Water resources in the Mediterranean are scarce, unequally distributed in space and time, degraded and poorly managed. This situation is likely to deteriorate further in view of the increased population and rural migration trends, fluctuating economic growth and the unpredictable impacts of climate change. Countries have traditionally focused more on investing on the “hardware”, in the form of large infrastructure projects and less on the “software”, in terms of policy reforms, governance, efficiency, fiscal and environmental sustainability, and climate change adaptation and mitigation. The challenge is to manage water resources holistically, with equity, accountability and transparency in view of contributing effectively to the sustainable development and prosperity of the Mediterranean region.
The seriousness of water and environmental issues has been widely recognized by the countries of the region that have responded with national and regional initiatives and reforms to improve the sector’s performance. Cooperation between the EU and ENPI South Countries in the field of the environment and water has both intensified and encompassed a structured political process engaging all countries as key factors in tackling the increasing economic, environmental and security challenges as well as the implementation of concrete projects.
The EU policy in the Mediterranean region is guided by the European Neighbourhood Policy and its Action Plans. In the area of environment, the Euro-Mediterranean Partners have committed to increase efforts to substantially reduce the pollution of the Mediterranean by 2020 in the “Horizon 2020 Initiative” (H2020). The initiative aims to tackle the main sources of pollution, wastewater, municipal waste and industrial pollution, by 2020.
Another important initiative is represented by the Mediterranean component of the EU Water Initiative (Med-EUWI), whose objective is to contribute to the achievements of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development targets for water and sanitation through the adoption of IWRM policies and measures at national and regional level.
At international level, Mediterranean countries committed to implement the Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development, launched by the Mediterranean Commission for Sustainable Development established under the United Nations Environmental Programme Mediterranean Action Plan (UNEP/MAP). In 2008, the parties to the Barcelona Convention signed a Protocol on Integrated Coastal Zone Management in the Mediterranean, identifying adaptation to climate change as a priority. The Marrakesh Declaration, adopted by the Barcelona Convention in November 2009, highlights the need for urgent action to counter the serious impacts of climate change on ecosystems and resources.
On 13 July 2008, the European and Mediterranean Heads of State and of Government created the Union for the Mediterranean. The intention was to give a new impetus to collaboration in the region, based on the progress achieved in the Barcelona Process. Removing pollution from the Mediterranean is among the priorities identified during the Paris Summit on the Mediterranean; the importance of water was also acknowledged. As such, they deserve both exceptional and coordinated efforts from authorities at all levels, and also from the private sector, particularly financial institutions.
In compliance with the mandate given by the Heads of State, the Ministerial conference on Water that met in Jordan on 22 December 2008 decided on the fundamental guidelines for a new Strategy for Water in the Mediterranean (SWM) and its subsequent Action Plan.
The main priority areas of this new Strategy are:
Water and Climate Change,
Water Financing and
Water Demand Management and Efficiency.
However, in spite of the consensus reached on the content of the Strategy, due to the lack of political agreement among the parties, the 4th Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial Conference on Water held in April 2010 in Barcelona failed to adopt a finalised version of the SWM. At the time of writing the draft Strategy has still not been adopted.
Taking into account this context the European Commission has launched the Regional Programme "Sustainable Water Integrated Management" (SWIM Programme) to be implemented under the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI).
SWIM Partner Countries are: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Syria* and Tunisia.
The Project addresses the four core themes that are reflected in the draft Strategy for Water in the Mediterranean (i.e. water governance, water and climate change, water financing and, water demand management and efficiency), supporting concrete measures that would arise from the draft SWM - if eventually adopted - but are not conditional on its adoption to pursue concrete improvements at regional level.
It also targets water issues that are linked to the three main sources of pollution identified by the Horizon 2020 Initiative to De-Pollute the Mediterranean: municipal waste, municipal wastewater, and industrial emissions.
*In May 2011, the European Union decided to suspend all cooperation with Syrian authorities