Cars pass through puddles after the rain on the Chaussée d'Etterbeek on November 20, 2023 in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)


Europe’s capital facing sinkhole, sewage problem as debt explodes


Brussels is in danger of drowning in its own filth while sinkholes erupt across the city like a spotty teen’s chin.

Vivaqua, the organisation responsible for water and sewers in the European capital, is on the verge of bankruptcy and increasingly unable to fulfil its obligations, according to company Director-General Laurence Bovy.

The firm, which provides drinking water and sewerage systems in Brussels, is more than €1 billion in debt just as it has to renew at least 25 per cent of the sewage networks it manages, half of which is in “very bad shape”.

To make matters worse, the organisation is being plagued by ongoing problems with its IT service. Almost 400,000 customers have not received a water bill in months, Flemish daily De Standaard reported.

“We can guarantee that water will continue to flow from the tap, but renovating sewers is becoming increasingly challenging,” Bovy told Belgian news agency Belga.

“Last year, we were forced to postpone several projects, resulting in only 14 kilometres [out of 500 kilometres needing repair] of sewage [systems] being renovated.

“The risk of sinkholes is growing daily, with safety implications. Almost every month, a section of road somewhere in Brussels collapses,” she said.

“We are at a turning point.

“I cannot guarantee the future continuity of our operations. The debt is simply too substantial compared to the revenues. It’s not sustainable any more.”

The organisation needs €60 million a year of extra money for the debt to stop growing, Bovy stated.

Vivaqua wants help from regional Government but Brussels is also drowning in debt. Furthermore, city authorities claim they are not directly “responsible” for the matter.

Of the 19 municipalities in Brussels, 11 are under “financial guardianship”.

Over the past 20 years, Vivaqua has had to borrow more than €700 million for necessary renovations and now it is reaching its limits.

The local Government also determined that the price of water cannot be easily increased, while non-paying customers can no longer be cut off.

The political opposition is up in arms and claims “all parties are running away” from their duties.

Centre-Right N-VA parliamentarian Cieltje Van Achter claimed that, with 1,400 officials and directors on its books, Vivaqua is too “top-heavy”.

Her recent request for an external audit into the company and its issues was voted down by the progressive majority in Brussels.

Bovy, appointed by the Socialists, finds herself in the firing line.

On a reported salary of  €300,000 per year, the Vivaqua director officially out-earns the Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

That leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of many, as she was apparently the worst of three candidates during recruiting for the position in 2016. She previously served as chief of staff of a former minister of the Socialist party.

Viviqua management insists that such compensation is justified. The board emphasises what members describe as “proactive measures” taken to manage expenses, such as imposing limits on executive remuneration and implementing staff reductions to streamline operations.