Whatever you’re doing, you’re using water
There are very few things you can do in life without using water. Like drinking coffee? Each cup costs about 130 litres of water to produce. That’s not counting any milk you might like (about 50 l for a splash), or even the cup itself.1 Your favourite pair of jeans? Production alone probably set you back some 8000 litres, slowly ticking up with every kilometre of transport from the factory to the shop.2 Water is a precious resource, especially in places where there is not enough of it. That is definitely the case in Malta.
Water everywhere, but not a drop to drink
As a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Malta would probably not be your first guess for a country that faces severe water shortages. Still, Malta is one of the most freshwater-scarce countries in the world. The country has no significant and permanent river systems and it has long, dry summers. Add to that a growing population and booming tourism industry, and it becomes clear why Malta’s water resources are dwindling.
Through its Water Catchment Management Plans, Malta has come a long way. Despite the increased water stress, the island has taken steps to secure freshwater resources, effectively manage droughts and prepare for extreme weather events.
So much of water management comes down to clever use, though. That’s why Malta teaches its population how to make the most of every drop. The EEA Grants supported these efforts by funding the construction of the Malta Water Conservation Awareness Centre, Għajn. Through engaging presentations and interactive games, the Centre teaches around 2000 schoolchildren per year why water conservation is important, and how it can be fun.
Young Water Heroes
“In many ways, children are most vulnerable to water scarcity,” says Amanda Zahra, policy officer on Education at Għajn . “As the climate changes, water will become even scarcer, so the next generation will bear the brunt of the negative effects.” At the same time, children might be less aware of Malta’s water issues than their parents or grandparents. “In the 1980s, Malta’s water problems were obvious. Water quality was poor and sometimes when you opened the tap, no water came out,” Amanda remembers.
At the Water Conservation Awareness Centre, children discover for themselves that Malta does not have a lot of water and what they can do to help. One of the Centre’s most eye-catching attractions is the interactive video wall, where children can play educational games. In The Fairly Hydrated Knight, for instance, they have to protect their fort’s waterworks. Despite the game’s fantastical fairy tale setting, the game teaches children about water quality, water security, droughts and the dangers of water leaks through a humorous series of quests.
Much of the guided visit revolves around spontaneous interaction with children. “I start the tour by asking the group to look around and find something that was made without water,” says Amanda Zahra. “First, they think this is easy. They’ll point to a cupboard or a piece of paper. Then I’ll walk them through that. ‘What is the cupboard made of? Wood? And how do we make wood? Trees? And don’t those trees need water?'”
Children quickly understand just how essential water is and are eager to help protect it. At the Centre, they can complete a challenge to become a water hero, but they are also encouraged to change what they do at home and at school. Amanda remarks how it’s often children that drag their parents along to the Centre at open days. She’s even overheard parents joking that their children had become the “water police” at home. Unfortunately, it’s more challenging to convince adults.
“Children aren’t set in their ways yet,” Amanda thinks. “Adults are harder to convince because they have their routines and change can be harder for them.” While children who have visited the Centre have proved active water ambassadors, Għajn has started targeting adults more directly as well, starting with businesses. At the Centre’s first one-day training last year, some 500 participants were told how their company could save water. The next edition will also teach them how to be more energy efficient.
Unlike the visits for children, these trainings are not all fun and games. Amanda is convinced that you first need to shock adults. “We see images of climate change and bad weather every day,” she says, “but we easily forget what they mean. We use figures and statistics to show that water is important and that climate change has us working against the clock to make changes.”
The Water Centre doesn’t just want to show gloom and doom though. “It’s important to give people a wake-up call, but you can’t leave people in shock. You need to inspire them to act in small and large ways.”