Daniella Aboody, FoEME Protecting Groundwater Project Intern, Reflects on her experience at the “The Challenges of Water and Wastewater Treatment in Rural Areas” Conference in Sakhnin.
On Tuesday, January 14, I had the privilege to attend a conference titled “The Challenges of Water and Wastewater Treatment in Rural Areas.” It was put on by two organizations: Towns Association for Environmental Quality (TAEQ) and MIGAL Galilee Research Institute. The participants invited to the conference were water experts from a number of environmental organizations, academic institutions, and government projects funded by the EU throughout Israel, Palestine and Jordan. I attended in my capacity as an intern for Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME). The conference took place in Sakhnin, an Arab town located in the North of Israel.
Despite starting as an intern at FoEME only two weeks ago, I jumped at the opportunity to attend this conference to learn more about water issues on the ground. I am still adjusting to working at FoEME and constantly trying to educate myself about the many ongoing projects, especially focusing on the Protecting Groundwater Project. Therefore, the conference, from my perspective, was an intensive crash course seminar about the ways in which water is managed, utilized, polluted, treated, conserved, shared/transcends borders, is connected to conflict, and has political, economic and social implications. Despite feeling overwhelmed with all this new knowledge, I felt extremely grateful to be sitting in the room learning directly from passionate, knowledgeable expert on water and wastewater treatment in the region.
The majority of the day (which was day 3 of 4 in the conference) consisted of a series of presentations. Before long I was swimming in the alphabet soup of EU water project acronyms – SWIM, MEDOLICO, CLICO, and more. Then, finally, the time came for FoEMEs presentation. Listening to Hana, Malek and Youval speak so passionately about the work that they do reminded me of why I chose to work with them in the first place. They explained three of their ongoing projects: Good Water Neighbors, Protecting Groundwater (the one I am working on), and Regional NGO Master Plan for Rehabilitation of the Jordan River. In their presentation they discussed the importance of transnational cooperation between Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian communities that have a shared water source, environmental education (amongst youth and adults) and community leadership. They shed light onto the political implications of the water issues in the Middle East, and how the people and municipalities can take ownership in bringing about peace through the lens of the environment, a concept that FoEME calls “Environmental Peacemaking.” I was proud to be associated with an organization that weaves together the environmental, political, social and economic challenges of regional cooperation.
After lunch, participants broke out into two discussion groups; I joined the one about water management in rural areas. I was glad to switch from a lecture style of learning to a smaller, guided discussion in which we all sat around a table. During the conversation, people quickly began tossing around ideas about concrete immediate solutions to affordable, clean water access for Palestinian and Jordanian communities (Israel already has policies set in place and treats black-water on a national scale). They spoke passionately about installing grey-water catchment systems on household and community-based levels, and argued (in English and Arabic) over whether or not that will bring about large-scale and long-term, institutional change. They also talked about the many challenges of implementing a national solution both in Palestine, a nation of many rural subsistent farmers who lack control over their main water source, and in Jordan, in which rural populations lack a sewage system at all. I was excited to share a seat at the table and hear that these proposals are not just theoretical concepts that I studied in school, but rather are real, tangible solutions that can be implemented in these specific communities that were only a number of kilometers away.
Overall, I am glad to have attended this conference; I took on the challenge of learning the technical language of water treatment, came to further understand the role of FoEME in the larger web of sustainable water development organizations, and felt welcomed into a transnational community of advocates for clean water, and equitable water access, across the Mediterranean Region. However, what I really enjoyed most about the conference was the fact that Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians were able to participate in a conference together in an extremely respectful, professional and productive way. Despite the deeply divisive national politics that exist in the region, the conference succeeded in talking about safe environmental practices and water quality in these three countries and the ways in which we need to cooperate and work together to ensure clean water for everyone in the region.