Water governance in Mediterranean cities

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They also said on the topic in 2016:

Ozge Balkiz

Efforts to protect biodiversity in Turkey have been strengthened in recent years, in the face of severe constraints imposed by development. The concept of ecosystem services is now the focus of attention. This approach, which is positive and promising, enables stakeholders to be brought together for joint projects. The Turkish foundation DKM is an advocate of this approach and has already led several projects to highlight ecosystem services in farming regions and forested areas.

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Najet Aroua

Managing water, a resource which is cross-cutting by nature, requires a comprehensive, joined-up approach which is often lacking in urban planning and development as they are currently practiced in the Mediterranean. Reckless urbanisation not only damages natural areas, even those far away, it also represents a threat to people and health. Reinventing the Mediterranean city so that it respects the natural water cycle – or disturbs it as little as possible – is an imperative. It will be achieved primarily through education, awareness raising and cooperation between all stakeholders.

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Interview Dr Özge BALKIZ

Species Conservation Programme Coordinator, Nature Conservation Centre (DKM), TURKEY.

Water Think Tank: How is the protection of species and biodiversity changing in Turkey?

Dr Özge BALKIZ : The situation has changed a great deal in Turkey. Economic development has accelerated rapidly over the last couple of decades, resulting in increased pressure on water resources. Faced with huge development needs (raw materials, land consumption, facilities and infrastructure), the management of protected areas has sometimes been relegated to second place. Previously, all human activity on sensitive sites was restricted, but now mineral extraction and the construction of dams and hydroelectric power stations are increasingly common and require compromises to be found between the pressure exerted by development and the traditionally rigid stance on conserving biodiversity.

The protection that we envisaged at the time is no longer an option today. The problems have become too significant for drastic and conservative solutions. Moreover, Turkey is a highly populated country, including in rural areas. It is inconceivable that we should take measures to protect the environment that would go against the needs or aspirations of local populations.

Organisations working to protect biodiversity have therefore adopted a new approach: they focus on the ecosystem services derived from these sites. For example, DKM led a project to this effect in Central Anatolia, a steppe region with particularly low rainfall. Entitled ‘Agriculture of the Future’, the project ran from 2013 to 2016 and received assistance from the European funding programme LIFE+. In this region, we analysed supply services in wetland areas, particularly drinking water services, but also other regulatory services which contribute in multiple ways to sustaining local agriculture (microclimate regulation, combating soil erosion, flood control, etc.).

W.T.T. : What have been the initial results of this new approach focused on ecosystem services?

Dr O. B : It is a less divisive message, which the various stakeholders are more inclined to hear. They clearly understand that some of the ecosystem services are valuable. This approach is particularly effective in areas which are not protected, and which in some cases are suffering very significant environmental damage. The only way of avoiding such damage is to adopt a constructive and participatory approach based around ecosystem services, guaranteeing the involvement of the population in a user capacity.

We frequently work together with the Ministry of Agriculture, the General Directorate of Forestry and the General Directorate of National Parks and Nature Conservation. They are all highly receptive to the concept of ecosystem services. Almost 97% of Turkey’s forests are owned by the state, and they play an extremely important role in flood protection. Dialogue makes it possible to implement measures to ensure that trees located close to rivers or fresh water reservoirs are not felled.

Local populations have shown themselves to be sensitive to the benefits of biodiversity and the environment. As part of ‘Agriculture for the Future’, we noted that farmers were already planting rows of trees as a windbreak around the edges of their fields to protect them from erosion. As long as their agricultural production and income are not affected, they are very open to introducing measures to protect their environmental heritage and take advantage of the services it can offer.

In spite of these innovative approaches, there is still a huge amount of pressure on biodiversity in Turkey. For example, certain endemic plant species, very specific to the lowlands of Anatolia, are endangered. Central Anatolia is home to one of the largest pink flamingo breeding grounds anywhere in the Mediterranean. Up to 20,000 chicks are born in this colony every year, and this strategic location for pink flamingos is at risk.

With this new type of approach which highlights ecosystem services, there is constant debate and negotiation between the various stakeholders to work out where to begin and find a fair compromise that is acceptable to all.

W.T.T. : Are there incentives which can be used to encourage the protection of water resources and biodiversity in Turkey?

Dr O.B. : Incentives are not very common in Turkey. Where they do exist, they are primarily focused on saving water, and are not concerned with biodiversity in and of itself. For example, farmers are encouraged to install drip irrigation systems.

