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The Mediterranean Hydrological Cycle Observing System


Status and perspectives on 2000, December 1st

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Context | Goals | Institutionnal framework | Results | Prospect | Conclusion
DCP | Budget

Future of the Programme Med-Hycos
How to Improve the Project by Developing Information System
by Prof. Zoran Radic


To reconcile the need for good-quality freshwater with environmental protection is one of the greatest challenges humanity will be facing in the 21st century. The most obvious way to success is through improving water management. The Agenda 21 (UNCED, 1992) chapter 18 on freshwater and the report of the International Conference on Water and the Environment (ICWE, 1992) on which it was based, recognise that knowledge of the water cycle (quantity and quality) is the essential basis for efficient water management.

Water assessment, monitoring and management is dependant on the existence of reliable water resources information systems both at national and regional levels, covering not only the collection and analysis of data but also the exchange and dissemination of these data and related information and knowledge to the users, ranking from the general public to decision makers.

However, Chapter 18, the ICWE report, the WMO/UNESCO report on water resources assessment (1991), the Comprehensive Assessment of the Freshwater Resources of the World (1998) , as well as a number of recent international Conferences, such as the Paris Conference (19 – 21 March 1998)  stress that, in many regions of the world, these information systems are not functioning adequately or do not exist at all.

Main reasons  for that situation  are :

  • (i) inadequate funding by the Governments as a result of economic difficulties in many countries and especially in the developing ones;
  • (ii) little awareness of politicians, decision makers and public at large of the central role of water-related information and knowledge for sustainable socio-economic development,
  • (iii) difficulties for many national services/agencies to move from their  historical data collection-oriented role to user-oriented information and knowledge management;
  • (iv) world-wide trends toward reduction of the public sector involvement; and
  • (v) limited interest of the private sector to invest in the long-term operation and maintenance of networks of observing stations, obviously the most expensive part of  an information  system, but also the one without which information and knowledge cannot be generated and made available.
  • The nineteenth Special session of the UN General Assembly calls for highest priority to be given to the serious fresh-water problems facing many regions and pointed out that there is an urgent need :

  • To the formulation and implementation of policies and programmes for integrated watershed management, including notably issues related to pollution and waste, the interrelationship between water and land, estuarine environment, coastal zones, biodiversity and the preservation of aquatic ecosystems, etc.;
  • To strengthen regional and international co-operation for technology transfer and the financing of integrated water resources programmes and projects; and
  • To strengthen the capability of Governments and international institutions to collect and manage information, including scientific, social and environmental data.
  • Accordingly, the report of the Sixth Session of the commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), (22 December1997 and 20 April to 1 May 1998), urges Governments to address the numerous gaps identified in the path towards integrated water resources development, management, protection and use notably by giving further attention to hydrology and to the capacity to assess the availability and variability of water resources. Moreover, CSD encourages Governments to notably:

  • establish and maintain effective information and monitoring networks and further promote the exchange and dissemination of information relevant for policy formulation, planning, investment and operational decisions ; and
  • facilitate the collection and dissemination of water data and documentation that enhances public awareness of important water-related issues, to improve the understanding of meteorology and processes related to water quantity and quality and the functioning of ecosystems.
  • CSD also calls upon the international community, including the United Nations system to support national efforts in information and data collection and dissemination through co-ordinated and differentiated action.

    The European Union made important contributions to the international debate for new initiatives and recently the European Commission developed Guidelines for water resources development co-operation which centrepiece is "a strategic approach for the equitable, efficient and sustainable management of water resources".   Further in the light of the 5th Framework programme emphasis has been placed on research activites that should contribute to a number of key policy and legislative actions of the European Union as well as providing objective and timely scientific information to EU Institutes and Member Countries. Specifically activites should contribute to the Commissions new Key Action on "Sustainable management and quality of water" within the 5th Framework Specific Programme "Preserving the ecosystem" by identifying problems and making recommendations to the 6th Framework Programme.

    In this context of water crisis, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) launched in 1993 the World Hydrological Cycle Observing System (WHYCOS). The WHYCOS initiative is aimed at providing a scientific basis and a framework for co-operation in water resources monitoring, assessment and integrated water resources development and management at community, river basin, national, regional continental and global levels. It will contribute to knowledge of hydrological processes in their interaction with climate and the environment, and will encourage intersectoral sharing of water resources data and information for development and natural capital management.

