Harvesting Rainwater, Sustaining Life

Rainwater harvesting is not a modern practice. It has been practised since ancient times and it is still used to address current water challenges. Konstantina Toli, Senior Programme Officer with GWP Mediterranean, writes a blog post about lessons from the GWP regions.

Storm Clouds Over the Rockies

“When that I was and a little tiny boy,

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,

A foolish thing was but a toy,

For the rain it raineth every day.”

Shakespeare, Twelfth Night  

Rain: a toy, a nuisance, a source of disaster, a source of life. It quenches the thirst of plants, crops and animals and sustains their life. When strong, it can cause flooding. When it starts, we run away to find shelter. When scarce, we plead for some more.  When wise, we harvest it.

Rainwater harvesting is not a modern practice. It has been practiced since ancient times. Elaborate water harvesting, conveyance and storage systems from as early as the Bronze Age can be found in the Minoan civilisation in Greece (from ca. 3500 BC); the Indus Valley Civilization (3000-1500 B.C.); the Mayan in Central America (from 2000 BC) or later the Incas in Peru (from 1200 AD). Sophisticated rainwater harvesting systems providing water to palaces, cities and villages can be found in each civilization. Some of these, like the water collection system in Tikal, Guatemala, built by the Mayas (200-900 AD) is considered a masterpiece of low-cost water engineering, which can offer significant lessons and can be replicated, adapted to modern needs, as people move to the highlands to farm nowadays.

Many areas around the world face water scarcity. Among these, numerous islands, mainly due to their small catchment areas and poor or seasonal rainfall. For them, rainwater has always been a valuable water resource.

Rainwater harvesting is part of the tradition in the Greek islands, where local materials are employed and expertise was developed. Santorini Island, a global landmark of natural beauty yet with very limited fresh water resources, boasts of its water management heritage, with ancient findings from as early as the Cycladic civilisation (ca. 3100-1600 BC). The island has a unique heritage of hand-crafted rainwater harvesting cicterns, constructed by local craftsmen and plastered using Theran soil from the volcano eruption. Hundreds of cisterns are scattered all over the island: in houses, communities and plots of land. Yet, as in most islands, in the past few decades, with the expansion of the water supply networks, rainwater harvesting has been abandoned, while the demand for water increases, resulting to unsustainable solutions to cover it.

Many Greek islands encounter water scarcity challenges due to their limited freshwater resources and impacts of emerging climate vulnerability, thus putting local water security at risk. This affects the local economic activities, which depend on seasonal tourism and small scale agriculture, as well as the ecosystems safety.

GWP Mediterranean, acknowledging the need to revive this traditional practice in the water scarce Greek islands, developed the “Rainwater Harvesting (RWH) Programme in the Greek Islands”, in 2008. Through a multi-stakeholder partnership, it brought together the local authorities of the islands, the private sector (Coca-Cola system and The Coca-Cola Foundation) and a regional organisation. The RWH Programme has a holistic approach and evolves around 4 pillars: rainwater harvesting applications in public building and areas showcasing various technologies available; educational programme for students and teacher trainings; capacity building for local authorities to manage their water resources efficiently and training for technicians on how to enhance local expertise on installing and maintaining RWH systems; and awareness raising on critical water challenges and the potential of rainwater harvesting to cover domestic secondary uses, as well as farming needs.

Due it is acknowledgement by the local communities for its contribution to change the mindset of water use to a more sustainable, mobilising also non-conventional water resources, The RWH Programme has since 2011 expanded to the Maltese islands, then in Cyprus and recently in Sardinia Italy. For its holistic approach and the contribution to local water security and climate change adaptation, GWP-Med received the second global award as a Water Showcase at the 7th World Water Forum (April 2015, Rep, of Korea) and continues its efforts to expand it in other water scarce areas around the Mediterranean.

Similar to the challenges in the Mediterranean, across the globe, Central America has experienced drought for the past 3 years, which has had a significant impact on the population at large, but particularly those who live in the Dry Corridor of Central America and the “Arco Seco” of Panama. GWP Central America has identified strategic allies to implement water harvesting pilot projects in the Dry Corridor of Honduras to provide an alternative to water scarcity in rural communities. Many communities in this area have no other water source and the responsibility of providing water for the homes usually falls on the most vulnerable: women and children.

