The Mediterranean – "Blue gold" under pressure

Climate change will weigh heavily on water resources in the Mediterranean. Better management of these resources may allow water needs to be met.

The demand for water is expected to continue rising (photo : C.Garcia)
The demand for water is expected to continue rising (photo : C.Garcia)
MEDITERRANEAN. Water is the principal vector via which climate change will impact populations. This is true on the planetary scale and even more so in the Mediterranean, in particular for the countries lying in the south and east of the area.

In a region that contains only 3% of the world's water but hosts 7% of its population, the demand for water is expected to continue rising. Forecasts by the Plan Bleu for 2025 estimate an increase of 18% on average and 30% for the countries in southern and eastern parts of the Mediterranean, against a background of diminishing renewable water resources  (- 20% between now and 2025) due to global warming.

Population growth is intensifying the rate or urbanisation, already higher than the world average -67% in the countries in the Southern and eastern Mediterranean- and jeopardizing the coastal zones, the number one destination for this influx of people. Added to this is the ever-increasing contingent of tourists: from 283 million in 2011, their numbers could reach 500 million by 2030. The infrastructure required for water treatment is far from adequate. In the Mediterranean region, 22.6 million people do not have access to drinking water and 20.6 million do not have proper sanitation.  

Act on water demand

Faced with an increasing scarcity of resources, the only way to reduce water consumption would be to optimize demand. According to the Plan Bleu's studies, savings of 25% by 2025 is a feasible target. "The management of water resources must form the core of any policies designed to adapt to climate change. This is one of the challenges faced by the Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development (MSSD) currently being revised," points out Céline Dubreuil-Imbert, programme manager at Plan Bleu (cdubreuil@planbleu.org). Acting on demand involves improving water transport networks to drastically reduce wastage; it also involves initiating change in farming practices -agriculture accounts for 80% of the water consumed in the region- including the use of drip-line systems or, more radical, adapting the crop choice to the water scarcity context.

The re-use of waste water is another of the avenues to be explored. This could cover 24% of water needs by 2050, as long as the investment in treatment installations matches the requirements. Israel, in the vanguard where these technologies are concerned, has set itself the objective of re-using 100% of its waste water.

Desalination is also a possibility that should not be discounted, providing the energy-intensive treatment processes can be harnessed to renewable energy resources and a solution can be found to avoid the saline discharges becoming a source of pollution.

All these actions hinge upon the implementation of a coordinated policy that takes into account the various environmental, economic and social issues on a Mediterranean scale. One of the concerns of the MSSD.

Christiane Navas, NICE

Tuesday, November 17th 2015

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