NAWAMED: What are the required drivers to enhance the adoption of non-conventional water solutions?


The NAWAMED Project's international conference entitled “Fostering knowhow transfer and NBS implementation, building alliances and a common Med policy for non-conventional water (NCW) valorisation  in the Mediterranean region”, was organised by CERTE on 6 February 2023 at the National Library in Tunis in the frame of MEDWAYCAP & NAWAMED joint international event.

It was designed as meeting place for experts to debate around three drivers with high potential impact on the valorisation of non-conventional water resources (NCWR) (see programme). The first one is the important contribution that NCWR can make to mitigating the effects of climate change in urban areas and enabling the transition to green and sustainable cities. Indeed, the Nature Based Solutions (NBS) for Non-Conventional Water (NCW) valorisation are effective and have benefits limited by their design and scope. However, for NCW to contribute to sustainable cities and specifically to the water dilemma, these measures need to be up-scaled and implemented at a wide level: what are the required drivers that will enable up-scaling? What form should upscaling take: simply implement NCW widely or conceptualize NCW as a city system? And how? These were the first questions introduced by the moderator Mr Yaser Abunnasr, Associate Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Landscape Design and Ecosystem Management at the American University of Beirut. 

The panellists insisted that this change in mindset needs to be seen not just in terms of saving water, but also in terms of the other numerous externalities and external benefits that such a change will bring.

“Now, instead of retrofitting, or considering retrofitting a building, we need to look at comprehensive and holistic retrofitting, and that is where our policies come in. So how are we going to change our urban policies to deal with this new reality? And it's not just about water, because we're talking about greening an urban area" 

In the concept of the new smart city, every single green area should be multifunctional and have more than one function. So the different departments that manage our cities must work together to achieve the same goals, namely more pleasant cities to live in and an environment that meets our needs. To achieve this functionalisation, we need to design it from the outset.

The panellists agreed that there are sustainable practices, even on a large scale, but what we see is that we lack the will to adopt these practices at city level and at regional level, which may be due to a lack of political support. There is some legislation, guidelines, but we don't see a structural change at the decision-making city level to adopt these kinds of solutions. However, it is important that when we look at nature-based solutions, we look at our Mediterranean cities, therefore we should look at our culture, rediscover it and adapt it to today's realities. 

The second driver is the driving force of collective action when it is multidisciplinary and oriented towards a common goal, ensuring the commitment of all those who contribute with their know-how, experience and expertise. According to the moderator, Mr Giulio Conte, biologist, freelance consultant, technical director at Ambiente Italia and water policy expert at IRIDRA, sustainable water management -SWM-(and in particular the use of NCW), although perfectly feasible from a technical point of view, has not yet been able to enter into "mainstream" water management practice. Why is it so difficult to get citizens interested in this issue, while other environmental innovation practices (e.g. renewable energy) are moving much more quickly towards mainstreaming? 

The panellists are convinced that policy makers need to make a decision and take action to adopt SWM solutions to cover the needs of citizens. Political support is really essential to achieve financial leverage and to promote these best practices for NCWR. What is important is to create a state of alert by persuading economic operators and investors of the sustainability of best practices and the gains they will make from these solutions. For this purpose, the establishment of a national programme is essential. Awareness raising at different levels can play a very important role, but also creating mechanisms to encourage people to recycle domestic water and convince them to use non-conventional water can achieve mainstreaming objectives.Asking about the proper creative tools to generate active water community for a massive adoption of NBS to enhance NCW valorisation under water stress, panellists confirmed the necessity to start taking action.

"What is not normal or acceptable is not to have water at home, but I do think that we have to be prepared sometimes not to have it at home. I believe that it is very important to stop talking about the source and to talk only about the quality,"

The researchers' community assumed that there is knowledge, many solutions, many good best practices, millions of euros invested by governments and the European Union and other institutions to find good solutions on how to treat sea water, grey water, rain water, waste water, all kinds of water for the sake of humanity, but still there is a lack of political support.

“Of course we need public hearings, more meetings with policy makers, but we also need some creative tools like the innovation camps we are implementing in the Medwaycap project, like the Best Practices Inventory ( which is easily accessible to all planners and decision makers to check what kind of best practices exist and what are the key performance indicators. We need to think about some business model because we lack a supply chain for all these best practices. So we also have to create new jobs, green jobs, to create new opportunities to finally make these best practices a reality".

The Third is to mobilize the energy and creative force of young people into the development of innovative and sustainable ideas related to NCWR valorisation taking into account the available expertise. A “Renewed Water Challenge 2023” call was published in order to identify innovative ideas tailored to one or several of the categories described below and linked to the MEDWAYCAP and NAWAMED objectives.

The number of proposals received for this call is 35 from 13 different countries (see poster). Mrs Souad Rouis, professor at CBS and expert in Innovation, moderated the pitching session of the six candidates selected by the Evaluation Committee. An interaction with the audience and a discussion with the innovative idea holders was established.

The NAWAMED conference was organised the 6 February 2023 with participants from the projects. It was opened by Ms Irene Morell Rodríguez, Senior Expert on Environment and Climate Change, Joint Technical Secretariat, ENI CBC Med Programme. She congratulated the partners of the two projects, MEDWAYCAP and NAWAMED, and CERTE for the organisation of this joint international event. She also pointed out the importance of this very interesting and relevant interaction between the projects working in the same thematic priority of the ENICBCMED Programme "Support innovative and technological solutions to increase water efficiency and encourage use of non-conventional water supply". 

The second welcome was given by Prof. Ahmed Ghrabi, General Director of CERTE, who first welcomed the partners of the two projects, the panellists and all the stakeholders' partner of CERTE present at this conference. Prof. Ghrabi highlighted the importance of the theme addressed during the three sessions and in particular the call for proposals "RENEWED WATER CHALLENGE 2023", the subject of the third part of this conference, encouraging young people to present their innovative ideas in the field of development of non-conventional water resources, considered as a challenge for CERTE.

At the end of the conference, the participants visited the itinerant MEDWAYCAP exhibition presenting the prototypes of innovative solutions for the promotion of the use of NCW. After that, the mayor of Tunis, who showed great interest in the project and the programme, welcomed all partners to the town hall where a cocktail reception was held at the end of the day.