As soon as local populations are made aware of the services given by the environment, we want to go further. We are currently seeking to expand the ecosystem services approach.

In a project we are leading in a forested area, we have developed an economic evaluation of the services derived from the forest, compared with the costs involved should these services disappear. For example, there should be more recognition and consideration of the forest’s capacity to store carbon. This is all the more important given that the relevant benefit is not limited to the local level, but has repercussions at the national and even global levels as part of efforts to mitigate climate change.


Interview Dr Najet Aroua

Architect and Urban Planner. Urbanism & Environment, Algiers Polytechnic School of Architecture and Urbanism (EPAU), ALGERIA

Water Think Thank : Could you tell us about your career so far and your current research work?

Najet AROUA : More so than my architecture studies and a year specialising in bioclimatic architecture, it was the urban history of water in Algiers that inspired my career path. I have found in this history several explanations for questions which are on the minds of urban planners today. The opportunity to make use of it arose in summer 1987. I had just qualified as an architect and had everything to learn. Following a discussion with my father, a professor of social medicine, my investigations turned definitively to focus on the complex issue of water in the urban environment. Since then, I have devoted a lot of research work to the subject, with links to planning and urban development, public health and hygiene, governance, case law, heritage etc., in various periods of history.

Everything is connected to water and water connects everything: habitats, societies, practices, disciplines, and so on. This interdependent relationship struggles to step outside the theoretical domain and transcend the endless branches of science. I took part in the research project developed at the Institute for Advanced Study of Aix-Marseille University (IMéRA-Marseille) in 2015, the objective of which was to explore this question by organising a collective discussion and reflection with practitioners and representatives of civil society and local communities. The Regional Climate and Energy Plan for the city of Marseille and the Euromed II project illustrated the intent. The results confirmed the need to build a new type of cross-disciplinary knowledge for the benefit of the sustainable city. And that’s what I’m working on at the moment.

W.T.T.: What are the impacts of urbanisation on wetlands and river areas in Algeria?

N. A : Wetlands and river areas interact with everything which affects the water cycle during its land phase. In point of fact, urban settlements disrupt or even halt hydrodynamic processes through the way in which they occupy the land and exploit natural resources. Lake Fetzara (Ramsar, 2003) is just one example of a site where the environmental balance has been endangered or damaged following technocratic urban development. The impact of an urban project in Annaba, close to this lake, was the subject of an expanded research project. The results of this research demonstrated the significant impact which the road network has on the route taken by run-off water. Even at a long distance from cities, wetlands are endangered by pollution resulting from urban discharge. This means that the region to be developed must be considered both as an ecosystem and as a physiographic unit. The task is clearly more complex when an existing city is involved.

W.T.T. : Natural environments are thus made more vulnerable by anthropogenic pressure. What are the risks facing water resources in Algerian and Mediterranean cities?

N.A : The current socio-economic and political context in the Mediterranean region (population growth, conflicts, migration) presages an increase in water-related risks because in addition to being exposed to such risk, cities are fragile and therefore vulnerable. While water shortages and flooding are recurrent, pollution is currently a more harmful phenomenon because it is potentially fatal. In this case, water – a resource – can become a risk, fuelled both by its source (the natural environment) and by its target (the man-made environment). The consequences for both are numerous in terms of the drying up of water courses and drawdown of groundwater, the destruction of wetlands and loss of biodiversity, erosion and landslides, a lack of public health and the presence of waterborne diseases, a restricted water supply and a slowdown or stoppage of farming and manufacturing activities, internal conflicts, etc.

Whatever bioclimatic stage they have reached, all Algerian cities are obliged to confront the issue of water. Just like the dry South, the rainy North regularly faces water shortages, flooding and the environmental and health consequences of water pollution. In terms of the build-up of disturbance caused and the type of solutions proposed, the example of Algiers is representative of the national context. Certain cities are beginning to experience the secondary effects of the structural measures introduced by the state or the population. As an example, the drawdown of groundwater has reached unprecedented levels in Biskra; in certain oases in the Sahara (Touggourt, Laghouat) which have been deprived of a natural outlet, new diseases have emerged as a result of excess water (intensive pumping of deep groundwater). A balance must be restored between nature, water and the city.

W.T.T. : And the impact of climate change?

