This year Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) forged a partnership with the Forum for Civic Initiatives (FIQ), a non-governmental organization in Kosovo dedicated to increasing citizens’ participation in decision-making processes. Aiming to exchange experiences and share some of the lessons learned from 10 years of community based environmental peacemaking, FoEME’s Good Water Neighbors (GWN) project staff have planned two exchanges with FIQ to see which parts of the GWN project are most transferable to other areas of the world.
The first exchange took place when a delegation composed of FoEME’s own six GWN Coordinators – Mohammad Obeidallah, Rashad Tayem, Hana Al Asa’d, Michal Sagive, Amy Lipman Avizohar, and Abdel Rahman Sultan visited Kosovo from August 26th to 30th. Abdel Rahman Sultan, outlined specific objectives of the trip, which included learning more about the Balkan conflict, water management in the region, and exchanging knowledge about FoEME’s environmental peacemaking programs. Upon reflection, the FoEME delegation felt the conflict in Kososvo is still highly visible and found many parallels to the conflict they know so well from the Middle East. However, the delegation did see many examples of hope, of communities from different ethnicities (Albanian and Serbian) solving joint problems after more than 15 years of deep conflict. The trip to the recently constructed and contested bridge in Prelluzhe highlighted this – the bridge was constructed thanks to local leaders of both the Serbian and Albanian villages meeting, with mediation of the police, and founding a Local Public Safety Council. By prioritizing the communities’ most pressing needs and ensuring safety of all sides they managed to implement their first joint initiative in years. Standing on the bridge, Michal Sagive conveyed to local press, her impressions of the importance of local leadership in identifying joint environmental challenges and striving to adopt joint solutions for the benefit of all. Abdel Rahman Sultan pointed out that while the bridge is a big achievement, the communities need to take another step and look at what is flowing under the bridge and prioritize water pollution, in this case from industrial sources.
Experiences with water management were shared between FoEME staff and members of the Mushnikove, Lubinje Eperme, Nebregosht, and Manastirica villages in the Prizren Municipality. The decentralized water management system existing in these villages was explained; it is organized in such a way that it seems as if the municipalities own it themselves, with disputes between villages being resolved by special judges. The villages demonstrated impressive resourcefulness when making direct contributions, both financially and in providing a work force to upgrade the water supply’s infrastructure. While Rashad Tayem very much admired the level of community organization; others suggested that from their experience in FoEME, such management is unsustainable on the long run. Mohammad Obeidallah recommended developing a regional water management plan in order to avoid disputes, which would also ensure water security and conservation in the future.
FoEME staff discovered that there is no wastewater collection system. This means that sewage water mixes with surface water, as Hana al-Asa’d witnessed by “sewer pipes emerging from houses, dumping wastewater in a stream. Furthermore,” she says, “many rivers and streams are severely polluted with industrial water coming from the brown coal factory.” This of course has a severe negative impact on public health, as a Red Cross representative explained in one of the meetings.
Evaluating the trip, Abdel Rahman Sultan stated that it was “successful by all means” and there were many lessons learned and many more to be learned. The Kosovo partner, though “small, is very well connected” and “a few steps ahead of us” in their efficient and progressive use of institutions. This was demonstrated on the third day, which was filled with meetings coordinated by institutional representatives. At the round table session, finalizing the visit, FoEME issued a warning that Kosovo may be moving towards a water crisis similar to the one at hand in the Middle East, due to lack of regional water management. It was advised to encourage a change of policy, because, as Sultan told his FIQ colleagues “if you continue, you will end like us.” Amy Lipman Avizohar added on a more optimistic note, that “any change in policy should be complemented with environmental education for the young generation, who will be tomorrow’s teachers, water engineers, town planners and peacemakers”. The round table session provided hope, as FIQ representatives seemed to view FoEME and the Middle East as an example, and FoEME staff were requested for mediation and consultation help.
The trip was regarded as very successful, with good cooperation occurring. Additionally there was an overall sentiment of it being a learning experience on “many levels”. FoEME is confident that this positive experience will continue and be furthered when we host the Kosovo delegation in November of this year.
This blog was written by FoEME intern Lidwien Wijchers, who is based in the Amman office.