The Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) and the Mediterranean Water Institute (IME) met in a virtual conference with experts from Algeria, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Jordan, Lebanon, Malta, Morocco, the Palestine Authority, Spain, Tunisia and Turkey, to discuss their emergency and recovery plans to help water utility operators cope with the COVID-19 crisis, UfM said, adding that they agreed that providing sustainable water access is essential for many jobs.
According to UfM, over 250 million people are expected to be “water poor” within the next 20 years in the Euro-Mediterranean region, with numbers potentially exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic is prompting questions for the water supply and sanitation sector globally and especially in some areas of the Euro-Mediterranean region, already under stress due to the water scarcity caused by the climate crisis, said the UfM Secretariat, which is is co-funded by the European Union.
Since the lockdown, Jordan and Turkey have been affected by water shortages, whilst other countries have rerouted irrigation water to household water, the UfM said, adding that access to water is crucial in fighting of this pandemic. Participants exchanged on their solutions to effectively tackle the water shortage.
Following the alarming discovery that traces of COVID-19 were found in wastewater treatment plants and concerns raised by participants, the UfM said it is working with the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission’s science and knowledge service, to ensure a scientific response. Together, the UfM and JRC will host a webinar showcasing guidelines and tools for keeping such infrastructure and its services safe and secure, especially for countries using treated effluent for their agricultural activities, the UfM said.
The recovery phase
Water -including coastal water- is a key component of the productive systems, from agriculture, energy production and industrial production to transport and tourism, the UfM said. “Today, 3 out of 4 jobs are water-dependent. To face this, the UfM is launching a study on the impact of COVID-19 on the water sector, and will support the implementation of the recovery strategy by providing a platform for policy dialogue and up-scaling of exemplary projects,” the UfM said, noting that the Union for the Mediterranean along with its partners, will support national policies and action plans, starting with two or three pilot countries from the Maghreb, Mashrek and Balkans regions.
“Water shall be at the centre of any recovery and development plan tackling the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region, as the crisis is yet another reminder that this vital sector must always be kept financially sustainable and technically capable,” UfM Secretary General Nasser Kamel said.
At the same time, the aftermath of COVID-19 will require the Euro-Mediterranean region to shift in its approach towards more sustainable production and consumption patterns.”
The UfM said the recovery response will be included in the UfM’s regional Water Agenda, developed and implemented since 2017 to help achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal of “Ensure access to water and sanitation for all”, in the Euro-Mediterranean area. The UfM Water Agenda aims to ensure that each and every Euro-Mediterranean country receives the necessary technical, administrative, and financial recommendations to help achieve water security for its population and their economic activities, taking into account its impact on agriculture, employment, hygiene and climate change.