Pilot projects implemented in the region included the installation and maintenance of rainwater harvesting systems in Honduras, with a geomembrane bag.  Going beyond installation, GWP Central America carried out a training for women who live in rural areas and are community leaders. These women were trained on how to install and maintain such a rainwater harvesting system at home. Empowering and training them to fit this low-tech system at home, made them more confident and positive. Having a water resource at home, provided through a water harvesting system, changes their lives. Following the success of the training on RWH, the training will be replicated in El Salvador and beyond.

The project also involved actors from the private sector (AMANCO-Mexichem-a private global company that manufactures plastic pipes), and CARE-PROSADE, a project that promotes food security in southern Honduras and allowed synergies with the academia (Zamorano University in Honduras). A demo system was installed in an agricultural plot, in order to showcase the potential of rainwater harvesting for agricultural use.

While water scarcity is not always the main challenge, in other areas, lack of water supply networks can be the driving force behind rainwater harvesting. In the Caribbean, several communities in various countries, such as Antigua and Barbuda; Barbados; The Bahamas; Dominica; Dominican Republic; Jamaica; Martinique; St. Lucia; St. Kitts and Nevis; St. Vincent and the Grenadines are not connected to a water supply network. For these communities, rainwater is a valuable source of water-sometimes, the only one available. GWP Caribbean saw its potential and started promoting and demonstrating modern rainwater harvesting practices that could be adopted by water scarce communities to secure water availability. They built a model rainwater harvesting system as an educational resource to enhance awareness of rainwater harvesting in the region and created the Rainwater Harvesting Toolbox. Since 2010, the model has toured the region in every possible event, demonstrating a safe way to harvest and reuse water for domestic use. At the same time, they created a resource kit the rainwater harvesting toolkit, where one finds all necessary information on how to build a rainwater harvesting system, health and safety regulations and tips, best practices and technologies available. This open source tool has been a valuable resource for the Caribbean, enabling the uptake of related technologies in the region.

In a changing world, with increasing population and needs for water, rainwater harvesting can provide a reliable source of water fit for secondary uses as well as for farming. GWP regions have taken various steps towards mobilising this resource, in their efforts to contribute to local water security and climate change adaptation. A number of technologies, from low-cost to high-end are available and able to cover all needs for rainwater harvesting, under various climatic and other conditions. Know-how and experience is accumulated and shared through the GWP network and beyond. All what is left, is our action to harvest water, It’s easy! Just try it out!

Learn more: GWP Mediterranean, GWP Central America, GWP Caribbean

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Francophone Youth Ready to Present White Paper in Paris

Audrée Giard-Leroux is a marine biologist and has a master’s degree in maritime resources management. She is now studying international ecology at the University of Sherbrooke. She will be part of a group meeting in Paris to work on the White Paper of the Francophone youth for water project.


From October 5th to 7th, as part of the Francophone youth for water project, initiated by the OFQJ and GWP in collaboration with the International Secretariat for Water (ISW) and its World Youth Parliament for Water (WYPW), ten young Francophones from Canada, France, Haiti, Burkina Faso and Tunisia, met in the premises of LOJIQ in Montreal, in order to exchange national assessments results as well as prepare the drafting of a White Paper on the involvement of youth in the areas of water and food security for the Youth Conference (COY11) and the Paris Climate Conference (COP21).

During this highly rewarding multicultural meeting, the national assessments of Canada/Québec, France, Haiti, Burkina Faso, Tunisia, Togo, Cape Verde, Mali and Madagascar were presented by the young participants. These assessments were composed of the findings and recommendations from the youth of different countries about the effects of climate change on their territories.

Following this information sharing, the participants focused on identifying common themes from the different assessments. After numerous interventions by participants, reflecting on the complexity of integrating different realities and local issues related to climate change, four themes were selected to develop a framework of the White Paper.

It is following this decision that the Francophone youth for water, representing engaged youth from 18 countries, will meet in Paris starting November 24th in order to write the White Paper on the findings and recommendations over the themes of public health, agriculture and food security, the sharing of water resources, and adaptation and resilience to climate change.

