Forschungs- & Entwicklungsinformationsdienst der Gemeinschaft - CORDIS

Periodic Report Summary 1 - BIR AL-NAS (Bottom-up IntegRated Approach for sustainabLe grouNdwater mAnagement in rural areaS)

Groundwater resources represent the largest volume of all unfrozen fresh water on Earth. However the knowledge and understanding of this precious resource is very little, if compared to surface water, especially to the general public and policy makers. Indeed, groundwater resources if carefully managed can make a significant contribution to meet increasing water demand, agricultural needs and to adapt to global climate change, particularly in coastal regions. For this reason it is of paramount importance to promote groundwater protection and to raise awareness on its crucial role in sustaining human activities and wellbeing worldwide. Within these emerging needs, Bir Al-Nas (Bottom-up IntegRated Approach for sustainabLe grouNdwater mAnagement in rural areaS; project’s overall objective is to develop a replicable multidisciplinary example of integrated approach for science-based groundwater management practices.
Bir Al-Nas provides a practical example of the concept of “socio-hydrogeology” (Re, 2015), a way of incorporating the social dimension into hydrogeological investigations, as reinforced by the translation of the Arabic bir al-nas: “the people’s well”. To achieve this, hydrogeologists are encouraged to act as “social hydrologists” during their monitoring activities, which often bring them into contact with local communities and end users (and polluters) of water. Not only can they retrieve reliable information about traditional know-how and local issues, but they can also change the public perception of science/scientists to create the basis for mutual collaboration and understanding in view of implementing improved integrated groundwater management
In the framework of the Marie Curie IOF Fellowship (project n. 327287) the Bir Al-Nas approach is currently being implemented and tested in the Grombalia Basin, which is located in the semi-arid peninsula of Cap Bon, North-East Tunisia, (Tringali, 2014). This area was chosen because it represents issues shared by most of the coastal aquifers in the Mediterranean basin (i.e. aquifer pollution and salinization, water overexploitation, saline water intrusion, and agricultural return flow). In addition, this area has been the subject of several national and international investigations and projects (e.g. Ben Moussa et al., 2010; Kouzana et al., 2010; Ben Hamouda et al., 2011; Ben Moussa et al., 2011a; Ben Moussa et al., 2011b; Ben Moussa et al., 2012; Cary et al., 2013), which have resulted in a good knowledge of the baseline condition of the natural environment and well-established cooperation between the local institutions working in the region. This makes the area adequate for testing the new proposed methodology. One of the main goals is to create room for more cooperation between hydrogeologists and local stakeholders, thus favouring better consultation with end users, and new approaches tailored to local issues and priorities. For this reason, in order to potentially identify all the people involved in the studied hydrogeological issue, by considering who can promote the implementation of science-based management practices and how they may be able to do so, Bir Al-Nas proposed two basic (but effective) key action:
• a preliminary stakeholder analysis (SA), performed between February and March 2014 (i.e. at the beginning of the investigation) aimed at identifying the relevant stakeholders, highlighting their power relations, existing conflicts in water resource use and management, and understanding who can influence the success of the proposed strategies and the implementation of the new management strategies based on the outcomes of the hydrogeological/hydrogeochemical investigation,
• Direct engagement and confrontation with well owners and farmers to (i) address the research more effectively, (ii) retrieve reliable information about water and land use, and (iii) disseminate the results while performing capacity building. This activity was performed during the three sampling campaigns and in situ measurements (February/March 2014, September 2014 and February 2015) targeted to a complete hydrogeochemical investigation and nitrate vulnerability assessment of the Grombalia Basin.
In addition, the results obtained at the end of the project will be shared with all the farmers involved, and compared with the interpretation of the outcomes of the structured interviews in order to propose science-based management plans to the key stakeholders that were identified in the stakeholders network analysis.
These actions should be part of every hydrogeological and hydrogeochemical investigation (especially regarding rural development), and should consider, according to the scale of the investigation, all the people and institutions who are directly or indirectly affected by the project.
The final outcomes are expected to be an increased awareness of communities at the local level and a clear understanding of their water issues and needs from the very early stages of the investigation. Although the importance of using such methods in groundwater analysis and management is widely recognized, hydrogeological investigations are currently dominated by sectorial approaches that are easier to implement but less sustainable. The pressure of population growth, the shift towards more water-dependent economies, climate change and its impact on water availability will require scientists to use a more integrated approach, such as Bir Al-Nas, when dealing with increasing water pollution and water-scarcity issues.

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