BARCELONA, Spain – 14 November 2018: Home to a population of close to half a billion people, the Mediterranean region is deemed one of the most water-scarce areas in the world with a litany of pressing environmental problems. Just as important as availability of drinking water is lack of access to safely managed sanitation, and concerted efforts are being made in the area not only to manage treatment of wastewater, but also for its reuse, in an attempt to achieve sustainability and what is known as a circular economy.
Over two days in late October, the second edition of the AMWAJ forum—organized by Revolve Water and hosting representatives from public and private sectors, leaders in environmental sustainability, corporate sponsors, scientists, entrepreneurs and journalists—discussed how issues such as water can become the drive to seek peace rather than dispute, working toward the “dream of seeing the emergence of a water and energy community that will help the Mediterranean region prosper and flourish around natural resources,” said Stuart Reigeluth, the founder of Revolve.
Stuart Reigeluth, the founder of Revolve - courtesy of Revolve
View of AMWAJ forum second edition in Barcelona, Spain - courtesy of Revolve
Meaning ‘waves’ in Arabic, AMWAJ stands for A Mediterranean Water and Journalism, and aims to communicate accurately and effectively the value of water and constructively influence policy-making on energy usage.
As hopes are pinned on efficient usage of water resources in the region (in 2015, a total of 17 global goals were set by the United Nations, with goal number 6 aiming to increase water efficiency and improve water management to balance growing water demands), political disputes and consequent humanitarian crises have negatively affected progress in sustainability, and impeded efforts of cooperation between the two poles of the Mediterranean.
United Nation's SDGs in booklets displayed at AMWAJ forum in Spain - courtesy of Revolve
One of the poorest countries in the world in terms of water availability and resources is Jordan. “The capita share per person in Jordan is very low. This is due to several factors including Syrian refugees flocking into the country since 2011, and the geopolitical situation in the region,” according to Bilal Al-Sharif, a Program Manager at the Ministry of Water and Irritation Jordan.
“Europe should be more sensitive to refugees fleeing climate change, and many more countries like Spain, with a high level of desertification (...) It is clear that when we talk about climate change, we talk about a global phenomenon, but not a symmetric phenomenon,” according to Gonzalo Delacámara, Coordinator, Water Economics Group of the IMDEA Water Foundation and Academic Director of the Water Economics Forum.
Side of attendees during AMWAJ's second edition in Barcelona, Spain - Courtesy of Revolve
Water migration is one of the biggest challenges caused due to water scarcity in the Mediterranean. “Water migration is a complex topic as migrants rarely identify water scarcity as the main reason for their migration; however, water feeds into many processes that lead people to migrate,” said Michael Karner, a consultant at the Centre for Mediterranean Integration.
At the forum, AMWAJ participants discussed the importance of making the water sector appealing to youth as a career rather than a perspective of necessity, by which sustainability can be guaranteed. They highlighted how engaging youth can take place in fields of wastewater treatment and reuse, irrigation, ecological redistribution.
Water: A policy drive to create employment
Established 10 years ago, the Union for Mediterranean (UFM) is an organization of 43 countries, 28 from EU and 15 in the Mediterranean. It has partnerships in many projects focus on the water sector. “Water is a huge factor in the creation of employment. We have worked with others, like SwitchMed or the Switchers, in the water sector, where we helped them to map the possibility of financing these projects,” said Miguel García, UFM Deputy Secretary General for Water and Environment.
UFM's Miguel Garcia (L) part of the opening session discussing water investment challenges - Courtesy of Revolve
In the MENA region, nations can save up to €500 billion by switching from commercial to circular economies. “Circular economy is the economy of the future,” said Burcu Tuncer, a team leader at SwitchMed Networking Facility. The SwitchMed program is funded by the EU and implemented through several programs including UNIDO and UNEP. “Switching a system is not easy. Around 300 companies in the region, especially from North Africa, are making the switch.”
According to Tuncer, The Switchers are trying to retrieve materials that people dispose of in their daily lives, and prevent wasting resources. “We support switchers with a life cycle system and access to finance and market. Thus far we have trained 1,600 entrepreneurs and some of them made it to the incubation phase and created 45 companies based on a circular economy,” she added.