Photo by: COP 21 La jeunesse francophone pour l’eau

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Pre-Soviet Water Management Practices in Central Asia

Eva Kleingeld is currently doing a 6-month internship with GWP as part of her Master studies at Leiden University, The Netherlands. Her subject is Russian and Eurasian Studies, with a thesis on Hydro-politics and security in Central Asia. She will spend part of her internship with a GWP partner organization in Central Asia doing field studies.

Central Asia became the cotton producing center of the Soviet Union once the Bolsheviks seized power, however, in Pre-Soviet times, people of the region already had a quite impressive and integrated system to manage and distribute their water resources.

There is not very much known about how the water was regulated in pre-Soviet Central Asia, but Von Middendorf  (1882) gave a detailed description of the water management process in the Kokand khanate, which was located in the Ferghana Valley. There existed an extensive network of canals in the Ferghana Valley and in order to govern the use of these canals, there was an extensive set of rules and practices in place. The system of water rights was based on Sharia and according to Islamic traditions, water belonged to the whole community.

Water management functioned on local level, the so-called volost. The waters in the Kokand khanate were hierarchically governed. A local water master, the mirab, was responsible for the allocation and distribution of water resources and the construction and maintenance of canals. The mirab was elected by the farmers who were also responsible of paying his salary. They gave him a percentage of the crops they harvested and this payment was known as Kipsen; if the harvest was poor, the Kipsen was less. A comptroller figure, a village elder known as ariq aqsaqal, oversaw the mirab activities. The mirab was assisted by the ariq amin, who was responsible for the smaller canals. The so-called ketman was responsible for the allocation of water on the level of the village. Ketman were divided into smaller units, where they were responsible for the allocation of water of a few streets or a few families. The water management was thus executed by all stakeholders.

A lesson can be learned from this water management structure. Nowadays we are so much concerned with the management of our water resources on national level, while on local level the society is also needed to govern the resources. Involvement of all stakeholders in water management is of great importance. Sometimes looking to the past might be a way of improving the future.


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Buying Land

Dr. Danka Thalmeinerova, GWP’s Senior Knowledge Management Officer, attended GWP’s Coordinated Land and Water Governance workshop in Pretoria, South Africa, June 15-16, 2015. In this blog she shares highlights, and insights she gained. Land and water

An introduction by Madiodio Niasse of GWP’s Technical Committee set out key questions such as:

  • How can you integrate water and land if you mainly work from a water angle (risk of putting too much emphasis on water at the expense of land)?
  • The world has been managing land and water separately without major problems, why should we look at these resources simultaneously now?
  • How does coordinated governance of land and water contribute to food security?

The popular term is “land grabbing” but the participants did not like the negative connotation. Are all forms of “land investments” a case of “grabbing”?

Apparently there is a slowing down of such deals, but the most targeted region is Africa. The most frequent buyers come from the UK and the USA. Other big buyers include the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and China. The Land Matrix is an online tool that records all known deals.

Ward Anseeuw (CIRAD and University of Pretoria) emphasized that a rush for land is triggered by a range of drivers, food being the main one, but also biofuels production. Ruhiza Boroto (FAO-Africa) noted that from 2000-2012, a total area of approximately 3.4 million hectares (the size of the Netherlands) has been bought in Africa. Of this, 26% was acquired for growing food crops, 68% for biofuels, 3% for cotton, and 3% for livestock.

Interestingly, only about 25% of land deals include information about the water on or under the land. The volume of water to be extracted is not usually specified in contracts, and water pricing, where it exists, is not related to volume extracted. This has far-reaching implications, not only for the water sector which is impacted by land investments in a particular country, but for transboundary waters as well. Information about changes in land use are not mentioned in the UN Water Convention, and are rarely the subject of neighbor notification, said Anton Earle (SIWI).

Workshop speakers shared experiences on how coordinated land and water management contributes to food security. A case study from Burkina Faso, presented by Tiemtoré Mahamoudou (GWP West Africa), illustrated how small-scale irrigation works with both surface and groundwater resources and how farmers learned appropriate farming techniques to ensure production during dry seasons. The project began in 2001 and a strategy for sustainable development of irrigated agriculture was adopted in 2003. Currently, more than 120 billion Central African Francs have been mobilized for its implementation. Nevertheless, there are still constraints such as poor maintenance of irrigation devices and insecure land use rights.

