Cooperation on Water Research and Education between the Universities from the Black Sea Region

The Danube-Mediterranean-Black Sea region is  defined in terms of a macrosystem that incorporates water and wildlife dynamics, anthropogenic pressures,  socioeconomic patterns and transport and industrial chains.

In terms of water dynamics, the Danube River, with a mean water discharge of about 200 km3/year and a basin estimated at 805,000 km2, accounts for a large part of the freshwater input into the Black Sea. At the same time, the Black Sea delivers a net outflow of meso-saline water to the eastern basin of the Mediterranean through the Bosphorus Strait, which connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara (which is connected by the Dardanelles to the Aegean Sea, and thereby to the Mediterranean Sea). The average surface multiannual outflow is 600 km3/yr and the average bottom multiannual inflow is  300 km3/yr.

The availability and quality of water resources in the coastal areas and the Danubian Valley represent a major factor for sustainable development. The issues on water management and water pollution are generating many debates in the cross-border area and sometimes lead towards political conflicts, like in the Middle East region. According to the simulations performed by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), it is estimated that in the coming decades the complexity of the phenomena related to climate change shall have an impact on the depletion of water resources by up to 40 per cent.

The overall hydrodynamics within the described global system are also related to renewable energy resources. The Danube River has a huge potential for hydroenergy and a fundamental factor for biomass resources. In the case of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea there is an estimated generalized reduced level of energy marine resources, including wind, waves, tides and currents. Within the defined global system, there are also areas where the renewable energy resources are coupled with erosion phenomena, as in the western coast of the Black Sea and islands in the Sea of Marmara and Aegean Sea.

The diverse nature of regional geography, with the attendant diversity of climate change impacts, represents a particular challenge for monitoring and management of climate change at the regional and local levels. The most common feature in the Black Sea region is the widespread increase in summer temperatures with consequences in the water inflow of the tributaries and the soil desertification in the shore zone. In the Mediterranean, average temperatures have risen about 2° C and rainfall has decreased by about 20 per cent in the last 40 years. Water is a limited resource in the Mediterranean basin, where its demand has doubled over the past 50 years (280 km3/year in 2007), with agriculture consuming the most, at 64 per cent. Losses, leaks and waste are estimated at 40 per cent of total water demand, particularly in the farming sector.

In terms of wildlife dynamics, there is a continuous exchange of ichthyoplankton or phytoplankton among the Danube-Mediterranean-Black Sea systems. While sturgeons live in the Black Sea, they travel to spawn on the Danube upstream. At the same time, alien species are continuously being introduced in the Danube, the Black Sea and in the Mediterranean Sea through the navigating vessels. Some of these species prey on local wildlife, especially fish eggs, larvae and fingerlings, or become competitors for food and space with indigenous organisms.

The third level of connectivity lies on anthropogenic pressures, mainly related to the dynamics of pollutants. The circulation of pollutants is directly dependent on water circulation, from the Danube and other Black Sea tributaries, such as the Dniepr, Southern Bug and Dniestr Ukrainian Rivers, to the Black Sea and then to the Mediterranean Sea.

Along with river contributions, sources of pollution include sewage, such as point and diffuse land-based sources, river run-off, atmospheric deposition, and intentional and accidental discharges from vessels. Many coastal municipalities and industries discharge their wastewaters into the Black Sea with inadequate treatment, due to a poorly developed infrastructure, in comparison with the Mediterranean region. The 1990s statistics estimated that the total volume of sewage came to over 570 million m3 per year.

The amount or load of contaminants entering the sea and their degradability, persistence and toxicity to aquatic organisms depend on population size and industrialization within its catchments and the level of treatment and control of contaminants in discharges. Thus, the Black and Azov Seas not only have the largest catchments of Europe’s seas, but also the largest population within the hydrographic basin, so contaminant loads are potentially higher than in other seas.

