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Mediterranean states must work together to adapt to water scarcity – Prof. Ralf Ludwig

Water resources can create conflict when they cross borders. Image: courtesy of Ralf Ludwig
Water resources can create conflict when they cross borders. Image: courtesy of Ralf Ludwig

Countries in the Mediterranean need to work together to manage water resources in the face of climate change, according to Professor Ralf Ludwig, who coordinated the EU-funded CLIMB project. 

The CLIMB project looked at how climate change will affect water resources in Europe, North Africa, and the Palestinian Gaza region. Why is it necessary to re-consider the way water resources are currently managed?

‘This is a very striking problem. It is going to impact many things in the affected societies, particularly in southern Europe, in the Middle East and northern Africa. Climate change is coming at a very high pace in this region, and according to current knowledge it is coming hard. I’m not saying this will lead to an uninhabitable area – that’s not the point – but case-specific adaptations definitely have to be made to secure water resources.’

Water resources often cross borders. How can this lead to conflict?

‘A very prominent example would be the Gaza coastal aquifer, which is shared by the Gaza Strip and Israel. It is largely fed by water going subsurface through Israel towards the coast. Large differences, possibilities and necessities in the management of water resources on either side have put the people in Gaza in a very critical situation. Trans-boundary collaboration is needed to ensure that this water crisis doesn't amplify existing conflict.’

How can international collaboration help? 

‘Whenever we have a trans-boundary water body that involves several states, if you only work from one end without collaborating with the other you can hardly make any kind of reasonable improvement to a situation of water insecurity. Collaboration on water resources needs to be established across national borders in order to make progress towards sustainability. Science diplomacy can be a great vehicle to obtain improved water security.

Climate change is coming at a very high pace in this region, and according to current knowledge it is coming hard.’

Professor Ralf Ludwig, Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich, Germany

‘International collaboration is often a stronger, and obviously a preferable mechanism to sustainably manage scare water resources than conflict. When you start to collaborate you may be able to find enduring solutions for the benefit of all those involved. In any case, adaptive and preferably collaborative action is needed to reduce the likelihood of conflict and increase water security.’

How will countries have to adapt? 

‘The current methods of managing water are going to have to change. The problem is that the possibilities of physically storing water are limited, you cannot just create huge reservoirs or underground cisterns everywhere, etcetera. So adaptations will have to be made on many levels, for example in agriculture by growing more suitable crops and, most of all, by increasing the efficiency of irrigation, but also by applying modern water-saving technologies in domestic and touristic water consumption.

‘Growing crops with very high water demand, like rice or cotton, in areas of pronounced water scarcity, such as southern Spain or Egypt is obviously not sustainable in the long term. Where applicable, it should also be considered that shifting the use of available water resources from highly water-consumptive agriculture to competing industries, such as tourism, can create much higher economic turnover per inserted litre.’

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