Rudo Sanyanga (Oxfam) focused on campaigns in rural communities to help women obtain their fair share of water resources on which their livelihoods depend. An example from Malawi, by Robert Kafakoma (Training Support for Partners), showed how land monitoring and recording systems safeguard women’s land and water rights. Land dispute registers become a deterrent to corruption, and women are getting their land back. Water aspects may not be addressed specifically, but it is obvious that ‘when a local person has piece of land, they usually have water there.’

Governance is about power, access to information, and political economy. While a lot can be learned through pilot projects among the poor, a need for governance changes must be made at the top levels of government. How can we multiply and scale up small community examples to translate them into a common, national policy? The coordination and integration of land and water use is expensive, long-term, politically sensitive, and complicated – but must be done. Researchers should help policy makers identify the synergies between the two sectors so that they are not in conflict, but move together for positive human development.

The workshop, attended by 32 participants (15 women), was organized by the GWP Technical Committee in collaboration with the International Land Coalition (ILC) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI). Presentations are online at SlideShare.

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What better reason for a Sustainable Development Goal on water?

Water PollutionToday, January 15, 2015, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Perception Survey rated “water crises” as the #1 risk facing the world in terms of its potential impact. In terms of its likelihood, “water crises” is listed at #8.

This confirms what Global Water Partnership (GWP) and many others have been saying: if we are to ensure a sustainable and secure future for humanity, one of the top development priorities must be to improve the management of the world’s water resources.

Fortunately, the UN General Assembly, on September 8, 2014, adopted a framework for the Sustainable Development Goals which includes Goal #6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

As this framework goes into a period of negotiation among the UN Member States, it is a crucial for governments to keep Goal #6 because the management of water resources is foundational to economic and social development. Are world leaders willing to risk humanity’s future by ignoring the #1 risk facing the world?

Steven Downey, GWP Head of Communications

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Water, Key to Climate Resilience, Requires Funding

Much of the following article, written by GWP’s Programme Officer, Maika Müller, was published in the multi-stakeholder magazine ‘Outreach’ during the UNFCCC’s COP 20, in Lima, Peru, from 1-12 December 2014. It has been updated as  a blog, taking into consideration the COP 20 outcomes.


Water is the common leverage through which a changing climate impacts us, but it is also the bloodstream of our well-being. The impacts of climate change through water are revealed in extreme weather events expressed by more floods, more droughts, and more storms. Notably, the world’s most vulnerable peoples, including women, children, and indigenous populations are hit worst by such climate events.

Water is a big player in creating a more climate resilient world: it is widely demonstrated that countries with robust water management systems, institutions, and water infrastructure are better prepared to cope with climate change impacts.

Sufficient financial resources and innovative approaches to financing are required to support developing countries in undertaking adaptation activities to effectively adapt to climate change. This means we need to assist countries in advancing water infrastructure, strengthening ‘no/low regret’ investments, and developing institutional capacity.

However, looking at the final outcomes of COP 20, water is not central to the global climate change agenda – and it should be. Even though countries have increasingly recognized the importance of water to climate change impacts since the climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009, water is still absent from the formal negotiations and final decisions.

The Green Climate Fund (GCF), which is expected to be operational by 2015, will have an important role in handling billions of dollars in climate finance in the coming years. With its paradigm shift towards a low-emission and a climate-resilient development pathway, the Fund plans to channel a greater share of new multilateral funding for adaptation projects, which are currently undercapitalized in the evolving global climate finance landscape.

In addition, the Fund emphasizes allocating a ‘50:50 balance’ for adaptation and mitigation activities and the increased pledges to the GCF. This is good news, especially if  the Fund creates a “water window” to close the financial gap for adaptation activities implemented by countries for holistic water resources management.

When U.S. President Barack Obama announced a USD 3 billion pledge, he stressed that this “gives us the opportunity to help vulnerable communities with an early warning system, with stronger defences against storm surge, climate resilient infrastructure, to help farmers plant more durable crops.”

How can these ambitions be achieved?