Marine eutrophication is a direct consequence of pollution. In the Black Sea, the increase of nutrient loads from agriculture, industry and urban settlements facilitated by the Danube (50 per cent) and the Dniepr, Dniester, and Bug Ukrainian Rivers along the northwestern coast and the Turkish rivers along the southern coast (50 per cent), led to changes in the ecosystem structure and functioning: intensification of phytoplankton blooms; a gradual basin-wide shallowing of the euphotic zone; massive loss of shallow water macrophytes, an important component of the system’s biodiversity and a major economic resource, as it is commercially harvested; profound changes of the base of the marine food chain caused by the almost monospecific algal blooms; widespread hypoxia; the introduction of alien species, through vessels navigating in the Black Sea, either preying on local animals or becoming competitors for food and space with indigenous organisms; a drastic reduction of biodiversity with serious socioeconomic consequences (from 26 species of economically valuable fish caught in the 1960s down to 5 today); the closing of main fisheries and related fish-processing industry, as well as less of tourism. In the Mediterranean region, control is needed to slow down the increase in eutrophication from nutritional substances, although it is limited to such sectors as the North Adriatic Sea, the Gulf of Lions and the Nile Delta.

The retention or turnover time has a direct influence on how contaminants are retained or accumulated in the marine ecosystem. For example, retention time values range from 0.1 to 3.9 years in the North Sea, 30 years in the Baltic Sea, about 80 years in the Mediterranean Sea and up to 140 years in the Black Sea.

The Black and Mediterranean Seas have manifested strong interdependencies in terms of socioeconomic organization. Two of the most notable Mediterranean civilizations in classical antiquity, the Greeks and Romans, expanded throughout the Black Sea and south through the Red Sea. They founded colonies and significantly contributed to the economic development of the region. Along with interconnected economic development, this exchange of population also led to a cultural exchange and to the development of common myths and beliefs centred on the area of the macrosystem. The Greeks and Romans were the most notorious, but many other civilizations spread ties using the connectivity between the three waterways in ancient and medieval times. Presently, the maritime and inland water navigation between the various ports in the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Danube River are well established with dedicated liners and intermodal connectivities.

The economy of the riparian countries depends significantly on maritime activities. Tourism, transport, fisheries, aqua and mariculture are important sectors, contributing more than 20 per cent to the national gross domestic product in some cases. Solid scientific knowledge to enable sustainable development and environmental protection in the phase of global change is an urgent need. In particular, there is a significant need to develop additional scientific understanding for assessing good environmental status in a coherent and holistic manner to support the ecosystem.

The Black Sea Universities Network (BSUN) was established based on the recommendation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (PABSEC) and the Cultural, Education and Social Affairs Committee during the session held in Bucharest in August 1997. Following the PABSEC recommendations, this network was established in 1998 in Constantza, Romania during the second Conference of Rectors from the Black Sea region. The idea of the network was welcomed by the region’s academic community and was developed by over 118 universities from the 12 member countries of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC): Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine.

With its establishment, BSUN represented an academic cooperation structure promoting the initiation of students and academic staff mobility, organization of scientific meetings, summer schools and workshops in different fields. In order to concentrate its efforts, BSUN activity was structured on framework programmes with a duration of two years which were proposed and implemented by each presidency.

BSUN has the statute of Sectoral Dialogue Partner to BSEC and is working in close cooperation with PABSEC, is a member of the European Universities Association and a founding member of the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI).

BSUN has signed cooperation agreements with the Eurasia Universities Association, coordinated by the Lomonosov Moscow State University, with the Association of Universities from the Caspian Sea, the Baltic Sea Cooperation Programme and the Réseau Méditerranéen des Écoles d’Ingénieurs. Also, BSUN has signed a cooperation agreement with Hewlett Packard in Romania in the field of high-performance computing and cloud computing and with ENEA, the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development for cooperation in developing common activities in the field of green economy, sustainable development and renewable energy sources.

