Union for the Mediterranean, 4th meeting of the Water Experts Group

Since 2009 and for the fourth time MedWet was invited to participate in the Water Experts Group (WEG) which is tasked with the implementation of the provisions included in the Declaration of the Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial Conference on Water held at the Dead Sea Jordan on 22 December 2008. In these meetings, along with other regional Mediterranean organizations, MedWet has participated as an observer and has assisted in the elaboration of the Strategy for Water in the Mediterranean (SWM) with particular persistence to taking into consideration the values and functions of wetlands in water management and the need to encourage their conservation.

In various discussions held with the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) Secretariat, wetlands have been presented by MedWet as a subject beyond the singular aspect of nature conservation but to be integrated into the spirit of wise and efficient use of resources, sustainable agriculture, water management and sustainable land use. Representatives of the UfM were open to cooperation with MedWet without having specified concrete ways yet.

The fourth meeting of the WEG was chaired by the Environment & Water Division of the UfM Secretariat with representatives from twenty-two countries as well as intergovernmental organisations and NGO’s.  The meeting took place in the context of political upheavals in the Arab world; therefore the Strategy for Water in the Mediterranean even though approved by the WEG can’t yet be placed in a firm political framework. Despite these obstacles, all the participants showed a strong commitment to continue the advancement on a technical level. Before the meeting, participants were encouraged to submit projects, however in the absence of an approved strategy and action plan presented projects were mainly discussed as examples to illustrate project criteria and specify the relevance of projects in the construction of the UfM. The Secretariat then introduced at length the process of project analysis that has been developed, and asked the participants to discuss and validate it.

In terms of selection criteria for projects, MedWet added two new important dimensions to consider,

a. On the one hand the socio-economic situation due to the political changes in North Africa and the Arab world. Hence, the need to take into consideration the unemployment of young people, for the most part educated and members of the civil society that needs to be reinforced.

b. On the other hand, to use the protection of the environment as a factor of socio-cultural and economic development. There is an opportunity to create jobs for young people by investing in the field of environmental protection and ecosystem restoration.

The decisions taken in the fourth WEG meeting were limited but there was a clear reinforcement of the need and willingness to keep working together despite the lack of political consensus on the fields of water and the Environment.

In the discussion on project guidelines some participants called for prioritisation of regional projects with marine protection as a central theme whereas others noted that priorities at the local level can also serve as lessons and have a wider, regional impact if the results and experiences are well disseminated.

After the meeting, MedWet along with fifteen other intergovernmental organisations and regional NGO’s (Mediterranean Water Institute, League of Arab States, WWF Med-Po, Blue plan, EMWIS, MedCities etc), was invited in order to discuss possible cooperation between the UfM and Information Networks in the Mediterranean. After a brief presentation of their activities in the Mediterranean, the participants discussed their perceptions and experience of working on a regional level and expressed their expectations vis-à-vis cooperation with the UfM.

Among the strongest ideas expressed was to connect a multitude of sub-basins which are usually disconnected, to strengthen existing information networks and to avoid duplicating existing initiatives. Twinning is considered as a good tool for replicating successful experiences and the UfM could be an opportunity to organize synergies between various initiatives. MedWet noted the need for trust in sharing knowledge, information and expertise and affirmed that the experience of the Mediterranean Wetlands Observatory will be very useful in terms of calibrating the level and targets of information sharing. MedWet also reminded that the incentives for sharing knowledge are regional solidarity, the opportunity to work together in joint projects and the exchange of experiences and information.

The Barcelona Process and the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) remain for MedWet the most suitable institutional frameworks in terms of projects and cooperation in the Mediterranean. Despite questions raised about the possible evolution of the UfM in the new geopolitical context of the Mediterranean, MedWet believes that there are concrete ways to develop with the UfM like the support and strengthening of the civil society in the protection and wise use of wetlands, the support of the Initiative in the evaluation, the consultation and design of projects related to water and impacts on wetland ecosystems and finally the promotion of a differentiated approach depending on the sector like agriculture, tourism, urbanization, water resources and others.