N.A.: According to the scenarios developed by the IPCC, the Mediterranean sub-region is likely to be one of the most sensitive to climate change events. Over time, the changed rainfall pattern is set to increase the level of exposure to extreme weather events (droughts and flooding). To the extent that they affect the ground and subsoil in human settlements, they may become critical for the safety, health and comfort of the people that occupy these settlements, while the natural environment will adapt perfectly.

W.T.T. : Could you explain the concepts of ‘integrated urban water cycle’ and ‘eco-urbanism’?

N.A.: Integrated water resource management is derived from the sustainable development strategy and covers supply, sanitation and protection against water-related risks. These operations are systematised and make up the integrated urban water cycle, the water from which must (at least in part) rejoin the overall water cycle, disrupting it as little as possible in terms of quality and quantity.

Eco-urbanism, or ecological urbanism, is urban development based on the principle that ‘everything is connected’. Consequently, it is a cross-cutting discipline that must draw on all types of academic and popular knowledge, and feedback from recent and past experience. It is an approach which is as rich as it is complex, still difficult to implement in urban development projects due to the lack of a favourable political, economic and cultural environment. The question is “how can the environmental aspect be integrated into urban projects?” and “with whom?” There are numerous possible solutions, but they must be participatory and placed in context in order to build unique and inclusive cities. As soon as training and research unearths the social purpose which directs and justifies them, practical experience will work out how to reconcile the city with the natural environment that it occupies.

W.T.T. : What place is given to sustainable water management in urban planning and development in Algeria and the Mediterranean? What is holding back its development?

N.A.: In Algeria and in certain other Mediterranean countries, water is managed at the catchment area level. This is a step towards sustainability. But it is a solitary and consequently an inadequate step, while urban planning and development continues to retreat behind administrative boundaries rather than expanding their scope to encompass the bioregion. For the time being, cross-sectoral and intercommunal dialogue, although institutionalised, lacks will or conviction on the part of the state, civil society and urban development practitioners.

Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the majority of cities in Algeria almost entirely satisfied the eco-urbanism principle. Then the industrial age ushered in its settlements with no regard for the proper balance between mankind, nature and culture. The phenomenon continues to this day despite the announcement or implementation of several experimental projects to develop sustainable districts initiated, for example, in Algiers by the state, in Beni Isguen (Ghardaïa) by an association, and in Tizi-Ouzou by a private promoter. In Algeria and elsewhere, in order to be sustainable, these projects must be considered in conjunction with the rest of the city and the natural environment that hosts them.

Mediterranean cities, which are subject to substantial social, economic and political pressures, have not succeeded in freeing themselves from urgency and technological solutionism. Although the issue of water is at the heart of their concerns, planning strategies and management plans are still prisoners of the sectoral approach and structural solutions whose long-term impacts could be disastrous for the natural environment and human health. Legislation alone is not enough to reduce these risks. There is consequently a need to correct the attitudes of legislators, engineers, managers and consumers, taking the fundamental needs of the population and the demands of the natural environment as a starting point. While some previous solutions are outdated in the face of the complexity of current challenges, those that are applied today are often responsible for increasing the risk and thus the fragility involved.

W.T.T. : If technological solutions are not a miracle solution to water issues in the Mediterranean region, what other levers exist?

N.A.: Education and awareness raising play a key role, since they strengthen prevention efforts and support action by addressing all social, economic and political actors. We must relearn the concept of balance and put it into practice on the basis of cooperative and respectful links with nature. This is what humanity and the planet need most today. In the past, respect for nature founded cultures and civilisations. Today, it is laboriously striving to make its return to advanced training and education programmes. There is a reform to be undertaken in these areas in order to reintroduce cultures which respect life in all its forms.

Water is the leading area of cooperation between the countries of the Mediterranean, in order to guarantee fundamental rights to this vital resource and ensure that it is protected. As an example, this cooperation can take the form of joint projects to combat pollution and waste or advanced training and research on urban development which supports the water cycle. Cross-border water sources also pose a problem, as do discharges of waste water from various parts of the Mediterranean region. It is also difficult to determine the water balance when rainwater runs off or infiltrates the ground far from where it fell, with no regard for borders. The same applies to the use of fossil waters, desalination of seawater and recycling of waste water. These issues raise technical and ethical questions, as well as questions of environmental and social justice. Compromises could be reached provided that the social purpose is paramount.

