Sustainable Water Management in the Biosphere Reserves in South-East Europe and the Mediterranean

The UNESCO Regional Bureau of Science and Culture in Europe organised a high-level MAB-IHP Regional Symposium at its premises in Venice, on 16-17 December 2021, with the aim of contributing to sustainable water management in the biosphere reserves of South East Europe and the Mediterranean. The event convened 35 participants from MAB and IHP National Committees, UNESCO National Commissions, Chairs and Category 2 centres in ecohydrology, climate change, biodiversity, ecosystem services and biosphere reserves from 12 countries in the region.
The symposium primarily explored how UNESCO and its water related networks in the region, as well as its network of biosphere reserves, can promote innovative solutions and projects to improve water resources management in biosphere reserves.

The rich, diverse aquatic ecosystems of the South-East European and Mediterranean region consist of rivers, lakes, wetlands, transboundary river basins, groundwater systems and coastal areas within its biosphere reserves. Biosphere reserves serve as useful sites to test innovative solutions for water and aquatic ecosystems management, which pave the way in achieving SDG 6 and contribute to SDG 13, SDG 14 and SDG15.

The UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, through the Intergovernmental Hydrological (IHP) Programme and the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme in close collaboration with Member States, provides support to water governance through IHP for water policy-makers in the region, and fosters sustainable development on the ground through MAB.

Building on these objectives, the symposium examined the MAB-IHP collaboration and improved the convergence and future cooperation of the two scientific programmes in the region, predominantly in biosphere reserves, which are viewed as exemplary sites to highlight best practices for water resources management, and promote a more integrated ecosystem-climate-water nexus. “Solutions to today’s global challenges such as climate change need a multi-disciplinary and holistic approach including science,” emphasised Ana Luiza M. Thompson-Flores, Director of the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe. “UNESCO, through MAB and IHP, is applying this science-based approach to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

The hybrid format of the symposium not only enabled participants from 12 countries to attend in person, but representatives from 5 additional countries were also able to join online. Noeline Raondy Rakotoarisoa, Secretary of MAB, and Abou Amani, Secretary of IHP, opened the event with a joint presentation of their programmes, notably highlighting the best practice, namely BIOPALT project in Lake Chad.

MAB and IHP national committees from participating countries delivered presentations, focusing on water resources management in biosphere reserves and best practices. Dragan Zeljko, Secretary of the International Sava River Basin Commission and Prof Michael Scoullos, Chair of GWP Med, presented their work undertaken on water resources management at the regional level.

An exchange of knowledge and expertise among representatives from UNESCO chairs/centres and 12 biosphere reserves of the region highlighted the role of aquatic ecosystems in biosphere reserves of the region. They examined how IHP’s ecohydrology approach and network can be applied to biosphere reserves in the region; they also explored how a multi-value and multi-stakeholder water governance can be achieved in biosphere reserves of the region.

Key discussions focused on increasing possible collaboration between MAB and IHP communities in the future, to confront the most pressing issues facing us today by identifying the best practices from this region and how they can be applied and scaled up to other regions.

Through the field visit to the Delta Po Biosphere Reserve on 18 December, participants gained insight on some of the innovative practices put in place for water management. They met the stakeholders working in the Biosphere reserve lagoons, notably in pink oyster production and “water fields” and “water farmers” as custodians of biodiversity. They also visited the Valli di Comacchio, the largest brackish marsh in Italy, “lavoriero” (ancient Roman fishing system), learnt about the eel fishing activities and visited the centre on Slow Food presidium.

The symposium marked the first jointly organised regional event by MAB and IHP programmes to bring together the two communities and networks. As highlighted by Jonathan Baker, Head of the Science unit, “the hope is for the symposium to also act as impetus for MAB and IHP to collaborate more closely in the region, notably in biosphere reserves.”

The joint initiative facilitated discussions among different stakeholders notably from the MAB and IHP communities on future collaboration and strengthened UNESCO’s regional network of stakeholders working in water, ecosystems, biodiversity and climate, particularly those working in biosphere reserves.


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