Ghadeer Arafeh and Faissal Aziz, two members of the Mediterranean Youth for Water (MedYWat), won a research grant of 100.000 euros from the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education for their project on “MENARA: Assessment of Wastewater Treatment Technologies and Promotion of Smart Irrigation Systems in the MENA Region Using an Eco-Friendly Gum.”
Ghadeer and Faissal like so many other young people in the Mediterranean region have been struggling to integrate the job market and to be part of the economic change in the region. The bitter reality is that the younger generation is stigmatized as a burden. The Middle Eastern and North African countries which also constitute a large part of the Mediterranean region, have the highest rates of youth unemployment in the world, at 28.2% and 30.5%, respectively, according to the ILO Global Employment Trends for Youth 2015.
Ghadeer is a Palestinian Water and Environmental Researcher whose 10 years of experience in the field were not enough to help her find a sustainable job: “I held project-based positions at Bir Zeit university but was never able to find a long-term job position. I applied for several jobs in Palestine to no avail. I had reached a stage of desperation.”
However, in recent years, the tide has shifted on the perception of youth, and this segment of the population has shown that it is, perhaps, the most valuable asset the region possesses to face the multiple challenges it endures.
One of the most important challenges the Mediterranean region faces is water scarcity. The region suffers an increasing vulnerability to climate change and continuous dwindling water resources.
Innovative projects such as Ghadeer’s and Faissal’s to optimize the use of water are vital to address the worsening situation in the region. “We aim at enhancing the efficiency of the water treatment process by assessing the chemical/microbiological contamination of wastewater used for agricultural irrigation” explains Faissal, a water treatment engineering, and management expert and a professor at Cadi Ayyad University, Morocco.
The project was selected out of more than 300 proposals and ranked among the top 8.
Ghadeer adds: “One important component of the project consists in producing a super absorbent polymer. This technology, a first in the region, is of crucial importance for areas lacking water. Palestine suffers from water shortage. Treated wastewater contains industrial material which might harm trees if used in irrigation. Thanks to such technology, we will be able to protect the existing water in the country as it is smart and affordable.”
The Convening Power of MedYWat
Ghadeer and Faissal met for the first time, at the CMI second World Water Day Regional Youth Workshop organized in Anafora, Egypt. This event marked the beginning of their collaboration and the start of the successful partnership. “When Faissal and I met, we decided to design a joint project to be submitted through our respective academic institutions. We worked day and night on our idea and were thrilled when it got accepted. We owe this to MedYWat as the collaboration couldn’t have happened if it weren’t for this group,” Ghadeer points out.
Faissal believes the knowledge acquired through MedYWat had a significant impact on him and Ghadeer being awarded the grant: “MedYWat isn’t only about networking as well as exchanging ideas and opportunities, it is also about building expertise. Throughout the various workshops run by experts during CMI events, we worked on several case studies and learned to improve our capacities to address environmental issues within our geographical context.”
MedYWat (Mediterranean Youth for Water) is a network of young water professionals from across the Mediterranean region, supported by the Center for Mediterranean Integration (CMI), the network encompasses over 192 young Mediterranean water researchers, entrepreneurs, and activists working on solving the water challenges in the region.
This network was launched by CMI in March 2017 during the first World Water Day regional youth workshop on “Youth Innovating with Wastewater for a Sustainable Mediterranean” (Marseille, France), and it has been growing ever since.
The CMI has been playing a supporting role, helping the growth and expansion of the network, over the last three years. The CMI ensured the network’s members reconvene at least once a year during its World Water Day Youth Event, to fortify their connection and allow for more collaboration opportunities. In March 2019, the network took an even bigger role and co-organized along with CMI and the World Bank, the third World Water Day regional youth workshop on “Water and Migration” (Marrakesh, Morocco).
A Virtuous Circle: The Positive Spillovers of Collaboration
The MENARA project has received funding for a period of two years (until 2021). Ghadeer and Faissal hope they will attain the desired results and obtain more funds to pursue their work on a longer-term.
The added value of their project does not only lie in its beneficial effect on water and the environment. MENARA involves a socio-economic dimension as well: other young scientists will be involved including MedYWat members as Faissal notes: “Training and workshops represent a fundamental component of the project. In Morocco, MorYWat members (the Moroccan subnational branch of MedYWat) will be invited to attend these workshops and MedYWat senior members will be solicited to deliver short courses and give training on Environmental and water protection topics”.
“Partial Scholarships will be granted to some Master students from both countries who will also contribute to the project,” adds Ghadeer.
“MedYWat offers us a real opportunity to expand and develop our professional network. This successful collaboration made us more enthusiastic and self-confident, encouraging us to apply for other grants and to extend our research consortium,” Faissal concludes.
The story does not end with Ghadeer and Faissal. MedYWat and the Center for Mediterranean Integration (CMI), pursue the empowerment of Mediterranean Young Water Professionals. Recently, CMI paired young researchers with senior and renowned water experts. The result? Joint papers on water and migration and most importantly valuable exchanges and knowledge transfer.