Dr Wajdi Najem

Despite its reputation as the ‘water tower of the Middle East’, Lebanon is facing serious problems with regard to water resources. In the short term, the risks concern the pollution of groundwater, threatening drinking water supplies to major cities on the coast. In the longer term, climate change could modify the water cycle and deprive the Lebanese agricultural sector of this essential resource in summer unless mitigation measures are put in place.

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Aly El-Bahrawy

Wetlands fulfil numerous essential functions for people and the environment, but some of them are increasingly threatened as anthropogenic pressures intensify. There is an urgent need for better study of these vulnerable regions and greater involvement by women, who are key stakeholders in water management, so that we can continue to benefit from the ecosystem services they provide.

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Interview Dr Wajdi NAJEM

Dr Wajdi Najem, Director of the Regional Centre for Water and the Environment (Creen), Saint Joseph University, Beirut, LEBANON

Water Think Thank : Could you talk a bit about Creen and your research projects?

Wajdi NAJEM : Saint Joseph University in Beirut is a very important and very old university in Lebanon. Established in 1875 and incorporating a faculty of engineering since 1913, it has trained the majority of Lebanese engineers working in the water and environment sectors. It is these engineers who have built the current water infrastructure.

Set up in 1995, the Regional Centre for Water and the Environment (Creen) is a research group within Saint Joseph University comprising around 10 researchers (PhD and postdoctoral students). The centre also relies on assistance from all of the students studying for master’s degrees in water and the environment. It regularly works in cooperation with French organisations, for example the French geological survey, BGRM.

One example of a landmark project that we have led is the effort to assess the potential for using karst submarine springs in the Mediterranean, as part of the European MEDITATE project. These submarine springs are the result of a complex karstification process, where limestone rock is dissolved by water containing carbon dioxide. The karsts in the Mediterranean region were mostly created by the Messinian Salinity Crisis. Six million years ago, the virtual closure of the Strait of Gibraltar under pressure from the African tectonic plate led to the drying up of the Mediterranean Sea. This is known as the Messinian Salinity Crisis, during which the level of the Mediterranean fell by 1,500 metres. The evaporation of the water resulted in thick layers of salt being deposited, then covered with a large quantity of sediment. The abrupt opening of the Strait of Gibraltar marked the end of this crisis. In Lebanon, it is estimated that karst terrain covers approximately 70% of the country.

Our work has focused on the springs in Chekka, on Lebanon’s northern coast. These have long been considered as some of the most significant known submarine springs. Average flow was estimated at six cubic metres per second. Our research showed, however, that not only had the flow been grossly overestimated, the quality of the water could not be guaranteed due to the high levels of salinity caused by seawater intrusion via karstic galleries. We therefore concluded that the potential for exploiting these submarine springs was extremely limited. This work revealed another major problem, however: the high degree of pollution of groundwater on the coast due to excessive pumping and drilling.


W.T.T. : What is this risk of groundwater pollution that you have mentioned?

W. N :The groundwater on the coast is fed by infiltrated water from the mountains. When drilling takes place along the coastline, groundwater levels drop, making it easier for seawater to get into the channels. The excess number of drilling operations being carried out along the Lebanese coast is thus increasing the risk of water salinisation and groundwater pollution.
Increased demand for water, particularly in large cities, is behind the rapid growth in drilling on the coast. This phenomenon reached its peak during the war between 1975 and 1990. During this period, the mass influx of people fleeing conflict resulted in substantial new requirements for drinking water. In the absence of controls during this crisis situation, a lot of illegal drilling was carried out to satisfy the demand.

This is still a major challenge for the big cities on the coast – Beirut, Tripoli, Sidon, etc. – which have no option but to find other sources of water supply as they deal with the crowds of new arrivals and refugees. There are said to be around 2 million migrants compared to 4 million Lebanese in the country, causing strong demographic pressure on water resources.

Several projects are under way to ensure the water supply for Beirut and the surrounding region using sources other than groundwater. One example is the Awali project, partially financed by the World Bank. This is one of the most significant water development projects in Lebanon. It involves the construction of a 73-metre high dam, the Bisri Dam, a hydroelectric power station, a water treatment plant at Ouardaniyeh and underground pipelines to transport the water from Awali to Beirut. In addition, major work to overhaul distribution networks has been implemented to reduce losses and prevent waste.


W.T.T.: What links has your research been able to establish between climate change and water resources in Lebanon?