Because finance is the main issue for early stage companies, Tuncer said that they created Switch Fund for idea generation, and delivered the first grant worth €15,000 to 18 entrepreneurs.
Financing the Green Economy
Grape pickers harvest fruit from the vines at the Bollinger vineyard during the traditional Champagne wine harvest in Ay, France, September 23, 2016.
Attracting investments in vital green infrastructure and developing water projects is far from easy, and governments need to start working toward this goal. “Water is a sector which is a priority for every government on the planet; however, it is not sufficiently high in national budgets . . . it needs to be paid for,” the UFM’s García told Egypt Today in an exclusive interview, highlighting that financing is always a hardship and that there is never enough money for all projects, which is why a political decision has to be taken.
Countries around the world have turned to the European Investment Bank (EIB), a major source of loan finance for water sector worldwide. According to the last report detailing EIB lending to the water sector in Mediterranean countries during the period from 2012 to 2016, the bank has spent around €645 million in projects that supply water for households, protect against floods and treat wastewater.
Thomas Van Gilst, head of EIB’s Water Division, told Egypt Today that the most important thing in tapping investments for projects is the governance context. He explained that besides having strong borrower or counterpart, there has to be clarity on who is financing; tariffs calculations according to the whole service provision and to make sure the national project is a priority one and not politically advantageous.
Environment Journalist Soren Bauer (L) and EIB's head of water management division Thomas Van Gilst - courtesy of Revolve
Decentralized solutions for wastewater have been the main focus by both BORDA research association and Compost Baladi social enterprise. Christoph Sodemann, PR head of BORDA, told Egypt Today that they focus on saving and reusing resources. “You get clean water for irrigation, and it can be combined with sludge treatment plant to create fertilizer in order to keep water in the area where it is used, and not just discharge it out.”
CEO of Compost Baladi startup Marc Aoun explained his company’s focus is to use low-tech and low-cost approaches to be applied in rural areas throughout the Arab region, adding that the predominant challenge they face is the lack of regulation, which forces them to go around the standard approach of selling mechanisms “meaning to create valuable products of the resources recovered so people are encouraged to invest in them.”
Raising Awareness of Water Issues
The UFM’s García highlighted the importance of environmental activism over the past years in creating more awareness of water issues, and highlighted the climate change agenda whereby all Mediterranean countries are committed to the Paris agreement to develop their national policies.
He further explained that the process goes through three Ps, namely: Policy, Platforms and finally Projects. “Ministers agree to certain policy lines on which they want to cooperate, and then third parties are engaged including NGOs and experts, finally, we have infrastructure projects.”
The UFM has played an indirect political role to ease tensions and help make progress in the region. However, Garcia ensured that the UFM cannot impose coordination, “but by working on regional and political levels, it helps very much many governments to better frame their own efforts.”
An ideation session held for journalists on VR and 360 degree videos during AMWAJ second edition
He also said that the media has an important role as a platform to share such approaches and contribute to the understanding of the UN goals.
Secretary of Sustainable Development in Catalonia government Marta Subira agreed, noting that the AMWAJ forum is timely to highlight the role of journalism in conveying awareness on water as a very fragile and scarce resource.
Photo of field trip to waste water treatment plan in Barcelona during AMWAJ's second edition - courtesy of Revolve
Science and journalism have proven to be two separate worlds, with increased attempts of connections rarely meet. While reporting science is not very easy, given the complicated details and expressions, journalists have argued they sometimes are inundated with too many technical details that take them away from the main issue.
Marina Presas, a science and technological communication journalist at EURECAT, noted that translating the language of science in a way that everyone understands is the biggest challenge facing journalists. “Journalists should understand technical fact before impact. Their job requires double and even triple fact-checking before sending to print,” said the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ)'s Executive Director Christophe Bourillon, suggesting the creation of a network of contacts between journalists and scientific community.
Meanwile, Director of Seecon Company called on scientists for more communication with journalists to make their job easier and effectively convey the message to the public.
The forum organized a workshop for journalists discussing how immersive media, including virtual reality and 360 degree videos, have changed storytelling of climate change and environmental topics.