Insights from Dario Scannapieco, Vice-President of the European Investment Bank, into the key ingredients for the emergence of a water and energy community around the Mediterranean.
What are the biggest challenges for the Mediterranean region in the 21st century?
Despite their differences, Mediterranean countries face the common challenges of developing strong socio-economic infrastructure, improving economic performance and creating job opportunities for their populations. They also face common environmental challenges: climate change and demographic trends are contributing to unsustainable strains on the environment, notably on fresh water resources – in what is already the most water-scarce region of the world. Dry regions are becoming even drier and water quality is gradually being degraded by pollution and unsustainable consumption. Population movements, such as the Syrian refugee crisis, have exacerbated these strains, particularly around urban areas where they tend to concentrate. The problems are not confined to urban areas but rather, to whole catchment areas, with cities competing for water with rural areas, notably the agricultural sector.
Our investments around the Mediterranean aim to support low-carbon and climate-resilient growth and to make water security a priority.
To sustain healthy societies, it is essential that solutions are found for the appropriate management of resources. Water security can often be improved with appropriate policy measures, sound management and consumer behaviour adjustments such as through sustainable agriculture. But this is not enough. Significant investments are needed in order to upgrade obsolete or inefficient supply systems, and to provide new infrastructure altogether. In coastal areas, desalination is an option; and inland, advanced wastewater treatment for reuse in agriculture for example is better than tapping into pristine sources. However, these solutions are expensive and should be considered carefully whether they are justified.
How is EIB contributing to address these challenges?
Countries of the region are aware of these challenges and we work together with the governments to identify and develop solutions. Our investments around the Mediterranean aim to support low-carbon and climate-resilient growth and to make water security a priority. For instance, the Wadi Al-Arab Water System II will improve drinking water availability for the population of Jordan – in particular Irbid, near the Syrian border, which hosts a large number of Syrian refugees. We also provide direct technical advice and support for the preparation of investment projects in the water and environmental sectors. More specifically, such preparations involve the planning, studies and (technical) design of projects.
The EIB has been supporting southern Mediterranean countries for more than 40 years and provided over €33 billion to nearly all sectors of the economy. We have also mobilised additional resources and expertise, such as under the Economic Resilience Initiative which increased by €6 billion between 2016-2020, thereby supporting additional investment of €15 billion, in addition to the € 7.5 billion of financing already foreseen in the Mediterranean region. Alongside increased financing, the EIB will offer more concessional finance, enhanced support to the private sector and technical assistance.
What is needed for a water and energy community to emerge around the Mediterranean?
Water conservation, treatment and reuse, and equitable distribution are key issues around the Mediterranean. Despite some disparities, a common understating of critical water issues at large exists in the region. What is needed is to identify common targets and strengthen regional cooperation among officials, experts and scientists working in the field.
International gatherings, such as AMWAJ, the World Water Forum, and the Mediterranean Water Forum, plus intergovernmental institutions like the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) offer good platforms for all stakeholders of the Mediterranean community to engage in dialogue and exchange of information on projects, or indeed issues in the region. The UfM is playing an important role in making the Gaza Desalination Plant Project a reality, acting as the convenor of multiple stakeholders (and donors).
With water flowing across or in between national boundaries, there is no alternative than to cooperate between neighbours. The Red Sea–Dead Sea Project is an iconic example of an international water project between Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Likewise, the Wadi Al-Arab Project mentioned is also possible thanks only to water delivery agreements between Jordan and Israel.
The key factors to enable an energy community to emerge around the Mediterranean involve mainly the eastern and southern shores, and include 3 pillars: 1) improve cooperation among countries – this would optimise investments and maximise the opportunity for energy exchanges; 2) create competitive electricity markets and accelerate the decarbonisation of power systems, including harmonisation with EU renewable energy source (RES) policies; and 3) political stabilisation of the region.
How important is transnational cooperation and interoperability of energy, transport and infrastructure systems?
In the Mediterranean region, the EIB supports the development of interoperable and cross-border infrastructure systems in EU Member States and those non-EU countries under current mandates. Good transnational cooperation and interoperability of infrastructure networks is essential to help reduce transport costs and improve connectivity across regions and boundaries. Better cooperation to tackle common issues together will lead to clear economic, social and environmental benefits from more efficient and resilient infrastructure systems.
For transport infrastructure, cooperation can remove technical and institutional bottlenecks, especially at cross-border sections for roads, railways, inland waterways, airports, and maritime ports. Such investments may include physical infrastructure and the adoption of common specifications for digital traffic management and control systems. Cooperation is also key for safety and security by promoting common standards and coordination between relevant authorities and other stakeholders.
The EU is promoting cooperation and energy market integration in the Mediterranean region thanks to sector-specific organisations, such as the Association of Mediterranean Regulators (MedReg) and the Association of Mediterranean TSOs (MedTSO) – both of which are key organisations for the development of energy regulation and energy markets integration in a pragmatic way.
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