    WHYCOS is being implemented through regional operational components (HYCOSs) tailored to respond to the priority established by the participating countries themselves. MED-HYCOS is being implemented in the Mediterranean Sea basin.

    Consistent with Agenda 21, chapter 18 and the report of ICWE, the Mediterranean Conference in Barcelona (November, 1995) identified water management as a vital issue, which deserves special attention in the European MEDA action plan.

    Moreover, the European Union gave high priority to the sustainable development and protection of the coastal zones, which are more and more impacted by the uses made of all major European watersheds through the quantity and the quality of the waters flowing to these zones. The aim of monitoring the long-term changes in these very important zones is to advise the Member countries of the European Union on protection of these zones from high levels of pollution coming from the watersheds.

    Under the recently adopted 5th Framework Plan (FP) of the European Commission (EC), which covers the period 1999-2002, the Environment Institute (EI) of the EC Joint Research Centre (JRC), ISPRA, Italy, has been asked to set-up a "Laboratoire Européen pour la Protection des Eaux" (LEPE) which would notably address the problem of pollution exchange between European River Basins and Coastal Waters. Among the objectives of this project it would contribute to the development of an Observational Network that will provide inter-comparable information sets on a range of agreed environmental indicators at the level of European scale river basins – coastal zones, taking advantage of already existing EU, national or/and regional initiatives. Specifically a project is under active development at the JRC Environment Institution entitled : European Watershed-Coastal Zone Pollution Exchange (EW-CZPE)

    The objective of EW-CZPE is to study, at selected European watershed-coastal zone scales, processes that lead selected pollution events in European waters. The rationale behind the proposal is that pollution of coastal waters results from the combined effects of land use activities within the terrestrial drainage network, and retention/elimination processes of pollutants during their transfer along the aquatic continuum (river channels, buffer strips, reservoirs, soils, ground-water recharge zones, wetlands, estuaries). A successful management of coastal waters requires, therefore, an ecosystem approach assessing the interrelated nature of water quality and quantity in relation to dominating human activities in the upland drainage basin. The Mediterranean region has been identified as one of the regions of special interest to the programme.

    Since the 5th FP would have two main geographical areas of interest regarding international co-operation, namely the countries of Central Europe and the Mediterranean regions both WMO and IE recognized that there is a clear synergy between the WMO project and the plans of the Institute concerning the monitoring of pollution fluxes from rivers flowing to Mediterranean and Black Seas coastal zones and that a common project should be developed and jointly presented to the EC.


    The conception and the implementation of the Observatory for water resources assessment in the mediterranean area must contribute to understand the dynamic of hydrosystems, to assess the environmental or human impacts on water resources and to optimize management strategies. Water resources assessment in natural and socio-economical environments which develop rapidly requires to develop efficient information systems.

    To carry out a regional water information system, it is necessary :

  • to save and develop through efficient knowledge bases the existing information, always heterogeneous, often scattered and hardly accessible ;
  • to integrate gradually real time or near real time data ;
  • to provide processing and visualisation tools open to the international community.
  • Within this prospect, the MED-HYCOS programme (Mediterranean Hydrological Cycle Observing System) aims :

    • (i) to implement a network of hydrometeorological real time or near real time data collecting platforms (DCP) on the main rivers of the Mediterranean catchments ;
    • (ii) to design and to implement an information and observation system on water resources, their physical environment, their local, river basin and regional management and uses ;
    • (iii) to improve the capacities of National Hydrological Services around the Mediterranean and the Black Sea areas (technology survey, training and expertise).

    Institutional framework

    MED-HYCOS is the first regional component of WHYCOS programme (World HYdrological Cycle Observing System) initiated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The World Bank financed the MED-HYCOS project in its initial phase (1995-2000) up to 1.7 M US $.

    The 25 participating countries in MED-HYCOS are Albania, Algeria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia, Spain, France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Former Yugoslavian Republic (FYR) of Macedonia, Malta, Moldavia, Morocco, Portugal, Palestinian Authority, Romania, Slovenia, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine and Yugoslavia. At the beginning of the project, in 1995, the countries governments and WMO signed up a project document.

    The Pilot Regional Centre which co-ordinates the MED-HYCOS programme is hosted by IRD-Montpellier (Institut of Research for Development) since 1995. The Pilot Regional Centre manages the activities under the control of the Initial Co-ordinating Group (ICG).

    The Initial Co-ordinating Group is made up of representatives from the following countries and organisations:

  • Bulgaria, Cyprus, Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Romania, Slovenia and Tunisia
  • WMO, World Bank, IRD, Friend-Amhy, and Médias-France.

