GE/ES 320 - Dangerous Liaisons: Cities and Water in the Mediterranean

Access to the sea and sources of freshwater for domestic use and agricultural purposes has in the past determined the establishment of Mediterranean cities and shaped their destiny.

Today, in a context of global environmental change, urban sprawl and various anthropogenic pressures on scarce natural resources, this proximity to the sea as well as a risky connection to freshwater (too much or not enough) is making these coastal cities vulnerable, threatening their future.

Marine resources, including coastal zones, have long been considered mere resources for people to mine. It is increasingly clear today that coastal zones provide many other ecosystems services, such as storm mitigation and habitats for biodiversity, requiring a shift to integrated coastal zone management approach. Sources of freshwater, rivers, and ground aquifers also need to be given a central role in government policies as vital ecosystems for the cities that depend on them for their survival.

Competition among urban dwellers, farmers and industries for increasingly scarce and polluted sources of freshwater is demanding a new approach that requires balancing all uses but also focusing on water demand management.

Resilience and adaptation to these new challenges will depend on managing these coastal cities as linked social and ecological systems, and recognizing their dependence on their hinter-lands. Wise stewardship could provide effective protection against sea level rise, storm surges, saline intrusion in ground aquifers and other possible natural hazards.

Coastal cities selected as case studies will be well-established coastal settlements with a long past linked to the coast and the sea such as Marseilles, Alexandria, Genoa, Palermo, Tangiers.

This course will explore the vital and inextricable link between urbanization, freshwater management and coastal management in Mediterranean coastal cities, demonstrate the importance of maintaining healthy ecosystems services to enable people to adapt to global environmental change and discuss institutions at all scales needed to implement adaptive policies.

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Environmental Studies

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