W. N.: In Lebanon, climate change could have significant consequences at the catchment area level. Within Creen, we have done a lot of work on the Nahr Ibrahim watershed, collected data, and built a model which operates very effectively. The model is based on several interlinked models, including the MEDOR model, adapted to the Mediterranean climate. In simple terms, this model combines a model dealing with accumulation and snowmelt, and a model for rainwater transfer/flow for the rest of the watershed which is not affected by snow cover.

Our results are clear. In terms of rainfall, we did not obtain conclusive results demonstrating a clear evolution linked to climate change. Rain is a natural phenomenon which experiences very random variations, and it is thus extremely difficult to establish a connection between these fluctuations and climate change. On the other hand, when it came to temperature our research showed that there has been an undeniable increase in Lebanon since 1975. We also observed temperature increases of nearly two or three degrees in summer, in excess of IPCC forecasts.

In practical terms, this temperature increase is worrying because it will alter the calendar of the water cycle. In Lebanon, 20% of precipitation falls as snow, which represents a very important source of water. Moreover, the water available in summer comes, in part, from snowfall which occurs two or three months later than the rain. The evaporation and reduction in snow reserves will lead to more run-off and less snow. This will cause a gap of around a month and a half in overall precipitation. While precipitation has been concentrated in May, it will now peak during March. Consequently this water, previously available in summer, will no longer be accessible for highly water-intensive agriculture during this season. Bear in mind that agriculture accounts for 75% of water consumption in Lebanon.

It is thus essential for Lebanon to implement climate change mitigation and adaptation measures:
- at the resource level in order to save and store water for summer;
- at the farming level to adapt planting systems in favour of crops which require less water.


Interview Dr Aly El-Bahrawy

Professor in the Department of Water and Hydraulic Structures at Ain Shams University, Cairo, EGYPT

Water Think Thank : How can data on wetlands be effectively collected and what are the objectives of taking these measurements and making these assessments?

Aly EL-BAHRAWY : Today, some wetlands have become extremely vulnerable as a result of urban development and human activity. Research into wetlands provides an opportunity to understand the role they play in the wider ecosystem and to highlight the services they provide for people. In order to be able to put in place sustainable management of wetlands, it is essential to work with reliable information which illustrates not only the environmental value of these areas, but also their economic contribution. Many Egyptians make a living from fishing and farming around lakes. Demonstrating the real value of wetlands would help to guide the public authorities towards a more sustainable approach to governance. This is all the more necessary since public investment to protect these vulnerable areas is always competing with other projects.

As part of the Nile-Eco-VWU project and the NBCBN network, we carried out work at Lake Burullus in Egypt, close to the Mediterranean. We sought to measure changes in the quantity and quality of the lake water and to assess the consequences for the economic potential of the region. To do this, we constructed a method which brought together the advantages of technology with field surveys in order to gather data at various scales. Based on Landsat 8 satellite images and using indices and ratios, we were able to extract maps depicting the water surface area of the lagoon on various dates. At the same time, we conducted interviews and gathered testimony from the local population. This work and methodology are freely accessible and can be applied to other wetland areas. They led to numerous recommendations on protecting the environment and the benefits it provides.

W.T.T. : What new skills does this research require and who is interested in it?

A.E-B : Training is essential to improve observation and protection of wetlands. There is a need to develop skills, attract students, and recruit researchers and professionals. Building networks involving universities, research centres and other initiatives at the international level is critical. The NBCBN is looking to meet this need. It aims to pool research and training efforts in four locations where water resources are under threat: Sudan, Egypt, Uganda and the border between Kenya and Tanzania. While the study areas targeted by the NBCBN are in Africa, the professors teaching as part of this programme come from all over the world, including the Netherlands, Hungary, China, and so on. It is interesting to note that women occupy a prominent place in this research work.

W.T.T. : Precisely, and the gender approach is often described as a success factor in projects promoting access to water and sanitation. Is sufficient consideration given to this approach?

A.E-B: Women play a decisive role in water management in Africa. Traditionally, they are often responsible for supplying their households with water, and do so from a very young age. Water resource management and the emancipation of women are two interconnected trends. On the one hand, improvements to water supply and treatment are likely to liberate women from this task, one which sometimes prevents them from gaining access to education or a recognised and valued job. On the other hand, women may become genuine actors for change to promote more sustainable water management practices.

Moreover, in areas where there is strong pressure on water resources, inequalities between men and women often persist. However, the active participation of women is essential to putting in place effective measures to protect the environment and water resources.