    The French framework

    The Institute of Research for Development hosts the MED-HYCOS Pilot Regional Center since May 1995. The WMO/IRD agreement planned the activities of the programme and the terms of their implementation. Maintaining the Pilot Regional Center in Montpellier after 2000 is supported by our mediterranean partners, the  MED-TAC (Global Water Partnership), the Water Mediterranean Institute  and in France by the Ministry of Environment and institutional regional partners such as the Regional Council, the Hérault  General Council, the Montpellier District, Agropolis International, VERSEAU, etc.

    The contribution of IRD to the MED-HYCOS implementation is part of a global approach of the Institute that aims to develop multimedia knowledge bases on environment and meet  the demand of the international community  to  have access to efficient information on water at a regional scale (Observatory concept). The project relies on the technical capacities implemented within the IRD Service Unit " Hydrological Observatories and Engineering". 

    The support of IRD to the MED-HYCOS functionning from 1995 to 2000 has been estimated up to 1 million US$ (staff, building and equipment). Financial contributions of the Ministry of Environment, the Languedoc-Roussillon Region, the Hérault Department and the Montpellier District over the same period represent 100 000 US$.

    The MED-HYCOS Pilot Regional Centre aims to set up in 2001 an international structure with a strongest representation of  the mediterranean partners. The IRD will maintain its involvement in the MED-HYCOS project at least over the four coming years. 



    The results obtained during the initial phase of the project MED-HYCOS (1995-2000) might be presented according to the objectives previously mentioned.

    The component "Data Collecting Platforms Network (DCPN )"


    The Data Collecting Platforms(DCP's) were installed in the twelve following countries : Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia, Italy, Jordan, FYR Macedonia, Malta, Morocco, Slovenia, Tunisia and Turkey. Until the end of the year 2000, thirty five DCP's are planed to operate in these countries as well as in Algeria, Greece, Lebanon, and Palestinian Territories.

    Furthermore, this network has been completed by a secondary network of Near Real Time Stations (NRTS), established in Albania, Bulgaria, Spain, France, Slovenia and Romania.

    The Hydrometeorological Data Collecting Platforms MED-HYCOS (DCP)

    The whole network of about fifty stations, composed by actual DCP's and NRTS, has to be expanded in the future in order to offer a reliable and standard information, which would be usefull to follow the evolution of the water resources in the principal mediterranean basins.

    The component "MED-HYCOS Information System(MHIS)"


    The Hydrological Information System is composed by a WEB site showing the activities of the project, the partner institutions, informations on water resources in Mediterranean area, the regional database of around one hundred hydrological stations and the tools for data collection, organisation, processing, edition and data dissemination on the Internet.

    Cartographic MED-HYCOS stations selection tool

    In September 1998, the first version of a CD-ROM was published. In December 1999, 2000 copies of a CD-ROM were distributed free of charge, which provide the MED-HYCOS WEB site, the regional hydrometeorological database and the tools allowing the data consultation and processing.

    Home Page of the MED-HYCOS CD-ROM

    The MHIS will be progresively improved supplying, through the Internet and CD-ROM, more and more dense information on the water resources in the Mediterranean basin.

    The component "Training and Expertise"


    Training sessions have been organised with professional staff from all the participating countries in the field of :

    • "DCP installation and maintenance" in Toulouse, France (1996) and in Metkovic, Croatia (1997).
    • "Digital Elevation models applied to Hydrology" :Beirut, Lebanon (June 1999 ) · "New technologies applied to Hydrology": Montpellier, France (October/November 1999)
    • "application de nouvelles technologies à l'hydrologie": Montpellier (September/October 2000)
    • "application of MED-HYCOS tools to National Data Bases": Montpellier (October 2000)

    To support the installation of DCPs, experts from participating countries have carried out mission to support national technicians in this activities: in particular experts from Croatia, Romania and Slovenia have carried out missions to FYR Macedonia, Jordan and Bosnia Herzegovina respectively.

    A guideline on the "acquisition and achievement of baseline hydrological data" has been elaborated by IRD and published with the support of the Technical University of Construction of Bucharest (Romania). A "Hydrometry quality chart - Guide to good practices" has been published with the support of the French Ministry of Environment.

    Through a secondment programme 7 experts from various participating countries (Albania, Bulgaria, Romania and Yugoslavia) have spent periods up to 24 months in the PRC, participating in the development of the MHIS.

