearly €300 million in donations were mobilized between 2007 and 2018 by French local government bodies, unions and water agencies for the benefit of partner countries. Private businesses, including Veolia and Suez, also play an essential role in implementing appropriate solutions for disadvantaged populations.

Lastly, the French Water Partnership (FWP), which brings together all sector stakeholders (civil society organizations, private sector, local governments, water agencies, research bodies, State), works to promote France’s expertise and to put water and sanitation on the international agenda.

Read the strategy (in French)

Updated: February 2020