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News Cyprus: A New Water Culture

The Mediterranean countries have to tackle the issue of their limited freshwater resources, which mainly derives from rainfall occurrences of high variability in space and time, statistically dropping in quantity since the early 70’s. Their overall water balance is, therefore, frequently in shortage and unable to cover the diversified water needs of several economy sectors and the ecosystems.

Consequently, Mediterranean countries suffer from a “natural” water scarcity, further aggravated by climate change, urbanisation, economic development and the consequential escalating water demand, severely threatening the regional landscape, cultural heritage, food security, development and prosperity.

The water challenge in Cyprus

Cyprus is specifically recognised as one of the two most arid European countries, following Malta. Despite the 57 large dams constructed all over the island to capture every available water raindrop, this system does not seem capable of accurately covering the needs of the Cypriot population. Although up to 70% of the population lives in urban areas, 28% of the water resources in Cyprus is used for the households’ needs, while 64% is being used in agriculture. Demand for water has led to over-exploitation of the aquifers, which in turn resulted to groundwater salinisation.

The authorities have to deal with significant water shortage threatening agriculture and ecosystem resilience: in specific, farmers pump groundwater from around 50,000 illegal wells all around the island, in order to secure sufficient water for their crops’ irrigation. This illegal groundwater pumping practice has severe consequences for the crops, whose quality is undermined by the brackish – usually even salty – nature of the pumped water, which farmers have to mix with potable water before irrigation, while causing further depletion of Cyprus’ groundwater reserves over the years.

Cypriot authorities have been often compelled to tackle drought emergencies by importing millions of tons of water from Greece with large tankers, as was the case during the large drought in 2008. Since independence in 1960, the Cyprus government has recognised the critical role of water in sustainable development by promoting a sustainable water resources strategy in the framework of an integrated environmental policy. The water policy in Cyprus is based on sustainable development of water resources and water demand management.

On the first front, significant water supply, irrigation and wastewater treatment projects have been completed over the years, providing all households and industrial units on the island with connection to excellent quality water. For several years, the water development expenditure accounted for about 20% of the total Development Budget. Key measures towards water demand management include introducing metering and pricing policies, as well as rationing measures during drought periods. Other key measure in regards to domestic and irrigation water include, reducing leakages in the water distribution network by replacing the old systems with closed-piped ones, modernising the irrigation systems for increased efficiency, and addressing illegal water abstraction by controlling non-licensed boreholes.

With rainwater storage into cisterns, a traditional practice in Cyprus, allowing for only short-term planning, given the heavy dependence on rainfall and the long and frequent drought periods, there is need for additional measures. Turning to Non Conventional Water Resources (NCWR), such as seawater desalination and recycled water use was the next step: the authorities are promoting the use maximisation of treated recycled water of strict quality standards for irrigation of agricultural crops and aquifer recharge.

Moreover, new desalination units have been constructed and the already existing ones are being upgraded for many reasons: to ensure a safe and reliable drinking water supply to cover the needs of large urban and touristic areas; to eliminate the dependence on significant rainfall; and to allow more dam water quantities to be provided for irrigation needs, environmental flows and recharge of the heavily over-pumped groundwater aquifers. However, the desalination plants bear a significant cost, a large CO2 footprint and a negative impact on the marine biodiversity.

In this context, the water demand management pillar of Cyprus’ water policy increasingly gains ground with the protection and augmentation of available water resources by the promotion of their efficient consumption and the use of NCWR. This becomes a critical issue for the citizens’ quality of life, the economic activity and the preservation of the environment. Cyprus’ interest in the matter was proven by making the European Action Plan for Water, one of the key priorities of the Cyprus Presidency of the Council of the EU, between July and December 2012.

The utilisation of NCWR, and especially greywater reuse, has been recognised as a sustainable and cost-effective solution for water availability; thus, contributing to the island’s adaptation to climate change. Domestic greywater recycling was, in fact, subsidised by the State for several years, in an effort to alleviate pressure on water resources. According to the interactive water savings application included in the Urban Water Flow Model developed by the Institute of Cyprus, the implementation of household water saving measures and devices, rainwater harvesting and greywater use, could reduce potable water demands by 50%, showing the great potential of NCWR for enhancing Cyprus’ water balance.

On this front, the Cypriot authorities have joined forces with the Global Water Partnership – Mediterranean (GWP-Med) and the Coca-Cola System in Cyprus (the Coca-Cola Company and the local bottler, Lanitis Bros) to implement the “Mission Water Cyprus” Programme. One of its main objectives is to promote the utilisation of NCWR by showcasing the added value and the cost-effectiveness of relevant small scale applications at both household and community levels. By choosing public buildings, mainly schools and centers of environmental education, which are frequented by hundreds of students every day, the demonstration and awareness-raising effect is multiplied.

The first phase of implementation works for the installation of new and the reinstatement of existing greywater reuse and rainwater harvesting systems was concluded at the end of 2014. The Programme runs in Cyprus as from 2013, with a $680,000 funding for 2013-2017, from the Coca-Cola Foundation in Atlanta, USA. Four public schools and three centers of environmental education were included in the first phase of the green infrastructure works.

Two schools, as well as two centers of environmental education benefited from the installation of a greywater reuse system, while in two further schools the existing greywater reuse systems were reinstated, aimed at their enhanced efficiency. Finally, via a holistic approach for the leveraging of NCWR, a dual installation of a greywater reuse and a rainwater harvesting system was applied at one further Center for Environmental Education, in the historic village of Pedoulas. The method’s idea is simple: the excess water running from taps and greywater from wash basins and showers is collected, treated and reused for garden landscaping or toilet flushing. This system can yield approximately 1.4 million litres of recycled water each year.