The priorities for the activities of the network are approved during the Conference of Rectors from the Black Sea Region/BSUN General Assembly. The last session of the Conference of Rectors was held during the BSUN 2012 Congress which was organized as a Forum on Academic Cooperation for Peace & Welfare in the Mediterranean and Black Sea Region in Tirana, Albania from 16 to 19 May 2012. The Forum, organized by BSUN in cooperation with Réseau Méditerranéen des Écoles d’Ingénieurs, Community of Mediterranean Universities and UNAI, gathered rectors, senior university managers and decision makers from the fields of higher education, scientific research, technology transfer and academics, interested in the active involvement of universities for the reconstruction of sustainable peace and welfare in the region.

At the Forum, it was decided that BSUN shall focus on projects dedicated to the management of water resources including graduate-level courses on sustainable development and governance, as well as the establishment of the International Centre for Advanced Studies in Danube River “Danube Delta-Black Sea”.

CASE STUDY:  THE UNIVERSITY OF BELGRADE

The Chair in Hydraulic and Environmental Engineering at the University of Belgrade has a tradition of more than 125 years. Years of cooperation with the United Nations, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) research and educational projects resulted in the establishment of the International Research and Training Centre for Urban Drainage (IRTCUD), which has been active in the field of water since 1987. These water-related centres under the auspices of UNESCO have cooperated closely with UN organizations, UN programmes and agencies, as well as with professional institutions such as the International Association for Hydro-Environment Engineering and Research, International Association  on Water Pollution Research and Control, International Association of Hydrological Sciences, World Meteorological Organization, and universities and research institutions from around the world.

In recent years, IRTCUD has expanded its activities beyond urban drainage to include aspects of integrated urban water management. These activities have been implemented through the IRTCUD network of regional centres and through the newly created network of Centres for Urban Water. The main field of activities of the IRTCUD/CUW network is the development and implementation of the advanced methodologies for integrated urban water management in urban, peri-urban and rural areas, and their interactions with other urban water subsystems. The Centre and its cooperating partners have developed several innovative, internationally recognized methodologies for research, modelling and sustainability improvement of urban water systems, such as Geographic Information Systems-based urban drainage modelling, flooding and water quality assessment.

The EDUCATE! Postgraduate Study Programme in Water Resources and Environmental Management is an outcome of inter-university cooperation. This is an international postgraduate programme organized by four leading universities in the South-Eastern European region: National Technical University of Athens, the University of Belgrade, the Technical University of Civil Engineering of Bucharest and the University of Ljubljana. The EDUCATE! studies at the University of Belgrade, Faculty of Civil Engineering, target recent university graduates and professionals from the public or private sector seeking specialization in the field of water resources and environmental management.

The programme aims to enhance and broaden students’ academic competencies in the fields of urban water systems (including the analysis, design, modelling and management of all their aspects); catchment management issues related to both surface water and groundwater systems and their associated processes (specific capacities are developed for analysis, modelling through a variety of hydroinformatics tools and management of all key aspects of catchment and integrated water management systems); water and environmental policy; legislation with an emphasis on European Union legislation and the Water Framework Directive; policymaking and social processes; and the role of public participation in the decision-making process.

Recognizing the need for improving education and research in the field of water in the region, the UNESCO Chair in Water for Ecologically Sustainable Development was awarded to the University of Belgrade in 2011 and established in 2012.

The Chair promotes an integrated system of research, training, information and documentation on sustainable water resources management, hydroinformatics and ecohydrology. It is expected to facilitate the achievement of UNESCO priorities to Region II, Central Asia, Africa and gender equity within integrated water resource management.

The long-term goal of the Chair is to help achieve the Millennium Development Goal of ensuring environmental sustainability and to empower women by promoting socio-economic-environmental resilience and sustainable development in Southeast Europe, the Black Sea and Caspian region, by improving water governance and the capacity of current and future water professionals and policymakers.

As a professor at Ovidius University of Constantza, I speak to my students about water beyond its physical and chemical properties. Water is a perfect example of unity in diversity, for water binds our entire ecosystem as a basic and common element and also takes on infinite forms, shapes and behaviours. This basic common element can help unite people and build our future.