GWP is responding to the emerging climate finance challenge through activities under its Water, Climate and Development Programme (WACDEP). The programme supports 60 countries in climate finance readiness. To support countries in leveraging efficient financing for climate resilient adaptation projects in water resources management, we must, among other actions:

  • enhance the knowledge and capacities of partnerships, institutions and stakeholders to integrate water security and climate resilience in development planning and decision-making processes.
  • support countries in preparing climate resilient “bankable” and tangible projects to leverage investments for water resources management.
  • develop the capacity of planners and decision-makers to identify, develop and appraise ‘no/low regret’ investment plans – such as early warning systems and more resilient crops – to improve the resilience of natural resources in a sustainable way under future climate scenarios.
  • support countries and enable governments to unlock financial sources from new and emerging climate funds and other sources such as development banks.
  • contribute to the development of national adaptation plans (NAPs) and the formulation of projects and programmes to support water security and climate resilient development.
  • strengthen the design of national drought and flood management policies through improved knowledge and access to scientific understanding of drought and floods, risk assessment, monitoring, prediction and early warning.
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Engineering and Green Infrastructure: How do They Work Together?

GWP Senior Knowledge Management Officer Dr. Danka Thalmeinerova wonders about the connection between headline messages and real action in water management.

small water retention

Water leaders sometimes seem to develop new messages in order to justify holding global meetings. Messages such as “towards sustainable water solutions”, “economic development and water security”, “nexus thinking”, “water for development”, and “sustainable growth” are tailored to present new trends and initiatives. But do these messages make a difference on the ground?

For example, “Green Growth” and “Green Infrastructure” have become popular terms in the last 10-15 years. But these concepts have not yet been introduced in national policies or investment plans. The most common response to water management challenges has been to increase investment in solid engineering infrastructure. That response is attractive to politicians because infrastructure is visible and technologies are well tested. So, after a big flood, bigger dikes are built. After a severe drought, more irrigation channels are constructed or deeper groundwater pumps are installed. Other alternatives to mitigate floods, control erosion, and purify wastewater are not given full attention. Even water managers have little understanding of these “green” terms.

Green infrastructure is usually perceived to be a conservation approach, allocating water to the ecosystem in order to secure biodiversity “gems.” The water sector has not overlooked ecosystems. However, implementation of green infrastructure solutions is not fully embedded in water policies as solutions to water management problems. On the contrary, modern water legislation brings several restrictions to alternative solutions. One reason is that the promotion of green infrastructure pushes water planners beyond engineering and beyond the water sector. Land use enters here and it requires the involvement of agriculture, forestry, and nature protection managers to make changes.

Several existing definitions of green infrastructure do not make it easier to get ownership by decision making processes. The most frequently used definition refers to green infrastructure solutions that “are based on the utilization of ecosystem services.” What does this mean in a concrete situation? How can this compete with traditional requests for reliable water supplies and minimizing the impact of extreme events? Can you be sure that restoration of wetlands will be sufficient to filter effluents and absorb pollution? Some answers are found in a recently published Guide on Green Infrastructure (2014). Green solutions are categorized and examples of green infrastructure solutions are displayed. The guide will probably be read mostly by scholars and researchers (it’s 76 pages!), less by practitioners.

The other day I saw a short video which made me realize that things are happening “on the ground” which show green infrastructure actions. Since 2013, GWP Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) has been implementing the Integrated Drought Management Programme (IDMP), which aims to support governments in the development of drought management plans. GWP CEE experts from four countries are testing small water retention methods in the field and are collecting good practices. In the video, GWP CEE presents these alternative measures – showing real examples of the application, effects, and benefits of green infrastructure. The video addresses the role of small water retention in situations such as erosion control, water purification, flood control, urban storm water control, and drought management. It deserves your attention, so watch the video now. It’s time to promote what is happening at the local level to the global level!

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From Water Risk to Value Creation

no fishing

By Fraser MacLeod, GWP Head of Global Projects:

This is the title of a new report that I came across, and to me it crystalizes what I believe is one of the biggest challenges humanity faces in the coming decades: how do we turn problems into solutions, how do we make lower water use the path of greatest economic return?

So, you may ask: what does the report tell us about this journey? Perhaps inevitably, the report is essentially silent about the journey. Rather, it provides another snapshot of how Global 500 Companies view water. The essence is that risks are growing, awareness is increasing, and leadership is needed – tell me something that I don’t know!

We all know that water is invariably not at the table when the big decisions are taken about the wider political economy – education, housing, jobs, taxation, etc. Yet, we also know that these big decisions have consequences for water management. And the corollary is that every water management decision has implications for the wider political economy. How can we bridge this gap?

