The “Good Water Neighbors” (GWN) community project was established by EcoPeace in 2001 to raise awareness of the shared water reality of Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians, and to create political will for transboundary cooperation over issues of water and sanitation. Real improvement within the water sector has been created by building trust and understanding that has led to common problem solving and peace building among communities, even in the midst of conflict.
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The GWN methodology is an original idea, based on identifying cross border communities & utilizing their mutual dependence on shared water resources as a basis for developing dialogue and cooperation on sustainable water management.
From the outset, the project chose a community to be partnered with a neighbouring community on the other side of the border/political divide to work on common water issues. Initially, 11 Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian communities were selected to participate in Phase I of the project. Phase II of the GWN project expanded the communities involved from 11 to 17. Further expansion then included 28 communities, supporting EcoPeace’s efforts in all the region’s shared water resources; the Dead Sea, Jordan River and the Mountain and Coastal Aquifers.
More recently, we scaled up from the focus on 28 individual communities – which share water resources with at least one other community across the border – to a model that addresses the larger picture of CROSS BORDER WATER BASINS & WATERSHEDS.
In the current phase of the programme, EcoPeace is committed to further expanding its reach to include more communities across the regions cross-border basins, work to empower local women and girls to play active roles in the conversation and decision making process related to water management, and to further utilize the programmes success is changing mindsets to generate institutional and political changes.
BACKGROUND TO THE PROJECT:
Despite limited cooperation between the region’s governments on some aspects of water allocation, sustainable management of water resources has not been achieved in the Middle East peace process. Lack of sewage treatment, over-pumping of aquifers, excessive diversion of surface water flows, and difficulty in implementing critical water-demand management policies threaten scarce water resources. These circumstances pose environmental and health hazards to communities, and can be a significant source of cross-border tension and pollution. Initiators of this project took the lead in localizing these water issues by focusing the GWN work on the community level, and fostering the cross-border relationships that are necessary to solve common water problems.
GWN works both on the community and municipal levels. In each community, local field staff work in close partnership with groups of EcoPeace “Youth Water Trustees” and adult activists to create awareness of their own water reality, their neighboring community’s water reality, and the interdependence between the two, which necessitates shared solutions to shared problems. The experience gained through this dimension of the GWN programme shows that identifying community “environment champions” is instrumental in garnering the support of municipalities and mayors, generating change on the municipalities’ policy level.
EcoPeace has thus been able to develop close relations with mayors who have themselves become advocates for transboundary cooperation on water, recognizing that working together with their neighboring municipalities across the border would serve the best interest of their constituencies.
Having gained the trust of residents, municipal staff and mayors, the GWN programme seeks to change the reality on the ground: the programme staff works with neighboring municipalities to develop common solutions to their water management problems and leverage the funds necessary for implementation. Recent examples include the construction of a sewage collection network in the Palestinian community of Baka el Sharkiya, and the connection of this newly built network with that of the neighboring Israeli community, Baka el Gharbiya, by which the Palestinian wastewater is now being transferred for treatment on the Israeli side, no longer polluting the nearby Hadera/Abu Naar Stream; and the establishment of a model farm in the Jordanian community of South Ghore, where the local farmers and Israeli farmers from the Tamar Regional Council work together to improve the local agricultural practices in order to both increase productivity and solve the problem of houseflies, induced by the use of non-composted fertilizers.
EcoPeace’s ‘Good Water Neighbors’ project is supported by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and USAID West Bank/Gaza CMM