Working for the education for sustainable development in Cyprus

A further Programme pillar, apart from the NCWR application showcasing, is the wide set of educational and training activities that are held in partnership with the Mediterranean Information Office for Environment, Culture and Sustainable Development (MIO-ECSDE)/ MEdIES Secretariat and the Cyprus Pedagogic Institute. The public areas chosen for the NCWR applications in the Programme’s framework are annually frequented by at least 16,000 students who have the opportunity to explore the systems, understand their mode of function and recognize the importance of leveraging the NCWRs’ huge potential for enhancing the island’s water balance. The Programme’s aspiration is completely shared by the Cypriot authorities: the cultivation among the Cypriot students of a new, responsible and wise water consumption culture.

In specific, the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Cyprus Pedagogical Institute of Cyprushave been trying to leverage all possible funds and synergies with interested partners – government departments, academia, NGOs and private sector – in order to consistently promote education on sustainable development. Attempts are both within the official Cypriot primary and secondary education’s curriculum as well as further informal educational paths; which aim to make it a cornerstone towards developing a civil society critically thinking and passionately acting for a sustainable world.

With sustainable development recognised as the main pedagogic target of all educational programs implemented during 2015, the Ministry and the Institute are aiming at an improvement in the quality of living conditions of students, through the improvement of the school’s surrounding infrastructures. In this way, the school can function as a live model showcasing the benefits of sustainable living, bringing along the desired environmental and social change of mindset and behavior with regards to water use. In this framework, the Pedagogical Institute of Cyprus has established 4 Centers for Environmental Education that are pivotal in the national educational system raising students’ awareness on critical environmental issues in a holistic, cross-thematic way and enhancing the new school curriculum, which is based on the principles of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).

Though the environmental themes have been very important for the Ministry for a long time, there was a lack of insightful content in the context of the water theme. The “Mission Water” Programme came exactly to cover this gap: A tailor-made, user-friendly educational material on NCWR has been developed by MIO-ECSDE and the Pedagogical Institute of Cyprus for the Cypriot educational community, to inform and sensitise students and teachers to the issue of water saving, particularly through the use of NCWR.

It has been distributed to primary and high school teachers as a complementary tool for approaching the water theme cross-thematically. Moreover, teacher training sessions on the use of the educational material and methodology have been provided by the Programme for more than 220 teachers in Nicosia and Limassol, further contributing to the overall upgraded quality of education for sustainable development in Cyprus.

We have been offered a combined opportunity via the “Mission Water Cyprus” Programme to tailor high-level, award winning, educational material on NCWR, already used and proven its added value in Greece and Malta, to the Cypriot educational community’s needs, along with showcasing various practical applications of greywater reuse and rainwater harvesting in public schools and centers of environmental education as an experiential tool in education”, said the Hon. Minister of Education and Culture of Cyprus, Dr. Costas Kadis, at the press conference in Nicosia, where the achievements of the “Mission Water Cyprus” Programme were presented at the beginning of December 2014.

“This Programme is a good cooperation example between social stakeholders for the promotion of the students’ – and at a more general level, the citizens’ – environmental culture. Through such type of interventions at schools and other education spaces, we come closer to achieving a sustainable school in practice – a challenge and objective for our educational system”, he pointed out.

Students and teachers have welcomed the Programme and the opportunity offered to find out what it practically means to save water within the school unit by interacting with the innovative NCWR systems and technologies applied.

According to Dr. Georgia Pasiardis, Director of the Primary School of Geri, where an old greywater reuse system was reinstated, “the objective was to help everybody realise the impact of water shortage at an economic, social and political level, in order to encourage them take measures in favor of reusing and saving water.”

Ms. Pasiardis explained that with the guidance of their teachers, the students have organised themselves in groups, to take care of the garden’s irrigation, to harvest and leverage the rainwater, to systematically control the school premises for any water leakages and to weekly monitor the water measurements, which has indeed pointed to a considerable reduction in the water consumption.

“All school community members have worked very consistently on this, as the sustainable school is part of the effort for a new educational and social culture ultimately aimed at the younger generation’s development and progress”, the School Director said.

Non Conventional Water Resources Programme in the Mediterranean

“Mission Water Cyprus” is running under the umbrella of the NCWR Programme implemented by GWP-Med, along with national and local authorities, in insular communities in three countries facing water scarcity issues: Greece, Malta and Cyprus. Funded by the Coca-Cola Foundation, the Programme aims to mobilise the NCWR utilisation and leverage their enormous potential to contribute to local water security in water stressed countries, by reaching out to the local and national authorities, as well as the educational and technical community, in order to raise awareness on applying NCWR solutions and saving water at domestic and community level. For the Coca-Cola Company and Foundation, supporting the NCWR Programme is part of a strategic, long-term investment recognising the value of water for both human life and the production of its beverages.

For further information:  GreeceMalta (Alter Aqua), Cyprus, (Mission Water Cyprus). 

Contact information GWP-Med (email:
Phone: +30 210 3247490, 3247267
News type Inbrief
File link
Source of information Revolve Water
Keyword(s) water balance,
Geographical coverage Cyprus,
News date 03/03/2015
Working language(s) ENGLISH