Interview with Mr. Almotaz Abadi, Managing Director UfM-Water, on the UfM Water Agenda

In an interview for GWP-Med Newsflow, Mr Almotaz Abadi, Managing Director for Water, at the Union for the Mediterranean - Water and Environment Division, discusses regional efforts to address water scarcity and climate challenges, the key ingredients of impactful UfM projects, ways to adapt to COVID-19 effects, and the necessity of adopting a proactive approach for realizing the SDGs.

The Union for the Mediterranean and its Member States have developed, based on the UfM Ministerial Conference on Water (Malta 2017), and are implementing an ambitious regional Water Agenda that aims to assist addressing water challenges in the region as a prerequisite for achieving the entire set of Sustainable Development Goals. The UfM Water Agenda comprises its Policy Framework for Actions 2030 and a Financial Strategy for its implementation.

- Mr. Abadi, you have often highlighted the need to be proactive in addressing the Mediterranean region’s complex water challenges. Do you see signs of a more proactive response in recent months, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 emergency?

Thank you for this important question. There is already some progress in the Mediterranean region, but more efforts are needed. Covid-19 has added an extra level of complexity to existing water challenges, as the region is one of the most water scarce regions in the world[1].  Today approximately 180[2] million of the about 420 million Mediterranean people live in countries with a per capita water availability of less than 1.000 m³/year (annual average). Of these 180 million people, 60 million are living below the line of absolute water-poverty of 500 m³/year per capita: in Palestine, Jordan, Libya, Malta, Tunisia and Algeria.

The impact of Covid-19 was felt differently by the Mediterranean countries based on their economic capacity, governance structure and demographic characteristics. The pandemic affects all of us in the region, but it is the poorest among us who suffer the most. More than 20 million Mediterranean people, mainly in rural areas, have no access to improved water sources and sanitation services. 

60 million people in the Mediterranean are living below the line of absolute water poverty. 


The sudden changes due to Covid-19 in the patterns of water demand from stay-at-home orders, business shutdowns and substantial adjustments to supply chains have knock-on effects in the region especially for the southern and eastern Mediterranean countries, affecting customer water bills, utility revenue, and water and wastewater operational conditions.

We need large-scale action in a short amount of time, which requires leaders to make hard and bold choices today, and under great uncertainty. The pandemic has heightened a wake-up call for all of us both on the extent and consequences of the lack of proactive action, while it may slow down progress in meeting SDG6, as revenue losses by water utilities affect their ability to make critical capital investments.

Shifting the status-quo related to acting more and faster towards sustainability in the Mediterranean region is urgently needed, yet the challenge of bringing about change is enormous. For that, we need a PROACTIVE approach that encapsulates the ideas of Priorities, Resilience, Opportunities, Adaptive solutions, Coherence, Technology, Innovation, Vision, and Early recovery. The Mediterranean region needs to move forward in all these areas if it is to ensure water security and climate resilience for all.

To do so, we need to empower the stakeholders at all levels and within the UfM mandate act in the following lines:

  • Continue the Water Policy Dialogue through the UfM Water Expert Group (WEG) works.
  • Analyse  potential  modalities and promote water and climate-related investments in UfM countries, particularly in MENA, including by engaging international financing partners and the private sector.
  • Support youth engagement and participation in the regional and international arena by enabling their participation in dedicated activities and policy processes.
  • Promote Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystem (WEFE) Nexus action tailored to the region’s socio-economic conditions and needs, particularly assisting Youth and Women towards employability and entrepreneurship, also linked to the post Covid-19 ‘build back better’ agenda.
  • Promote Water Diplomacy, and, in particular, the role of women and wider gender aspects in the agenda.
  • Map and promote the reinforcement of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) through effective multi-level governance, including by incorporating IWRM into national urban policies and integrated city development strategies, to ensure the sustainability of and access to water and freshwater resources.

-  What are the current stage of progress and aimed next steps of the UfM Water Agenda, and how has Covid-19 affected its implementation?

The UfM Water Agenda recognised early on the need for a holistic approach to address water and climate challenges in the region, breaking down the siloed approach of working separately on water and move toward thinking and acting across systems. This is exemplified by UfM’s focus on the Water-Employment-Migration (WEM) and WEFE Nexus.

Embodying the collective efforts and benefits of regional cooperation, the UfM has been working with its 42 member states to implement the Water Agenda and foster the exchange of best practices, notably on how to advance solutions to meet water-related socioeconomic challenges, promoting climate resilience, while assisting women and youth towards job creation.

Our actions now will shape what comes after this crisis, and they need to meet the magnitude of related challenges. We must use this opportunity to fight even more to meet the SDG6 targets for all, through the strengthening of community and systems resilience, as well as fostering out-of-the-box synergies and holistic thinking.


Khirbet Al Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant.


- How does the UfM Water Agenda synergise with new policy and funding instruments, such as the new EU Agenda for the Mediterranean and the new Sida MENA Strategy 2021-2025?

A strengthened Mediterranean partnership remains a strategic imperative for the UfM, which also holds strong for its Water Agenda. Bringing together the Mediterranean water Family, the UfM Water Agenda is determined to advance cooperation with a range of development partners, including EU and Sida. The UfM Water Agenda & its Financial Strategy fully aligned with the new Agenda for the Mediterranean and the Sida MENA Strategy 2021-2025, which means a renewed political impetus for our work.

