||A new UNESCO project was launched in January 1996 for enhancing
coastal cities, in harmony with their natural environment: an integrated
approach for sustainable development.
Coastal Regions and Small Islands
A new transdisciplinary endeavour has been launched by UNESCO entitled
'Environment and Development in Coastal Regions and in Small Islands'
(CSI), in response to the needs of maritime nations for sound coastal
management. Some of the technical and environmental issues to be
considered include: loss of biodiversity, environmental pollution and
degradation, resource depletion and natural disaster reduction. A number
of social, economic and cultural factors must be considered in order to
arrive at lasting solutions.
Urban development and freshwater resources
In June 1996, a group of experts came together in Malmo, a Swedish
coastal town, to participate in the creation of a network of co-operating
coastal cities in Europe and the Mediterranean area, which are known for
their historical interest and cultural heritage.
The specialists - among them were anthropologists, hydro-geologists,
architects and social scientists - had as their goal the sharing of ideas
with a view to preventing or remediating the deterioration of these towns
and to protect, through more rational management, the freshwater resources
upon which their very existence depends. The mismanagement of water
resources, in fact, has some direct implications on the economic and
social development of coastal cities, as well as on the real possibility
of maintaining and protecting their cultural and historical heritage.
For a long time, water management specialists have attempted to
transmit their message to town planners, architects and coastal city
mayors, obtaining, however, only partial results. At present, social
science experts and those directly involved in the protection of the
historical and cultural heritage need to have access to the specific
methodologies for coastal management. Close collaboration among these
specialists is thus needed.
UNESCO has decided to support this initiative. The objectives of this
particular project are to:
- Launch a scheme for the exchange of assistance and know-how among
coastal cities of Europe and those of the southern Mediterranean areas
- Promote the use of a common language among the different expert
groups identified as the principal actors of coastal zone development;
- Heighten public awareness among the coastal zone population; the
participation and education of the local population constitute a major
aspect of this project;
- Identify and map the areas where urgent intervention is needed;
- Establish a case study that would help to refine the methodological
approach of the project and evaluate its impacts. The first case study
selected will focus on the ancient town of Essaouira, Morocco's old
The attitude towards, need for, and degree of groundwater protection
vary considerably from country to country and from aquifer to aquifer.
However, emphasis is still largely on groundwater development and
over-exploitation. The consequences of this over-exploitation may include:
a decrease in groundwater level or a reduction in water pressures; the
drying up of wetlands; a reduction in pumping capacity; salt-water
intrusion and land subsidence.
In coastal aquifers, fresh groundwater is delicately balanced on top of
denser saline groundwater. Once contaminated with salt water, aquifers are
very difficult to flush and, most of the time, become unsuitable for a
large number of uses.
Land subsidence occurs when ground-water is over-pumped from a confined
aquifer. As pressures within the aquifer drop, the aquifer materials and
the overlying clays gradually become compacted. Land subsidence follows
the consolidation of these sediments. Consequences include coastal
flooding, structural damage and inoperable water and sewage systems.
What about planning for future urban development along
What does the 21st century hold for these cities? This is not a matter
of predicting, but of planning. No longer can we be content with setting
urban policies in the traditional sense of the term; now it is a matter of
defining and implementing global development strategies. Any city's future
must be anchored in its individual identity. Its 'urban heritage' must be
the starting point for the development of an urban policy. Land-use
planning and development, for instance, should involve planners at local
and national levels, particularly as concerns protection of the
environment and historical heritage, land use, management of natural
resources and siting of new infrastructure.
Case Study: Essaouira
'Essaouira, city in the wind'
On Morocco's Atlantic coast, a thousand kilometres from Gibraltar, lies
the historic town of Essaouira. A small town, surrounded by a succession
of walls with numerous gateways, the old 'Mogador' is now a small fishing
The Mogador site has been known from antiquity. In the 5th century BC,
the Carthaginians set up a trading post and, at the end of the 18th
century the port and town surrounded by their first ramparts were built
facing the island. In 1765, the Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah decided
to build the largest port of his empire and entrusted the work to the
French surveyor and architect Theodore Cornut, a pupil of Vauban, whose
task was to build a trading town with an all-weather port. Nowadays,
Essaouira reminds one of Saint-Malo, designed by Vauban. A Genoese
architect was responsible for the construction of the 'scala' on the
western ramparts facing the sea, and a British architect for the Marine
Gateway. A dozen trading companies were established afterwards in Mogador,
accommodating nearly a thousand Europeans (British, Danish, Dutch, French,
Germans, Italians, Portuguese and Spanish). Since its establishment in
1765, Mogador has been considered as an important cross-roads of cultures
Today Essaouira, with approximately 80,000 inhabitants, is the main
town in a province of half a million people. The city now lives on arts
and crafts, tourism and fishing. Like other Arab towns, characterized by
medinas, casbahs and similar historical centres, Essaouira suffers from
such problems as overpopulation, building deterioration and insufficiency
of infrastructures. Its historic quarters represent an important cultural
and historical patrimony which is now endangered. Rural migration into
this small urban centre leads to economic and social stresses which
deteriorate the quality of life. However, the site of Essaouira remains as
a magical window on Moroccan cultural heritage and a centre for artistic
creation, especially in sculpture and painting.
Cultural and historical heritage in danger
Today, the old walled medina is threatened by processes which have been
set in motion by both natural and anthropogenic causes. Salt-water
intrusion, land subsidence, coastal erosion and overexploitation of water
resources contribute in particular to the degradation of the urban
context. Protection of the surroundings of Essaouira's ecosystem is a
condition for its survival.
Action plan for integrated town development: priorities
This case study
reveals a large number of problems which are common to numerous other
ancient Mediterranean coastal towns. However, explaining these problems
need transdisciplinary competence. The knowledge acquired should improve
the comprehension of the existing problems and thus help other coastal
From: Urban Development and Freshwater Resources.
- Restoration of the Medina and feasibility study of a wave-breaker
project far from the historic Medina, in order to stop the progressive
- Temporary relocation of endangered families still living in the
houses next to the wall;
- Rehabilitation of the historic habitat through the creation of
various activities and the delivery of sanitary equipment into the
Medina, in order to help the most disadvantaged families;
- Protection and re-establishment of the dunal coastal environment;
- Prevention of contamination in sea and freshwater environment;
- Rehabilitation of the three historical monuments of the city (Danish
Consulate and the two Scalas of the port).