The Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) is the intergovernmental Euro-Mediterranean organisation that brings together the 28 countries of the European Union with the 15 countries from the southern and eastern Mediterranean.
The UfM provides a forum to enhance regional cooperation and dialogue, as well as the implementation of concrete projects and initiatives with tangible impact on the citizens, with an emphasis on young people, in order to address three strategic objectives: stability, human development and integration.
In an interview with Ahram Online, Miguel García-Herraiz, UfM Deputy Secretary General for Water and Environment, highlighted Egypt’s key role in the Mediterranean region.
How is the cooperation between Egypt and the UfM implemented to enhance the development in the region?
Egypt is a key player in the Mediterranean and one of the central actors in the whole Euro-Mediterranean cooperation process from its very inception. This has resulted naturally in the strong engagement by the Egyptian government, both in the work of the UfM throughout the 10 years since its creation, and in terms of support to its Secretariat, by seconding qualified experts in different fields, and high-level diplomats.
Two recent examples are the UfM ministerial meeting on strengthening the role of women in society, held in Cairo last November, and more recently and closer to my field of work, the Mediterranean regional process for the World Water Forum, hosted by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation last January.
This was co-facilitated by the UfM, and allowed stakeholders from across the region to define a common Mediterranean vision on the important issues to be discussed at the World Water Forum this week in Brasilia [18-23 March].
Can you briefly explain the importance of the desalination plant that is to be implemented in Gaza?
The project will provide safe and clean water to more than 2 million people residing in the Gaza Strip who currently depend on an over-exploited coastal aquifer as a source of freshwater and on private brackish water desalination plants, which are in all cases inadequate to meet the demand, both from a quantitative and qualitative perspective.
In particular, only 3 percent of the water pumped from the aquifer complies with the World Health Organization’s drinking water quality standards.
By providing these 55 million cubic metres of water the plant will also contribute to the regeneration of the coastal aquifer and reduce the pollution in the eastern Mediterranean. Moreover, it will enable economic development and boost perspectives for job creation.
The overall programme, which is closer than ever to realisation, will have a direct impact on the public health and the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.
In addition, it will contribute to the regeneration and sustainability of the coastal aquifer. It will also provide prospects for jobs and economic development which contributes to the stability of the region.
What other projects has the UfM implemented in the same area before?
The UfM is currently working on more than 20 regional cooperation projects in the field of sustainable development, eight of which are specifically water-related.
More concretely, in the water sector the UfM is working with international partners such as the OECD, the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI). or the Global Water partnership (GWP), and of course national administrations.
A specific project of interest is the Integral depollution programme for Lake Bizerte, a UfM flagship project valued at 91 million euros and financed by the European Investment Bank (EIB), the he European Bank for Reconstruction (EBRD) and Development (EBRD), the European Commission (EC), and the Tunisian government.
This project opens up new prospects for growth and development for a region of 500,000 inhabitants in the north of Tunisia and for the depollution of the Mediterranean Sea, since this lake is one of its major hotspots of pollution.
What are the outcomes of the conference, and how soon could the process of construction start?
The conference aimed to consolidate political support for this flagship project as well as announce financial contributions by pledging statements for the coming four years of implementation.
International stakeholders welcomed the progress achieved to date. They conveyed their support to the project and pledged a total of 456 million euros out of the 562.3 million euros required (more than 80 percent of the total cost), which will make possible to move forward with the next implementation steps. The success of the conference paves the way for the launch of the design andconstruction phase.
The EIB will launch the tendering procedure on 15 April.
This landmark operation will be the largest infrastructure project ever built in the Gaza Strip. It consists of three integrated projects: the construction of a 55 million cubic-metre desalination Sea Water Reverse Osmosis (SWRO) plant, a North-South conveyance system and a Non-Revenue Water reduction project, as well as an associated solar power energy plant. The project is now ready for implementation since all significant milestones in all the preparatory stages have been completed, including on governance, completion of the required feasibility studies, as well as solutions for the energy supply and the financial mechanism for donor contributions.