The UfM Water Agenda was put together to guarantee the attainment of the needs of all countries by ensuring access to safe drinking water as a fundamental human right, particularly for the most vulnerable, and taking into account the gender equality perspective and the active involvement of young people. This comes in line with the five policy areas drawn by the new EU Agenda for the Mediterranean, which is calling to join forces with a spirit of partnership to turn common challenges into opportunities for the mutual interest of the EU and its Southern neighbours, among which the UfM member states.

Moreover, the UfM Financial Strategy aims to facilitate investment in the fields of access to water; protection against droughts, floods and water pollution; and sustainable growth in the Mediterranean region, while enhancing the financial sustainability of the water sector. This can be achieved by raising the profile of the issue within the finance community, providing analytical work on how to overcome barriers to investment, and promoting impactful, new ways of financing water-related investments. In this context, the new EU's Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) under the new EU Agenda for the Mediterranean, could be a remarkable element to raise the profile of the finance community as under this instrument up to €7 billion for the period 2021-2027 would be allocated to its implementation, which could mobilise up to €30 billion in private and public investment in the region in the next decade[3].

Furthermore, the EU Agenda placed a particular emphasis on boosting financial inclusion for SMEs, by far the most important employers in the region, through the use of new financial instruments such as venture capital, business angels, and impact finance[4].

Such objectives also extend to the new Sida MENA Strategy 2021-2025 as the latter aims to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law and gender equality, as well as to ensure an environmentally and climate resilient sustainable development and sustainable use of natural resources. These objectives are in full accordance with the UfM Water Agenda’s goals for the region.

Furthermore, the Cooperation Agreement between Sida and UfM Secretariat encompasses support for the regional dialogue process, as well as a forwarding of funds modality to support water partners including GWP-Med. The new agreement has enabled UfM to mobilize €1,6 million from Sida for the implementation of the MENA Water Matchmaker 2 Project, led by GWP-Med and benefiting many other Partners. The project aims to prove, through piloting, the integrated concept of applying WEFE Nexus technical solutions at the local level while capacitating priority beneficiary groups on employment options, offering measurable and scalable contributions for further application in UfM MENA countries, and assisting the UfM Water Agenda to enter and mark progress on tangible benefits at the local level, while contributing to Sweden’s Strategy for MENA 2021-2025. Pilot activities focus on Jordan and Palestine.

The Desalination of Gaza strip project, providing access to freshwater for more than 2 million people.


- What kind of pilot projects would you want to see further designed and implemented, to help create an impetus for the practical implementation of the solutions outlined in the UfM Water Agenda?

I believe that the transformative progress outlined in the UfM Water Agenda will only be achieved if we approach water goals holistically and with an understanding of how they are intertwined, so we can mitigate the trade-offs and build on their benefits. This is something that WEFE Nexus projects can deliver, particularly if linked with WEM objectives, as guided by the UfM WEG.

Take food & water security (SDG 2) in the Mediterranean, for example. Achieving food security has broad benefits across the SDGs, from health and ending poverty, to job creation and economic growth. But expanding our agricultural system to support a growing population has worrying environmental trade-offs, including effects on biodiversity, land degradation, water use, and greenhouse gases, which each have further implications for our climate and development agendas. Going forward, we simply cannot scale up agriculture in the way we do it today. This is why I have been trying to advance with the UfM Water Partners the Mediterranean and Inter-MENA WEFE-Climate Nexus Hub.

The intersections between climate, water, energy, food and environment are not clearly presented in an accessible and unified knowledge platform. However, the WEFE Nexus concept preceded the adoption of SDGs, and there is increasing recognition of its importance in guiding the understanding and management of interdependencies among different goals and targets. While WEFE Nexus sectors are strongly interlinked, demographic, economic, social, and climatic changes are all exerting increasing pressure on natural resources we rely upon.

A growing number of studies address the WEFE Nexus interdependencies. A MedECC thematic report will be prepared in 2021-2022 focused on “The climate-water-energy-food-ecosystems nexus”. It will also address the transfer and integration of WEFE Nexus-related knowledge into national, regional and transboundary policymaking by defining specific policy issues related to the use of limited resources, mainly related to water, e.g. extreme events (flood and droughts), water scarcity, pollution, and food and energy security.

In fact, the interdependence among WEFE Nexus-Climate securities, by the range of actors and in differing action situations, generates the need for coordination in changing or sustaining institutions, policy goals and policy instruments that guide actions leading to sustainable outcomes and impacts. Despite the good understanding of the WEFE Nexus concept among academia, there is an ongoing discussion on how to best transfer it to policy and actions on the ground. To date, there is a need for an integrated approach and policy coherence to govern the WEFE Nexus-Climate contents, addressing interdependencies and needed trade-offs.

As there are no regional coordination mechanisms already presented to develop a unified hub or information-sharing mechanism, it is important to assist harmonize approaches between different information-collecting bodies at the regional and national levels. The goal is to achieve a fully transparent, harmonized and up-to-date integrated basin-wide information system. The knowledge hub would provide public accessibility with capacity for updating and would make available high-quality data required for effective resource allocation and decision-making. In addition, a new approach for knowledge presentation will be created through real-time data of an online knowledge platform for WEFE-Climate nexus (e.g. real-time indexes).

In terms of the geographical context, it could be undertaken at a city, basin, national, or regional level. 

I am therefore keen to see more concrete projects on WEFE Nexus to achieve better outcomes and sustainable practices and development for the Mediterranean.