The launching of the activities of the work programme of the EU funded Water Environment Support (WES) regional project coincides with the COVID-19 pandemic, which, similarly to what happened in other parts of the world, has seriously affected the Mediterranean Region.
The crisis was not confined only to health problems with many infected people and large numbers of mortal victims, particularly in the Mediterranean North, but it has very serious socio-economic consequences starting from lock-downs, closed schools and restrictions to traffic and social contacts, to extended damages in most economic sectors, unemployment and further misery for the least privileged.
The WES Team, apart from elaborating measures for the, as much as possible, smooth application of the Work Programme under these extraordinary conditions, wishes to stress that we should consider the current situation as a strong wake-up call for preparedness and reflection on a series of issues, several of which are tackled by the WES project.
Starting with water, the simple most basic measure to avoid the spread of the virus, the frequent hand washing with clean drinking water is a condition that has increased water consumption by 30% to 50% in the region with significant shift of resources from agriculture to households. It is an alarming fact that still several millions of Mediterraneans do not have access to safe water and even more people have no access to sanitation. The situation is even worse in areas under armed conflicts and among refugees with chain impacts to health, economy, and society. As a consequence of the intensification and diversion of water resources to households, both agriculture, natural ecosystems and environment as a whole are under more pressure from water scarcity.
Fortunately, WHO and other organisations report that no coronavirus was found in natural water bodies. COVID-19 was found, however, in untreated waste-waters which, in some cases, are still used “raw” for informal irrigation in some Mediterranean countries.
Conventional treatment for drinking water and waste waters is also effective against COVID-19. That means that all the activities related to securing proper integrated management of water resources, water economy, reduction of losses, reduction of non-revenue water, promotion of safe use of non-conventional water resources, water retention systems with recharge of aquifers, methodologies considering the nexus of water-energy-food-ecosystems, economy of water resources by industry (food industry in particular) and abatement of pollution of water bodies, water accounting, etc., are all relevant and in the heart of policies to address COVID-19 and proactively protect or prepare to address similar future crises.
Furthermore, the fact that many new diseases are linked to zoonosis and closer animal-human contact in mass production linked to new lifestyles with meat as only one of the indicators of the over-consumption of our days, further justifies all the WES activities related directly or indirectly to the environment with emphasis on various types of recycling, avoidance of single use plastics, etc., aiming at reconsidering unsustainable consumption and production patterns and promotion of awareness/education and particularly on appropriate processes, where women and youth are also targeted.
We do believe also that WES contributes in tangible ways to strengthening institutional frameworks and capacities and the ability of partner countries to obtain and properly manage the urgently needed additional investment on water, environment and awareness raising which we hope that will be of high priority within the funds connected to the recovery plans for the post COVID-19 era.
Prof. Michael Scoullos
WES Team Leader