The Tunisian consultation workshop on the assessment of the water-food-energy-ecosystems nexus in the North-West Sahara Aquifer System (NWSAS) was held from 3 to 4 April 2010 in Tunis, Tunisia.
The event gathered over 60 Tunisian participants among authorities and experts from the water, energy, agriculture and environmental fields, as well as a number of international experts. This was a key step in the participatory assessment of intersectoral (“nexus”) trade-offs and synergies in managing the NWSAS. It is carried out by the Water Convention Secretariat serviced by UNECE, the Global Water Partnership Mediterranean (GWP-Med) and the Sahara and Sahel Observatory (OSS), in close cooperation with concerned authorities from the aquifer-sharing countries as well as with the NWSAS Consultation Mechanism.
This project aims at enhancing transboundary cooperation in the NWSAS and strengthening the capacities needed to address intersectoral issues (see the event page of the regional kick-off workshop here).
The focus of the Tunisian consultation workshop was on how to improve inter-sectoral cooperation and enhance synergic, coherent policy making for a better management of shared natural resources, at national and transboundary level. In particular, participants of the workshop discussed the preliminary results of a multi-sectoral analysis of the NWSAS, and proposed actions, which aim at three broad objectives which should be achieved concurrently:
- The modernization of agriculture and the increase of its efficiency and viability;
- The preservation of groundwater resources and the rationalization of water use; and
- The sustainable development of the energy sector.
To this end, participants discussed the opportunities from applying a nexus approach to various developments in the basin and to practically enhance synergies across sectors.
Renewable energy development could be more sustainable if the environmental and social impact is considered in the early stages of policy and project design. Notably, the diffusion of solar irrigation in the country and its impact of on agricultural development and groundwater consumption in Tunisia was discussed in the light of experiences from National Agency for Energy Management ANME and the German Agency for Cooperation GIZ.
Decision making behind investments in water infrastructure should consider the opportunities and costs associated with various options available and recognizing the specific realities of rural areas. In some areas, wastewater treatment and reuse may be more convenient than long-distance water transfers. A more rational use of water resources is needed overall, and use of lower-quality water for non-drinking demands A more effective water governance, including decentralization, is needed to support development of the sector to make use of such opportunities. The Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries and the Water Agency SONEDE contributed examples of cross-sectoral benefits to the discussion.
As the region of the NWSAS is characterized by a largely rural population who lives out of agriculture, a large part of the workshop focused on the obstacles and opportunities of developing the sector sustainably. The involvement of youth and women was recognized instrumental to accelerate innovation in the sector in terms of technology, sustainable practices, business models and governance frameworks that can build on and enrich traditional types of agriculture like that of oases. It was considered necessary that the integrated development plans for agricultural areas to be developed make the different sectoral strategies to converge for an improved sustainability, including through diversification of activities and promotion of good practices, among others. Several representatives of local institutions (governorates), organizations, and associations shared their experience and perspectives on ways forward, also considering the experience of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in the region of North Africa.
The last part of the workshop was devoted to discussing the benefits of cooperation among riparian countries. The Consultation Mechanism of the NWSAS emerges as the key framework for water cooperation. However, since there are also benefits from cooperation in the fields of agriculture and land management, energy, and environment protection, a panel discussion on these different perspectives reflected on how Tunisia has benefited from regional cooperation.
The discussion concluded with the elaboration of a shared vision for the sustainable development in the basin.
The workshop was organized by GWP-Med, UNECE and OSS under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources, and Fisheries of Tunisia, and with the participation of the Consultation Mechanism of NWSAS.