Making each drop count

Global warming has already reached 1°C above the pre-industrial level. Summers are getting warmer and drier. The weather is becoming less predictable. To cope with the changing climate, we need to take action, now. Large-scale change is needed, but even the smallest efforts can help to make your street, school or town a better place to live in. That is why the EEA and Norway Grants are helping communities adapt to the realities of climate change, making Europe greener one project at a time.

Climate change is making everyone think differently. This is also the case in Slovakia, where the facts on the ground were certainly hard to ignore. The country faced severe drought in 2015 and record-breaking summer temperatures in the years following. This signalled that something had to be done, and fast.

That is why the Slovakian government launched its ‘Value of H2O in the country’ (H2odnota je voda) action plan. This so-called ‘climate change adaptation’ plan focused on how regular people can adapt to the new climate reality while protecting the environment and maintaining their quality of life. It involves actions like making the most of rainwater all-year-round, but especially during dry periods, or planting trees and plants that need less water.

Some local initiatives have been at the forefront of this proactive approach to climate change, even in the most remote parts of the country. This was the case at the Maximilián Hell School in Štiavnické Bane, a community battling both demographic and climate challenges. Eleven years ago, with families moving away and only 100 students still enrolled, the new school director decided to focus on nature and the environment through more than just the curriculum. The school built a vertical garden wall, introduced animals, and developed special eco-features. Now, students are taught how to take care of birds and horses, and they discover first-hand the importance of water to everyday life at the school and in the community. Through these projects, the children make a personal connection with nature, linking their own actions and the wider natural impacts of climate change and weather extremes.

Blue school, green mission

The Maximilián Hell’s ‘Blue School’ received funding from the EEA Grants to build a rainwater collection system and natural ponds. The school adapted its curriculum to teach students how water harvesting works. It also wanted to show how to use this precious resource wisely, in increasingly water-stressed regions each drop of water counts.

The school’s two eco-ponds can now hold around 25 000 litres of rainwater collected directly from the school’s roof. It is used to water the school’s herb and wetland gardens as well as the 3 500 native plants growing freely up a 12-metre vertical garden wall. During the hot summer months and drier periods, walls like this help to cool the surroundings and trap dust particles, which also improves air quality. These ‘green’ and ‘blue’ moves certainly paid off for the school, which has seen its student numbers double. Families even moved to the region, so their children could attend this eco-friendly place of learning. The town itself – located at the bottom of the volcanic mountain range Štiavnica in the southern part of central Slovakia – has also benefited. Parents have adopted the school’s green mantra and approach to water conservation, and community spirit has lifted.

 “We need to educate children about climate change because it is going to be directly impacting all of our futures. We bring nature to them by showing how to look after it and we can teach them about the future impacts.”

Maximiliána Hella teacher Nick Gerhard

Building on success

Maximilián Hell was one of the 120 projects funded under the EEA and Norway Grants’ ‘Adaptation to climate change programme ’ in Slovakia. The Grants funded € 27,015 of the “Blue School’s” final project cost of €31,782. On top of the ‘climate adaptation’ actions to better manage its rainwater reserves, Maximilián Hell also:

As part of the EEA and Norway Grants programme, schools in Slovakia got the opportunity to work together with two Norwegian donor programme partners: the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE)  and the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection (DSB). The Maximilián Hell school also partnered up with a school in Vardo, Norway. Several teachers and pupils from Maximilián Hell went on an exchange to Vardo to present the Blue School project and to learn more about rising sea temperatures and arctic ecosystems.

Building on the success of the pilot, the EEA and Norway Grants plans to launch a €1 million follow-up call in December 2019  for proposals aimed at promoting and raising awareness of climate change mitigation and adaptation among primary and secondary schools in Slovakia.

An information and matchmaking event will be held in Slovakia on 20 November. It will showcase how the EEA and Norway Grants can be applied on the ground through both soft measures such as information and education and through hard measures, such as planting trees, collecting rainwater, e-mobility and green walls and roofs.  

“Every walk starts with small steps, and we believe that when we change ourselves and our children, they will change many other people and globally the world will change!”

Lucia Misikova, Blue School project manager

Local action with European impacts

Like the previous round of funding, the new call will prioritise local solutions to local problems. “The Maximilián Hell School is near my hometown and it has a specific climate with different water conditions from lowland or other highland parts of Slovakia,” says Mr Knotka. “Each of them faces different challenges, so the solutions need to be adapted to conditions on the ground. Some schools are dealing with drought, for example, and others with floods – which will be, no doubt, reflected in their proposals.

Together, these local initiatives are larger than the simple sum of their parts. Together, they are revealing the future of a green, more sustainable Europe. Together, they show that a greener Europe is not a pipe dream but that it can become a reality, one drop at a time and one project at a time.

Project info

Final project cost: €31,782 (EEA Grants: €27,015)
Carried out in Slovakia 
Project website