I believe one of the simplest things the water sector needs to do is to stop talking about water. We need to engage with decision makers on their terms, we need to understand what drives them, and we need to be able to articulate the reasonably foreseeable impacts of their decisions on water (and vice versa). If we can do this with authority and credibility then we will earn respect and trust, from which comes influence.

When I say ‘authority’ I do not mean demonstrating power or leadership – I mean the confidence one gains from personal experience, or the ability to influence others because of one’s commanding manner, or being a trusted source of reliable information and evidence. This form of authority results in a very different conversation, one I do not think we are prepared for.

What do you think?

For those interested in the report, it’s here: From water risk to value creation

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Winners for European Waters: Reflections from ERRC 2014

GWP Senior Knowledge Management Officer Dr. Danka Thalmeinerova shares impressions from the European River Restoration Conference in Vienna (ERRC 2014, 28-30 October), which she is attending.

errc 2014 participants

We all know that the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) made a paradigm shift in thinking about European rivers as “natural capital”. I like this term used by Beate Werner from the European Environmental Agency. This term is self-explanatory, having the same meaning to economists and environmentalists as well as policy makers.

It was emphasized at the plenary opening session of ERRC 2014 that it took Europe about 60-80 years to destroy its aquatic environment thanks to huge economic development, ranging from river pollution, urbanisation, navigation channels, irrigation schemes, and numerous cuts off and regulations of natural streams. A thorough mapping of all the changes in hydro-morphology was made during the first River Basin Management Planning process in all member states of the EU. Wording in the EU WFD stipulates that all the water bodies that are considered to be unsustainable are called heavily modified water bodies. It was estimated that we would need to spend the next 200 years to fix past problems.

The ERRC 2014 is an occasion that attempts to demonstrate that restoration projects are possible, not only as a “nice-to-do activity” of enthusiastic ecological activists, but as an integral part of river planning and management. About 100 presentations were made at the event showing approaches that support river restoration. The most attractive of these qualified for the European River Prize. This prize is devoted to champions of best practice in river basin management. The three 2014 finalists are:

  • DanubeParks is a network of nature protection areas along the Danube. When looking at the Danube from a bird’s eye perspective, the network of parks is like string of pearls, running from Austria’s mountains to the floodplain of Romania towards the Black Sea. More than 10 years of strengthening the management of natural parks along the Danube comprised more than 150 activities, ranging from river restoration, nature conservation, and enhancement of eco-tourism. As a result, several rare species that were going extinct are coming back because of better management of the protected parks. This finalist made a point that river is a place for birds, fish, as well as for people and the economy.
  • The Mur River restoration project in Austria is an example of cooperation between local municipalities, water engineers, urban planners and eco-activists. Historically, the Mur River was one of the dirtiest in Europe. Although the early wave of restoration included heavy investments in wastewater treatment plans, these were recently combined with increasing of public awareness. The restoration project aimed to bring water back to people and bring people close to the river. Today, the Mur is a popular place to organise festivals, a meeting point for young people, walking space for elderly people, and a good stamp of approval for elected politicians!
  • The Regional Association of Nature Conservation and Sustainable Development (BROZ) is a non-governmental organization that has been active for more than 15 years in river restoration activities in Slovakia and neighboring countries of the Danube (Austria and Hungary). Several restoration projects initiated by this NGO were presented, ranging from small urban streams improvements to important protected zones requiring significant investment. The message of the finalist was clear: practical activities involving stakeholders and the public seem to be the best way to increase trust and transparency in the participation process. Face-to-face discussions are important, although the reports to bureaucratic machinery need to be made seriously. Trust is also increased by providing tangible evidence of how these discussions have influenced the development of the plan.

At the time of writing this, the winner has not yet been announced, but I am convinced that all these finalists and all the others who presented their projects are already winners for European waters.

Related link: Dr. Thalmeinerova also wrote a blog post about ERRC 2013, A Salute to the ERRC

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Rediscovering Our Water Culture Paths in the Mediterranean

“Much of the past water culture heritage has been left largely unexploited, resulting in neglect, deterioration and even loss of any potential remains”, writes Vangelis Constantianos, Executive Secretary of GWP Mediterranean in this blog.

