Quenching the thirst of Folegandros island

New GWP-Med and Coca-Cola project, in collaboration with local government, secures more than 10 million litres of water for water-stressed Greek island

Folegandros, an Aegean island, represents the Mediterranean summer experience to the fullest: more than 40,000 visitors flock each summer to this island of 800 residents, to dive in its pristine waters, and explore the wild beauty of its landscape, its traditions and vibrant restaurant scene. However, few of Folegandros’ visitors have any idea about the intense water stress that threatens not only its tourism industry, but also every activity on the island, as well as delicate island ecosystems.

Folegandros Mayor, Ms. Efthalia Papadopoulou, inaugurates the Zero Drop project technical works and information kios, in the presence of representatives from the Greek government, Coca-Cola in Greece and GWP-Med.

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"Without water, we cannot have tourism", states the Mayor of the island, Ms. Efthalia Papadopoulou. Her concern is completely understandable, as the rapid increase in tourism in recent years, which is good news for the economy, brings with it ever-increasing demands for water. Especially in a luxury destination where swimming pools are not in short supply, the increased demand has brought the island's infrastructure to a standstill. "As the demand for water increases every year, interruptions in the water supply network are a big problem for us. We need to upgrade our infrastructure, but also to protect every drop of water we have," continues Ms. Papadopoulou.
The need for a decisive intervention that would quench the thirst of Folegandros was the reason behind the collaboration of the Municipality of Folegandros with Coca-Cola in Greece and Global Water Partnership – Mediterranean, which for 16 years have been jointly implementing programs for the tackling water scarcity, increasing water availability and sharing improving water management.

The fruit of the latest collaboration is called 'Zero Drop', an innovative program implemented with the exclusive support of The Coca-Cola Foundation. MsMaria Tzelepi, Director of Corporate Affairs, Communication & Sustainable Development of The Coca-Cola Company for Greece, Cyprus and Malta, explains: "Development must go hand in hand with sustainability, with the protection of the natural resources on which it is based. With the 'Zero Drop' program in Folegandros, we aspire to transmit to the most important "product" of Greece, tourism, the same logic of sustainability that we follow as a company in the production of our soft drinks. The need for a sustainable tourism model is urgent, especially in our islands which are at the forefront of the battle against water scarcity."

The 'Zero Drop' technical intervention included the drilling of 3 new seawater boreholes, to supply the island's existing desalination plant with 63% more water for treatment.

'Zero Drop’s' first priority was to cover the large gap between water supply and demand in Folegandros, especially in the summer months. With water demand reaching 1000m3 per day and water supply in the network only 550m3, frequent interruptions in the network were inevitable. The solution implemented by 'Zero Drop' was the drilling of 3 new seawater boreholes in early 2022, to supply a greater amount of water for treatment to the island's desalination plants, which until now were underperforming. Combined with the second phase of the project, which includes the ongoing interconnection works, water supply is boosted by 63%, thus bridging the gap between supply and demand. This intervention saves a total of more than 10 million liters of water every year for Folegandros.

But 'Zero Drop', as its name suggests, does not stop there. The aim is, at the same time, to improve water management, limit waste and, ultimately, achieve zero water losses. On an island where at any time in the summer the number of visitors may be 4 times higher than that of local residents, water waste cannot be reduced without raising awareness among visitors.

“Tourists, coming from urban environments where water is abundant, seeing swimming pools and luxurious rooms, cannot imagine that our island is water-stressed. Thus, they have no motivation to respect water", says Ms. Athanasia Pantou, owner of a boutique accommodation in Ano Meria, who emphasizes the need to raise awareness of the special arid nature of the island.

A boutique hotel in Folegandros. Luxury settings predispose visitors towards a perceived abundance of water, rather than intense water stress, says a Folegandros hotelier, highlighting the need for effective awareness raising.

Zero Drop's awareness campaign personifies water, giving it a 'voice'. In a series of artistic visuals, Water "speaks" and reminds us that although often invisible, it is behind every experience we enjoy in Folegandros. Now, he is asking for our help to continue supporting the life of the island. The visuals are hosted at the Zero Drop info kiosk, which can be found in the center of the port in Karavostasi, as well as in the program's free informational material, such as a new tourist map of the island that at the same time includes useful tips on saving water.

A series of 'Zero Drop' visuals personify water, giving it a voice, and revealing the many ways in which it underscores every experience in Folegandros.

At the same time, 'Zero Drop' developed tools for professionals in the hotel sector, and trained all the students of the island as well as more than 100 teachers of the Cyclades in the issues of proper water management.

Also, with an eye on climate challenges and with the aim of promoting acceptance of pilot innovations, 'Zero Drop' donated 6 hydropanels to the Municipality of Folegandros, a new application that converts air humidity into drinking water for residents and the island's visitors, with exclusive use of renewable solar energy.

"Zero Drop's holistic intervention, with its pillars of targeted technical implementation, pilot action to promote innovation, and awareness and education actions, aims not only to alleviate Folegandros' water scarcity problem, but to shape a new sustainable tourism model for island and coastal Mediterranean destinations, which will have as an integral element the integrated management of water resources", explains Professor Michael Scoullos, Chair, Global Water Partnership - Mediterranean.

GWP-Med Executive Secretary, Vangelis Constantianos (left) and GWP-Med Chair, Professor Michael Scoullos (middle) explain the holistic approach of 'Zero Drop' to Member of Parliament Mr. Fortomas and Secretary General for Natural Environment and Water Resources, Mr. Petros Varelidis (right).

'Zero Drop' in Folegandros was presented on 6 July 2022, during an on-site visit by the Secretary General for Natural Environment and Water Resources, Mr. Petros Varelidis, in the presence of the Mayor of the island, Ms. Efthalia Papadopoulou, the Member of Parliament Mr. Filippos Fortomas, Ms. Maria Tzelepi , Director of Corporate Affairs, Communication and Sustainable Development, Coca-Cola Hellas, and Professor Michael Scoullos, Chair, Global Water Partnership – Mediterranean.

The General Secretary of Natural Environment and Water Resources, Mr. Petros Varelidis, at the opening of the program said: "Zero Drop is a program that highlights the cooperation between the private and public sectors and creates value for the local community and the residents of the area."

For Mayor Ms. Papadopoulou, 'Zero Drop' is not only providing relief today, but also supporting a vision for the sustainable future of the island: "'Zero Drop' came to our island at the right time to contribute to our efforts to transform Folegandros into an island with zero water losses".