    The training sessions have been organised with professionals from partner countries in the field of data acquisition, transmission and dissemination.


    Installation of a Hydrometeorological Data Collecting Platform in Croatia

    Collaborations with other water related networks

    During the first phase, MED-HYCOS has established links with existing programs the Mediterranean area as BLUE PLAN, ARIDE project working on droughts, FRIEND-AMHY (regional hydrological studies), etc. which have already used data collected by MED-HYCOS program.

    Furthermore, thanks to the use of new technologies, the data producers participating to the MED-HYCOS program would fulfil better the needs of water managers and research teams for the assessment of the impact of human impact activities on the aquatic environment, for the evaluation of the pollution flows into the Mediterranean Sea, for the management and the protection of water resources, etc.

    MED-HYCOS project will identify the capacity of expertise of the Mediterranean partners related to the Centers of the existing resources like EMWIS which is the Euro-Mediterranean Information System on the know-how in the Water sector (SEMIDE in french).


    During the second phase of the project, the achievements of the first phase will be consolidated, and be transferred form the regional to the national level.

    The main objective of MED-HYCOS Phase II is to further develop, through the strengthening of the National Hydrological Services, the Mediterranean Hydrological Information System and its capacity to provide to a large community of users, region-wide hydrological data and water related thematic products based on the information supplied by national systems and other region-wide management and scientific programmes.

    The main focus will be :

  • (i) on the implementation at national level of National Hydrological Information Systems (NHIS) according to commonly agreed standards, providing a minimum set of data and information products targeting end users' needs and using real time data acquisition/processing technologies and Internet oriented tools developed at regional level ;
  • (ii) on strengthening the National Hydrological Services (NHS) capabilities to maintain, sustain and develop such information systems at national and regional level, according to commonly agreed standards in order to provide a minimum set of information products targeting end users' needs; and ;
  • (iii) on improving and fostering co-operation among NHSs and with regional research projects and institutions, also through the implementation of Thematic Networks (TN).
  • The first beneficiaries of the project are the participating National Hydrological Services themselves, which will draw advantages in undertaking their operational and research activities from quicker and easier access to their own data, improved data management practices and up-to-date tools for data analysis and better capabilities to respond to user requirements. At national and regional levels, other beneficiaries will be water managers and policy/decision makers, who will benefit from the synthetic, scientifically sound decision support tools, and user friendly, easily accessible and constantly updated information available from national and regional hydrological information systems. At regional and global levels finally the research community will benefit from the increased availability of data, their better real coverage, and enhanced quality control.


    National Hydrological Information Systems

    At national level the main project output will be the establishment of National Hydrological Information System (NHIS), accessible via Internet, regularly updated by the NHS concerned, providing a minimum set of hydrological data and information products targeting end users' needs.

    At national level, provisional list of the set of products in form of texts, tables, graphs or maps displayed by the NHIS is:

    Trends and availability of Water resources : * bulletins on the water resources situation and forecast assessment of extreme events, * maps on streamflow discharges (as percentiles) for each station, dams (rate of filling), groundwater (levels and trends), * graphs on river discharges with yearly hydrographs of daily values, graphical rendition of historical series at yearly, monthly or daily aggregation levels, * tables of monthly and daily data on representative stations.

    Water quality : *bulletins on the situation and forecast, *maps on synthetic information on surface water quality, *graphs on the evolution of quality parameters and indexes, *tables of sample data on representative stations.

    Rainfall information : *bulletins on the situation (and forecast, in association with NMS, when appropriate), *maps of isohyetes curves for monthly values and monthly deviations from average, isohyetes curves for exceptional events, *graphs of monthly data and average, Intensity/period/frequency curves and exceptional events assessment, *tables of rainfall daily data on representative stations .


    Mediterranean Hydrological Information System (MHIS)

    At regional level the Mediterranean Hydrological Information System (MHIS) will be developed, through the networking of the National Hydrological Information Systems (NHIS), and using the data, information and products developed by the MED-HYCOS Co-ordinating Centre (MHCC) and the Thematic Networks (TN).

    At Mediterranean basin level, the major outputs of MHIS will be information on the project activities, information on the variability of the water cycle components, and specific products generated also making use of spatialized and remote sensing data.

