| Santorini

Ambassador Gjelstad on Norwegian Funding of a Portable Sea Water Desalination Unit for Santorini

Speech given by Ambassador Jørn E. Gjelstad at seminar in Santorini 28 April 2017.

Mr. Mayor of Thera, Mr. Zorzous

Mr. President of DEYA, Mr. Mainas

Ladies and gentlemen,

My wife and I have been looking forward to visiting your beautiful island ever since we settled in Greece – almost two years ago.  And finally, we have accomplished our desire – we are here.

To be honest, it is a remarkable and rewarding concurrence, that the timing of our first visit to this island coincides with the official inauguration of the portable desalination plant that has been funded by my own country, Norway.

As we all know - water is life. The growing pressure on water resources, there be from climate change, increasing population, economic growth, pollution or unresolved political conflicts, has a major and direct impact on our lives. It affects our social, economic and environmental well-being.  No wonder, sustained access to usable and drinkable water resources has become an existential issue.

Despite the fact that our planet is being made up of 70% of water, we can observe countries struggling with a large and growing gap between their need and the available water supply.

Wetlands are being lost to urbanization, industrial activities, agricultural expansion or highly needed development. Water, once an abundant natural resource, is becoming a more valuable commodity due to droughts and over-use.

One should therefore not be surprised that desalination is being considered as an urgent and required option by many countries to solve a critical a critical situation and meet accelerating challenges related to available reserves.

Desalination is the process of removing dissolved salts from water.  It is actually naturally present in the environment, particularly in the process of evaporation in which water from the ocean forms water vapour and leaves salt behind. Desalination has been utilized by humans for many centuries, not at least here in Greece.  The Greek philosopher Aristotle observed in his work “Meteorology” that “salt water, when it turns into vapour becomes sweet, and the vapour does not form salt water again when it condenses”.  

Desalination doesn’t only produce potable water but also water that can be used for irrigation, which is great for arid regions as well as for areas going through drought.

Although desalination is being seen as a saviour for many people, the current technical modalities it requires has made it controversial, where opposing sides have strong opinions on both technology and its environmental impact.

On the plus side, desalination provides people with potable water and water for irrigation, stops water crisis, and preserves the current freshwater supply. On the minus side, desalination does consume large amounts of energy, it can be costly and can affect the marine environment negatively.

Due to its energy consumption, desalinating seawater is generally more costly than fresh water from rivers or groundwater, from water recycling or from water conservation. However, these alternatives are not always available and depletion of reserves is a critical problem worldwide.

According to the UN, approximately 1% of the world's population is completely dependent on desalinated water today to meet daily needs. In the longer run, the UN expects that 14% of the world's population will encounter serious water scarcity as early as 2025. This is a most scary prospect.

It is a well-known fact that almost all of the islands of the Aegean Sea – Santorini among them – are facing severe challenges when it comes to sustained access to water resources.

Increased water demand due to economic growth, irrigation needs, declining precipitation levels and over-utilization of groundwater are all factors that have created fresh water shortage problems. In order to meet pressing needs, water is transported by ships from the mainland or other neighbouring islands at a high cost. At the same time, the promising solution of desalination plants powered by renewable energy sources, and carried out in an environmental friendly manner, ensuring a sustainable and cost-effective method to meet these challenges, is no longer a vision. It has become a reality, and in record time!

The project whose official inauguration we celebrate today - and which has actually been up and running since June 2016 - has been a desalination success story. According Mr. Mainas, it has made a huge difference in the lives of both the permanent residents and the numerous visitors of Oia, the capital of Santorini, as it has increased the water capacity by 80%.

The new desalination unit replaced and expanded the capacity of an older desalination unit, which was in operation for more than 20 years. It did not only solve the pressing problem of insufficient quantity of potable water, it also improved the quality significantly.  It is fair to say that this new unit has the capacity required to protect not only the water resources, but also the environment within the wider area of Oia.

Τhis new desalination plant is using environmentally friendly technologies such as the use of photovoltaics/ solar panel and a technical system for energy recovery that adds up to impressively 90%.

Without this new desalination plant, I believe it would have been difficult to fully cover the needs of Oia’s water demands from the Summer of 2016 and onwards.

This much needed initiative in Santorini is not the only one Norway has been able to contribute to within the area of environment and renewables in recent past. Throughout the current funding period of the Norwegian Grants, we have supported several environmental interventions , such as: - plants for desalination in the islands of Pserimos,  Kalimnos and Leros, - a program on integrated marine monitoring, implemented by the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, - extensive studies on erosion and erosion reversion on Aegean islands tourist beaches, implemented by the University of the Aegean - programme on maritime spatial planning in the Aegean region for biodiversity preservation and protection, implemented by the University of the Aegean - project on sustainable management of water systems in Crete, implemented by the Technical University of Crete - and scholarships to post-graduate students on water management studies, implemented by the State Scholarship Foundation

Please let me also address a few points on Norway’s broader engagement in Greece for the coming years.

We now have the new funding period in front of us leading up to 2021 with a total of almost €120 million. Negotiations are still ongoing and hopefully we shall be able to finalize the pertinent MOU with the Greek State before summer.

In the context of the new program, Norway will support not only environmental and renewable energy projects in Greece, but also its capacity to tackle the enormous challenges from the migration flow. This crisis is not a national responsibility only, it is a European responsibility that commits us all. Norway will also support Greek civil society organizations, the Greek research and technology efforts, entrepreneurship and innovation, in particular with a view to the young educated people, and provide much needed support to the poorest segment of the Greek society.

All these areas stand out as important benchmarks.

In closing I would like to thank DEYA - the Municipal Enterprise for Water and Sewage of Thera – and especially its General Manager Mr. Mainas for implementing this project in record time. 

Norway is proud to be your partner, and do appreciate what we have achieved together through our excellent cooperation.

Thank you for your attention.