ENI CBC Med and PRIMA programmes join forces for a sustainable use and management of water

Picture by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels

150 participants from all over the Mediterranean came to celebrate the World Water Day alongside the EU-funded ENI CBC Med and PRIMA ("Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area") programmes, which organized their first joint webinar “A United Mediterranean for a Sustainable Management and Use of Water”, on March 22.

Moderator Vincent Ernoux (ENI CBC Med) kicked off the webinar by highlighting the extreme importance of the topic in the region, emphasizing the challenges facing the Mediterranean: “We’re all frightened by climate change, but we also know that only together we can provide the answers needed, and together we can be stronger.”

Through a video message, Panagiotis Balabanis (Head of Sector of Healthy Planet, Circular Economy & Biobased Systems, Water, European Commission) welcomed participants, underscoring the importance of a “transnational cooperation in the North and South of the Mediterranean to develop innovative and cost-effective common solutions for sustainable water management". He also drew a focus on the role of the European Union: “EU cooperation has been instrumental in strengthening this cooperation. Today’s webinar will be another stepping stone in strengthening cooperation for more sustainable water use and management in our region.”

His speech was followed by words of welcome from Antonella Giglio, Acting Director of the ENI CBC Med Managing Authority, who underlined the importance of this first co-organized webinar, “a starting point for a needed collaboration in the Mediterranean.” She added: “Cooperation can be a powerful accelerator to address the challenges related to water issues, we must work all together with a spirit of partnership”.

Octavi Quintana, Director of PRIMA Secretariat, concluded the welcoming session with some insights from the first 6 years of the PRIMA Program: “Not only in the water sector but also in other sectors with which we carry out projects such as farming systems and agro-food value chain, we realize that simple solutions do not exist and that we must consider the issues with a holistic view taking into account all sectors at the same time. We need everyone on board to capitalize on the efforts made in the previous years”.

He also highlighted the need to commit more resources to fund research and innovation, which the region needs to pave the way for more successful and innovative projects.

Afterward, attendees jumped into the learning part of the webinar, with an intervention by Alain Meyssonnier, President of the Mediterranean Institute of Water and World Water Council Governor, who provided an overview of the most urgent challenges addressed in the Mediterranean. He claimed that cooperation is key, before giving some key figures: “when we speak about water, we should keep in mind that over 97% of the earth’s water is found in the oceans as salt water. About 2% of the earth’s water is stored as fresh water in glaciers or ice caps. That leaves only about 1%  of the earth’s water available to us.”


Learning and sharing: the experience of 4 water-related projects

The webinar brought valuable experiences from 4 projects developed under both EU-funded programs with a session moderated by Irene Morell Rodríguez (ENI CBC Med). She recalled the theme of this day: “Accelerating Change” and gave the floor to project representatives, who put actions and concrete solutions in place on both shores of the Mediterranean.

Starting with the ENI CBC MED’s project AQUACYCLE’s presentation on the Regional Entity for Wastewater Sanitation and Treatment in Murcia, project representative Pedro Simon explained that “Unfortunately, a substantial number of wastewater treatment plants installed in the Mediterranean are often unsuited to address the local challenges of wastewater treatment.” He explained the main goal of the project, working on bringing an eco-innovative wastewater treatment technology that consists of anaerobic digestion, constructed wetlands, and solar treatment for the cost-effective treatment of urban wastewater with minimal costs of operation and maximum environmental benefits.

He then invited the audience to join the project’s Mediterranean Wastewater Reuse Alliance by signing up for the project’s MedAPOC Charter.

The floor was then given to Dr. Evangelos Tziritis, coordinator of PRIMA’s project MEDSAL, who introduced the project that “aims at securing the availability and quality of groundwater reserves in Mediterranean coastal areas”. He recalls that the Mediterranean region is amongst the most vulnerable regions in the world to water scarcity and quality degradation.

The recently completed project worked at providing a novel holistic approach, towards the sustainable management of coastal aquifers, which are affected by increased groundwater salinization risk, especially under the variable meteo-climatic conditions of the Mediterranean and the rapidly changing socio-economic context.

He concluded by presenting the Medsal web observatory, which serves as a graphical interface to the database compiled during the project.

The discussion continued with an example of an irrigation pilot, presented by Amer Sweity from the ENI CBC Med’s project PROSIM, which works closely with Mediterranean farmers. The project’s acronym stands for “Promoting Sustainable Irrigation Management and non-conventional water use in the Mediterranean” and the project’s goal is to bring innovative solutions combining water use efficiency and non-conventional water and build local capacities to upscale them.

At the pilot farm level, the project will aim at increasing water usage efficiency by 30% and substitute clean water with non-conventional water by up to 100% thanks to new/tailored solutions to optimize water consumption. It was mentioned that their technologies have been included in MEDWAYCAP’s Best Practices inventory platform open to the water community to register their implemented solutions for non-conventional water valorization.

The last project presentation focused on land water management in Mediterranean drylands with an intervention by Prof Pier Paolo Roggero, coordinator of the PRIMA’s project SALAM Med. He started his intervention with an important fact:  “We must take into account that the Mediterranean is a mosaic of contexts and that tailored solutions are needed”. He then explained the aim of the project, designed to identify, test and validate tailored, “Nature-based practical solutions” to enhance the resilience of endangered MED dryland socio-ecological systems or to restore degraded ecosystems in arid and hyper-arid land. 

Looking to the future

We cannot talk about the future of the Mediterranean without integrating the vision of youth. For that, Selma Bichbich, youth climate activist and member of MedYWat "The Mediterranean Youth for Water Network", spotlighted how young Mediterranean people can contribute to the main regional water challenge: “We, the young people of the Mediterranean, want to be more involved and integrated into the decision-making process. We have a role to play, especially when it comes to new technologies.” She also underlined the importance of integrating a gender mainstreaming approach in decision-making.

Women and children are the most affected by water-related issues, especially drinking water. Gender equality must be at the forefront of discussions on water management and women must be integrated into the decision-making process.

Next speaker Esmat Al-Kharadsheh (ENI CBC Med) agreed that “Youth is an extremely important key player and can harness their strength to create change”. He then gave an overview of the Interreg NEXT MED program, aiming at “contributing to a smart, sustainable and equal development for everyone in the Mediterranean Basin by supporting a balanced, sustainable and ambitious cooperation as well as multilevel governance”. Interreg NEXT MED, the new EU-funded transnational program for cooperation in the Mediterranean area, will continue supporting Euro-Mediterranean cooperation for the period 2021-2027, building on the experience and results of the ENPI (2007-2013) and ENI (2014-2020) cross-border cooperation (CBC) Med programs.

To conclude the webinar, Marco Orlando, Project officer at PRIMA, thanked all speakers and participants: “It was great to hear different voices, project representatives, and above all to see examples of solutions and actions on the ground.

He shared a series of takeaway messages, recalling the importance of the cooperation between the two programs and affirming that this first webinar would only be a starting point for future collaboration: “Both ENI CBC Med and PRIMA are bridging the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean, bringing together key players and creating synergies to share the main issues encountered and pool innovative ideas to solve them”.

He left us with a last important message: “Our role is to facilitate networking among all projects and to capitalize on past projects and build on results."

Learn more about water-related projects funded under ENI CBC Med