“Water” was the word on everyone’s lips at EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East’s Good Water Neighbors (GWN) conference staged in Jericho earlier this month.
More than 250 representatives from Jordan, Palestine and Israel, along with international experts and scholars, gathered at Jericho’s InterContinental Hotel on September 11 and 12 to hear about the cross border water projects identified in each of the participating project communities that need urgent attention, and chart a course for future action.
Despite being pressured to avoid the conference, Israeli Knesset member Orit Zuaretz made her way to Jericho to join the talks, standing beside her Palestinian and Jordanian counterparts to help officially open the two days of proceedings. She said she was proud of the achievements of the GWN program, stating that it had “taken on one of the most difficult issues in the Middle East – water – an issue that most politicians have forgotten doesn’t make distinctions based on borders”.
Attendees also heard from Palestinian Water Authority representative Deeb Abed Al-Ghafour, who outlined the Palestinian water strategy and plans for the Jordan Valley. Mr Al-Ghafour touched on the fact that significant obstacles, both political and environmental, stood in the way of the ministry achieving much headway when it came to tackling both water shortages and pollution.
Included in one of the panel discussions during the conference was USAID West Bank/Gaza’s Office of Water Resources and Infrastructure deputy director Daniel Hollander, who explained the water challenges facing the West Bank and Gaza. Mr Hollander informed the gathering that many communities made do with little to no water services, and experienced days without water. He said he was pleased that USAID, together with FoEME was gradually addressing the situation and working to improve water education in the region – most notably through the construction of FoEME’s Al-Auja EcoPark, which has become an education center and tourist drawcard for the small community of Al-Auja.
Conference attendees had the opportunity to experience Al-Auja EcoPark for themselves, participating in a tour guided by Palestinian FoEME director Nader Khateb. As building works aimed at expanding the eco-centre facility went on above, Mr Khateb showed conference participants the accommodation facilities, and talked about Al-Auja community’s experience with its new eco-facility. He said local students had benefited from educational programs undertaken at the facility, while water conservation techniques demonstrated on the site had shown local families just how easy it was to preserve this valuable natural resource.
FoEME’s Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli directors rounded out the event on its final day, taking to the stage to summarize the GWN work undertaken so far. FoEME Jordan’s director, Munqeth Mehyar also inspired the attendees with his presentation of the organization’s vision for a new, transboundary “Peace Park”, located on two adjacent areas of Jordanian and Israeli land – Al-Bakoora and Naharayim – at the junction of the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers.
The Good Water Neighbors project was established by EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East in 2001 to raise awareness of the shared water challenges of Palestinians, Jordanians and Israelis. The project identifies cross-border communities and utilizes their mutual dependence on shared water resources as a basis for developing dialogue and cooperation on sustainable water management. For more information on this project, visit http://foeme.org/www/?module=projects&record_id=32.
This blog was written by FoEME intern Lauren Salathiel, who is based in the Amman office.