Al Auja village is a particularly tragic example of economic problems caused by severe water shortages in the Palestinian territories as a whole. In order for Al Auja to begin rehabilitation toward the prosperity of its “green” age, there needs to be other initiatives and opportunities for employment that are both economically and environmentally beneficial. One sector that has potential as vast as the Palestinian banana and vegetable fields that used to cover the Al Auja valley is in environmental education and awareness campaigns focused on water conservation.
This sort of campaign has proven to be very successful in Israel, as described in a FoEME publication titled Promoting Green Jobs and Exports in a Green Water Economy. A public education initiative in 2009 about domestic water conservation and a project to distribute aerating water efficient taps to homes in Israel in 2011 provided many ‘green jobs’, and also significantly reduced domestic water consumption.
The Auja Environmental Center in Al Auja exemplifies the manifestation of these initiatives at a local level in a rural area. Hopefully other villages will follow suit. Educational campaigns at the Center inform residents about water-saving technology and encourage behavioral changes, such as simple steps to minimize water use in the areas of toilet flushing, dishwashing, laundry, tooth brushing and showering. The Center provides hands-on training, consultation services, and manuals. A goal of the Center is to expand its efforts into local schools to institute and further develop essential environmental curricula. School teachers should be trained in this sort of education, and new environmental teaching positions should be created.
There are also opportunities for new temporary jobs in implementing technology such as aerating water efficient taps in homes and public buildings. The Auja Environmental Center is interested in holding training sessions for professionals in areas of grey water plumbing and water supply. These professionals could also assess the efficiency of appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers, and air conditioners, and advise residents on how to make waterwise purchases.
If this initiative continues to build momentum, residents will benefit from enhanced water supply, reduced household expenditure, more gardening opportunities for food and recreation, and more. On a wider scale, there will be more jobs, reduced water stress, and the money saved from spending less on water could be invested into the community. This would be the first stage of a growing initiative to jumpstart water and environmental awareness and boost the economy in Al Auja and Palestine as a whole.
The Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) is the governmental regulator of Palestine’s water sector. It has the potential to lead educational initiatives, but its focus is on efficient and equitable water management. The PWA has a Department for Public Awareness that works toward large-scale efforts in environmental education that reach throughout the Palestinian Territories, similar to the initiatives in Israel. This is a department that the Auja Environmental Center, and other centers that might arise, should coordinate with. A government-led top-down approach needs to be combined with a bottom-up approach in which people from different realms of society work together at a local scale to take back their water resources and their right to a healthy, sustainable livelihood. There is a great start in Al Auja, but it will take time and focused campaign work to make these ideas catch on and become a part of people’s lives. As the teachers at the local high school in Al Auja told me, “education is our only weapon, our most effective form of resistance.”
This blog was written by Greg Shaheen, FoEME intern at the Auja Environmental Center.