Climate and Nature

How to build a water-secure Mediterranean

The situation of water scarcity in the Mediterranean is alarming and is poised to worsen in the future.

The situation of water scarcity in the Mediterranean is alarming and is poised to worsen in the future. Image: REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori

Ahmed Slim Bouakez
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Climate and Nature

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • In the Mediterranean region, 20 million people lack access to drinking water.
  • Demand for water is constantly increasing owing to population growth and industrial use, but a lack of trust and transparency in water management systems are worsening the issue.
  • Addressing water scarcity effectively requires a unified strategy that combines digital transparency, behavioural insights and robust infrastructure.

The Mediterranean region hosts 60% of the world's water-poor population (with less than 1,000m³ per inhabitant, per year). That’s 20 million people, especially in the region’s southern and eastern countries, who lack access to drinking water​.

As water scarcity tightens its grip, it becomes evident that one series of challenges may be hiding another: insufficient transparency in water management can breed distrust at local and international levels, concealing potential social tensions and conflicts.

Amidst this looming crisis, the call for transparency to rebuild trust echoes as a note of hope, finding its strength through the transformative power of technology.

An alarming situation that's poised to get worse

The situation of water scarcity in the Mediterranean is alarming and is poised to worsen in the future. Precipitation patterns are constantly shifting, reducing the already scarce water resources in the Mediterranean region. Despite these changes, demand is constantly increasing owing to population growth and industrial use.

This precarious imbalance between supply and demand will inevitably lead to an escalation of water scarcity, creating a future where water resources in the Mediterranean region may not be able to meet the growing demands of its inhabitants and industries.

water scarcity southern Mediterranean
The southern Mediterranean is home to 15 out of the 20 of the world’s most water-scarce countries Image: Statista

The southern Mediterranean, particularly the MENA region, is at the epicentre of this water scarcity crisis as it is home to 15 out of the 20 of the world’s most water-scarce countries.

On the other hand, the efficiency of the resource is very low. In fact, water losses and inefficiencies, including those in transport and irrigation, amount to more than 100 km³ per year, representing approximately 45% of the region’s total water demand.

This escalating water scarcity not only threatens the region’s environmental stability but also has profound social implications. As resources dwindle, competition for water can exacerbate existing social tensions and even spark new conflicts. This situation underscores the critical need for trust and cooperation in water management strategies.

The long road ahead to trust

Transparency plays an instrumental role in rebuilding trust. Lack of transparency in water management leads to inefficient allocation of water resources. Water supplies may not be distributed based on actual needs, or priorities but rather based on arbitrary practices, for example.

An absence of clear and accessible policies leads to inefficient allocation and distribution of water resources. The absence of transparency in these crucial guidelines hinders effective decision-making processes and perpetuates uncertainty among stakeholders. In fact, the paucity of data and information about water availability, usage and needs results in inadequate planning and implementation of strategies.

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At a macro level, many water resources are transboundary, requiring joint management and cooperation among the countries through which they flow. Poor transparency can result in conflicts, complicating the water scarcity situation. To avoid these conflicts, countries should openly share information about their water management practices building a foundation of trust.

Technology: the ultimate shortcut to limit the impact of water scarcity

Addressing water scarcity effectively requires a unified strategy that combines digital transparency, behavioural insights and robust infrastructure – critical to building resilience in the Mediterranean region.

Technology can rebuild trust, by enhancing transparency in water management. Collecting and analysing data offers insights into water consumption patterns, which help predict water needs and optimizes water resource allocation. Understanding water consumption behaviours is crucial to shaping strategies that encourage positive change in water usage habits.

Robust water infrastructure also plays a pivotal role in mitigating the impact of changes in precipitation patterns. It is important to create an infrastructure that stores water during periods of excess rainfall for use during droughts.

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An example: WaterSec

WaterSec, a Tunisian start-up, was created in response to the threat of water scarcity in the region. It aims to shape sustainable water consumption behaviour using innovative technology and has developed Internet of Things sensors connected to a dashboard, enabling its users to track their water usage in real time, detect abnormal behaviours such as leaks and generate dynamic reports. It also offers tailored recommendations.

At WaterSec, we embrace the principle of ‘we only manage what we measure’. As co-founder Slim Bouakez says: “The rational shift in behaviour among our users highlights a growing responsibility towards water consumption.”

Have you read?

WaterSec openly shares data with local water actors to assist in their activities, fostering a collaborative approach to water management. This transparency not only empowers users but also provides valuable insights for policy-makers, driving a comprehensive and sustainable approach to water usage in the Mediterranean region.

In confronting the escalating crisis of water scarcity in the Mediterranean, it's evident we are not just battling a physical shortage but also grappling with issues of trust and cooperation. This situation calls for a shift that goes beyond traditional water management strategies, demanding a holistic approach that encompasses transparency, shared responsibility and technological integration.

Transparency, in particular, emerges as a critical element. It's about opening the channels of communication and data sharing, not only within nations but also across borders. When countries and communities start treating water data as a shared asset, it paves the way for collaborative solutions and mitigates the risk of conflicts over resources.

This open approach could transform water management from a point of contention to a platform for cooperation and trust-building.

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Climate and NatureDavos AgendaAccess to Water and Sanitation
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