    • Information on project activities essentially produced by MHCC will be :
    • general information on the project activities,
    • presentation of the project partners,
    • activity and meeting reports,
    • bibliography, etc.
    • Information on the variability of the water cycle components at regional scale essentially produced by TN or NHS themselves will be such as :
      • permanent evaluation of the surface water resources evolution for the major river basins,
      • statistical analysis of hydrometeorological data at regional scale,
      • diagnostics on region wide droughts and floods,
      • elaboration and monitoring of water quality indexes,
      • inventory of different water resources uses (storage, transfer, withdrawal and return flows),
      • inputs to the evaluation of the climate change on the water resources availability,
      • description and follow-up of the physical, biological and socio-economical environment of the major river basins of the region, etc.

    Spatialized information and products generated by TN making use of satellite data and ground data would be also developed at regional level to be later on operationally implemented at national level. They will address the following areas :

    • improvement of the forecasting of natural hazards, especially floods and droughts,
    • spatialisation of hydrological parameters as rainfall and evapotranspiration,
    • improvement of the linkages between hydrological and meteorological forecasting activities,
    • determination of the physical characteristics of the river basins,
    • estimation of the extension of pollution flow into the sea,
    • provision of consistent and extensive data for international river basins, etc.

    Strengthened capacity in NHSs

    Through the planned training, secondment of experts to the MHCC and TC, and through technology transfer activities, MED-HYCOS will improve the capabilities of the partner National Hydrological Services in the areas of data acquisition, processing, and dissemination, maintenance of hydrological information systems, and will also contribute to improving the availability of reliable information on water resources.

    At the end of the project, each NHS is expected to have the capacities to undertake independently the maintenance, updating and further development of its hydrological information system, as well as to actively contribute to the regional information system. This will require the training of the NHSs staff in the domains relevant to the project outputs (data collection networks, data base management, web oriented programming, etc), on the job training through secondment of national experts to the MHCC and the TC. Basic equipment necessary to support the information system, ranging from data collection devices to computers and peripherals will also be provided. It is anticipated that by the completion of the project, each participating NHS will have available staff trained in the following fields :

    • Website design and maintenance
    • Internet interface maintenance
    • Data base management
    • Cartographic and GIS tools
    • DCP installation, management and maintenance

    Furthermore other training courses, workshops and seminars will be held to update NHSs' staff skills in the various fields of hydrology.

    Each NHS will also be provided with the necessary equipment required for the operation of the hydrological information system (computer, software, telecom connections, etc.) Traditional field hydrological equipment (current meters, etc) as well as DCPs will be supplied to reinforce the national data collection systems and provide a more homogeneous real time coverage of the Mediterranean basin.


    Collaborations between MED-HYCOS and other HYCOS components in the world are already effective (HYCOS AOC west and central Africa, SADC-HYCOS Austral Africa, ARAL-HYCOS, PACIFIC-HYCOS, CARIB-HYCOS, etc. One of the main challenges for MED-HYCOS is to transfer the technologies developped in its framework towards the other regions of the world.

    Besides, co-operation between MED-HYCOS and scientists, managers and decision-makers working in the field of the water management will be reinforced.

    A strong complementarity exists between MED-HYCOS bringing together the National Hydrological Services and, on the other hand, programmes like EMWIS (Euro-Mediterranean Information System on the know-how in the Water sector),  networks like the Water Mediterranean Network bringing together the Water Directions of the mediterranean countries, etc.



    The first achievements of the MED-HYCOS programme obtained during the initial phase 1995-2000 is the creation of an international co-operative network between the National Hydrological Services of the 25 partner countries through the implementation of a Data Collecting Platforms network, of a regional data base, of an efficient web site and through the organisation of capacity building activities. Its main objective for the future is to build a Mediterranean Hydrological Information System based on the strengthening of the capabilities of the National Hydrological Services and on the reinforcing of a data collecting network.

    The availability of reliable and appropriate hydrological data constitutes actually the first necessary information to preserve and to manage properly water as a resource for human live and activities, and as an essential component that must be taken into account in the balance of ecosystems and natural environment.

    Furthermore, all MED-HYCOS partners would fulfil better the needs of the research teams and decision-makers in the fields of the human impact assessment on the aquatic environment, the evaluation of pollution flows in the Mediterranean Sea, the protection and the management of water resources, etc.

    MED-HYCOS is the first HYCOS component to be implemented. Relationships are already established with other HYCOS regional components as in West, Central and Austral Africa, Aral basin, Pacific islands, Caribbean region, etc.

    In this manner, the MED-HYCOS programme contributes to an effective integrated water resources management in the Mediterranean region and to convey the technologies developed and the skills existing in the Mediterranean countries towards other world regions.