Holding only 3% of the world’s freshwater resources and hosting 50% of the globe’s “water poor” population – counting to 180 out of its 460 million inhabitants – the Mediterranean is among the most arid regions of the world. (‘Water poor’ are those among our fellow citizens disposing less than 1000m3/person/year)

Yet, there are many more of its characteristics to make it exciting, but challenging too: gifted with natural beauty, diversity and fertility; a mosaic of civilizations, religions and ideas; with a fast growing population with increased urbanization trends in search of a better life; poverty, unemployment, gender disparities; unsustainable consumption over the last decades; high development pressures from tourism, industry and agriculture; rising energy needs; climate variability and change, desertification, pollution and biodiversity loss; etc. Lingering socio-political instability, escalating turbulence and war are encountered in some countries of the region.

Over millennia, each and every among the region’s civilizations have celebrated water as a vital substance integral to survival and development, an enduring symbol of life, rejuvenation, purity and hope; a common denominator of a shared heritage.


Since antique times and through a range of practices, indigenous populations of the Mediterranean region have been utilizing rivers, springs, lakes, aquifers and rainwater for water collection, storage, distribution and flooding emergency responses. Such simple, functional and, yet, sophisticated practices were valorized and advanced by all civilizations, since all have been facing similar water-related limitations.

Improved through observation, experimentation, innovation and adaptation to local needs, practices often evolved to knowledgeable solutions supplying water to human settlements and cultivations: remnants of wells, pipelines, canals, aqueducts, cisterns, reservoirs, ponds, small scale dams and integrated systems do still survive – in the face of modern development sirens – scattered across the Mediterranean, forming a unique cultural compendium of centuries-long water management wisdom.

Yet, the pattern changed when our home tap got conveniently connected to a domestic water distribution system, and much of the past water culture heritage has been left largely unexploited, resulting in neglect, deterioration and even loss of any potential remains. The high value traditionally attributed to water has decreased, and though infrastructure and technology have been managing to provide solutions to our everyday practical needs and problems, they have not made us wiser and more responsible water users.

Understanding and truly appreciating the cultural, emotional and intellectual significance of water in our everyday life, will contribute towards a new, thoughtful, and urgently needed consumer’s water culture, in every possible scale. From leaving the tap running while taking a shower to mastering a river through dams’ building, our own choices make a difference for the future of the most valuable gift of life.

Experiencing cultural heritage related to water can help in this direction, as an everyday reminder to local communities and visitors: further to their sentimental and tradition-praising value, such cultural pieces often still contribute to the local water balance and small scale socioeconomic development. Astonishing examples from all around the region can be reviewed through the ‘Hydria Project’ on ‘Collection, Storage & Distribution of Water in Antiquity: Linking Ancient Wisdom to Modern Needs’ at www.hydriaproject.net.

For example, how many tourists have noticed the several traditional wells, fountains, cisterns and watermills scattered around the Greek island of Naxos, clear marks of a century long sophisticated water exploitation? How many do exactly know the practical value of the grandiose Larnaca aqueducts in the island of Cyprus that has long been facing water scarcity? How many appreciate the effort undertaken by the Bonifacio inhabitants in the island of Corsica who have been digging caves and wells up to 70 meters down the earth, to get access to the valuable groundwater? How many have visited the amazing Naples underground network of aqueducts and cisterns, dug stone by stone over thousands of years by Ancient Greeks and Romans? How many are aware of the story behind the Matfias, an originally collective community system developed in the Abda Valley, in Morocco, to tackle drought throughout the year in a simple and low-cost manner? How many do truly understand the pride that Timimoun oasis populations in Algeria find in the local foggara systems, these ingenious irrigation systems which find, however, themselves today in great danger and decline?

The Hydria Project is implemented by the Mediterranean Information Office for Environment, Culture and Sustainable Development (MIO-ECSDE) as part of the Mediterranean Education Initiative for Environment and Sustainability (MEdIES). The Global Water Partnership-Mediterranean (GWP-Med) supports and collaborates with MEdIES and the Hydria Project since their launching. Other supporters include the European Commission, UNESCO and the Anna Lindh Foundation.

Inset photo: “Relief depicting hydria carriers from the North Frieze of the Parthenon, circa 447-432 BC (New Acropolis Museum). The scene is part of the sacrificial procession of the Panathenaic festival that is sculptured all around the frieze.”

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