NAWAMED and MEDWAYCAP projects implement innovative solutions to tackle Mediterranean water scarcity
Through pilot installations, training, and capacity-building activities, NAWAMED and MEDWAYCAP projects have demonstrated that water reuse is a feasible solution for many Mediterranean countries, including Malta, the most water-stressed European country and one of the top ten most water-scarce countries in the world. Learn more about the solutions implemented by the projects in discussion with Mr. Manuel Sapiano, Chief Executive Officer at Malta’s Energy and Water Agency.
Water scarcity in Malta
Malta is the smallest country of the European Union with its highest population density. It lacks rivers and lakes, and its water resources mainly rely on deep ground water and desalination. In fact, the country has been using the technique of desalination since 1982 to produce water from seawater.
Not only it is densely populated but also there is a significant increase of the population between 2000 and 2022: from 390 000 to 523 000 according to data from the World Bank. Adding to that the number of tourists has risen up adding the equivalent population between 40,000 and 90,000 persons on a single day (depending on the season).
On average, every person in Malta uses 110 litres of water per day which is one of the lowest household water consumptions compared to other European Member States. About to 2 to 3 litres for drinking and cooking, 40 litres to take a shower and the same amount to flush the toilet. In a country that has limited natural water resources, it is a high priority to find more sustainable means of addressing demands which require lower quality.
In this context, the ENI CBC MED programme wanted to know more about this reality that faces Malta. As the Energy and Water Agency (EWA) of Malta takes part in 2 ENI CBC MED funded projects namely NAWAMED (a standard project) and MEDWAYCAP (a capitalisation project), we took the time to listen to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of this agency, Mr. Sapiano, to better understand the challenges and possible solutions to tackle water scarcity on the island.
Nature-based solutions to address water scarcity
Mr. Sapiano has a background in water management with specific focus on islands. As CEO of the Energy and Water Agency, he first emphasized on the policy role of the agency which support the central government of Malta in developing policies for the water and energy sectors. We cannot tackle these 2 sectors without taking into account interdependencies with other sectors such as the industrial, the agricultural or the touristic ones. Therefore, the agency has also a cross ministerial role.
Although Malta did not implement a pilot installation in the framework of NAWAMED project, EWA´s participation was so relevant especially when it comes to the development of policies to address the integration of nature-based solutions in water management. But first of all, what does this project exactly address?
NAWAMED stands for Nature-Based Solutions for Domestic Water Reuse in Mediterranean Countries. In the context of this project, 8 pilots have been implemented in Jordan (Green Wall and bioretention systems), in Lebanon (2 Constructed Wetlands and a Living Wall and a Green Façade) , in Tunisia (Living Green Wall) and in Italy (Green Wall ) which are quite innovative. Most of these pilots were realised in buildings where there is a high consumption and high flow of water such as students’ dormitories.
NAWAMED impact on adopting water reuse technique in Malta
The main idea behind these pilots was to demonstrate the feasibility of reusing grey water. The Maltese partner exchanged a lot with the other partners, learned from their experiences and started to study the feasibility of applying the technique of water reuse but to even smaller scale such as households. Imagine that you could reuse the water of the shower to flush the toilet, this would reduce the daily consumption from 110 to 70 litres per person saving 40 litres of water per day and per person!
Unfortunately, such technique is still not financially and legally feasible in Malta. For example, building standards need to be updated to consider piping systems for second class water in buildings (to divert the pipes from shower to toilet and ensure that there is no cross contamination of water). Addressing water reuse does not only cover water but also and most importantly health issues. In this sense, the current legislation in Malta stipulates that water from shower and wash bases has to go through a grid to a drain. Therefore, to implement water reuse, a change in the legislation and the establishment of quality standards to ensure its safe use are required.
One of the most important results of NAWAMED was the formulation of a regional policy document for promoting the adoption of nature-based solutions in the urban environment. This document* will form the basis of a proposal for a national policy for Malta to regulate the adoption of greywater reuse solutions which will be presented to the relevant Maltese authorities by the end of 2023. As a consequence, this will see Malta opening the debate on greywater treatment and reuse with the aim of developing a national regulatory framework for promoting the adoption of greywater management solutions.
Preparing next generation of qualified employees in the water reuse sector
During the interview, Mr. Sapiano compared between the sectors of renewable energies and water reuse in terms of both technologies providing opportunities for the development of alternative resources at the point of use. In order to implement new techniques of water reuse, there is a need of a governance framework. There is also a need to have trained and qualified people to install and ensure the maintenance of installed systems. In this sense, the capacity building part of NAWAMED was also very relevant. Once these aspects are addressed and the market of water reuse is regulated, one would expect that the price of technology will decrease, and this technique will also progressively become economically feasible.
The relevance of tackling water reuse at Mediterranean and not European level
According to Mr. Sapiano, the term “water reuse” is challenging when addressing water management at European level simply because most Member States of the European Union have more than sufficient natural water resources. However, dealing with water reuse with other Mediterranean countries (inside and outside the EU) is easier since they are sharing a common challenge: water scarcity. These Mediterranean countries are facing the same challenge but are usually developing solutions in isolation. And here comes the interest and the weight of a cross border cooperation programme in the Mediterranean such as ENI CBC MED.
Acceptance of water reuse is difficult in European countries because other alternative water resources are available
Lessons learned from Mediterranean cooperation on water reuse
Despite some disparities in terms of data access in Mediterranean Partner Countries and other constraints, there is a real added value of cooperation between both shores of the Mediterranean in the water sector. For instance, the implementation of pilots is very important. Not only it is an effective way to demonstrate the feasibility of the technique but also a strong base to exchange and enrich each other’s experience. In the south shore of the Mediterranean, the location of the pilots was very important, where the partners made efforts to have the pilots implemented in locations with a high visibility and hence improve the outreach with the population.
Once partners work together and meet frequently, they discuss more openly and start to trust each other and are willing to share information not only about their successes but also more importantly about their failures. At the end of the day, they do not pretend to develop the latest technology but simply to share knowledge and adapt solutions to the reality of each one´s country.
When you develop a cooperation project, you also develop friendships which lead to a long-term cooperation
Rainwater harvesting: another part of the solution
Besides water reuse, collecting rainwater through reservoirs is also a good Nature-based Solution used in Malta. MEDWAYCAP as a capitalization project is a good way to showcase different solutions and share good practices. In the case of Malta, EWA included Alteraquaa private co-funded project to demonstrate the restoration of historical reservoirs on the island as a feasible technique to have clean water for sustaining green initiatives. Alteraqua also has a strong capacity building and outreach component to further facilitate raising awareness on rainwater harvesting applications.
In this context, a capitalization project allows cross fertilization of ideas coming from the application of different techniques in different contexts and allows experts to learn from experiences in other countries.
Building water resilience for the future
The main challenge of Malta for the coming years is ensuring a reliable security of water supply. Although, the country has relied on desalination, it cannot keep increasing supplies, and must increasingly develop sustainable solutions. The main effort should therefore focus on developing water reuse techniques, raise more awareness of the population, train people and demonstrate that there is also a lot of green jobs opportunities than can come out from implementing water reuse. Water reuse can complement existing water management frameworks and ensure a higher level of sustainability for the future.
*The policy document will soon be available on NAWAMED webpage in the "document" section.