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Jeanne Defoi,
Director of the Martinique water office, member of the Onema board of directors


Interview of Jeanne Defoi,

Director of the Martinique water office, member of the Onema board of directors

The overseas departments have started to implement the European water framework directive (WFD).

We are 40 years behind continental France in implementing water policy. The first Water law in 1964 did not cover the French overseas departments (FOD) and we had to wait until the 1992 law to introduce the main elements of water management and create the basin committees. The law established the Water offices in 2000 and the first "draw-off" fees could not be collected until 2006, the remainder starting in 2008. Yet in spite of these delays, we must apply the WFD with the same goals and the same deadlines as continental France. That means we must pick up speed, notably in knowledge acquisition. Assistance from the Ecology ministry and the inter-basin solidarity provided by Onema were the means to launch the initial projects.

Each overseas department presented the EU commission with its status report and a strategy to reach good water status.

With the exception of Reunion, which has had a databank since 1975, the status reports encountered difficulties due to the lack of data and problems in evaluating pressures. However, the status report was published in 2004 and the FODs reported on their RBMPs and programmes of measures on time in March 2010. The results showed that water bodies throughout the FODs are not in good condition and have been ranked as unlikely to reach good status by 2015. In Martinique, the status report concluded that most water bodies would probably not reach the WFD goals. So we set a modest but reasonable goal of 35% of water bodies with good status by 2015.

What are the major issues in the programmes of measures in Martinique?

Martinique is a volcanic island with 400 000 inhabitants and whose basin combines a number of problems including agricultural, industrial and household pollution, strong seismic activity, water that is not evenly distributed and highly polluted, and a tropical climate. We have five main priorities, 1) improve knowledge on aquatic environments, 2) limit all forms of pollution to enhance public health and living conditions, 3) develop solidarity between users, 4) control and prevent risks to the population and 5) change our habits by promoting ecocitizen behaviour.

What are the main difficulties in implementing the WFD?

The WFD does not really take into account the overseas context, i.e. the tropical climate, our insular condition and biodiversity. How should we evaluate the quality of mangroves and coral reefs, which are home to exceptional biodiversity? Why should we monitor the 41 chemical substances imposed by the WFD, when some of them are not present in the overseas territories? Conversely, in Guiana, the WFD has no plans to monitor the pollution caused by gold miners. In Martinique, we succeeded in having chlordecone added to the list of substances for biological monitoring, but other pesticides should be monitored as well. Our specific characteristics should be taken into account and the WFD should place greater importance on biodiversity. Reference documents for measurements and evaluations must be drafted, and bioindicators suited to the tropical context of islands must be created.

What do you need to overcome these difficulties?

Given how far behind we have fallen and the specificities of our territories, WFD implementation will require enormous resources and the local fees, even if raised, will not be sufficient given the needs. National solidarity, written into the Environmental code and a mission of Onema, is essential in helping us to catch up in the fields of drinking water and sanitation in order to avoid EU penalties and to develop the research and tools required to improve our knowledge of our environments. Onema will play an important role in convincing the French government to take into account our specificities, whether in terms of drafting legal documents, preparing research programmes, defining indicators, managing data systems and setting up protocols.
The WFD is a wonderful opportunity for us to learn more on our environments and to assume responsibility for our natural heritage. We must preserve the overseas territories that provide France with outstanding biodiversity and geopolitical advantages.


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