From the 10th to the 15th of December, EcoPeace hosted a first of its kind workshop on ‘Middle East Water Security and Environmental Peacebuilding’. Participants from all over the world flew to Jordan to partake in an educational exchange of experiences on the topic of sustainable water use and peacebuilding. The workshop took place at the Sharhabil bin Hassneh EcoPark, a beautiful ecological park in the north of Jordan where guests can sleep in wooden cabins surrounded by flourishing flowers and wildlife.
The key subject of the workshop was ‘environmental peacebuilding’, with a focus on the nexus between water management and peacebuilding. This form of promoting peace and stability argues that due to the fact that nature has no borders, environmental cooperation has the opportunity to go beyond political borders promoting dialogue that can establish a level of trust between different communities and break down the barriers that exist in a conflict situation.
EcoPeace presented its “Good Water Neighbours” (GWN) project that began in 2001 with a focus on shared water resources in the region of Jordan, Palestine and Israel. Water is a highly-contested issue in this region due to the large number of shared water sources such as, the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. These bodies of water are, to various degrees, exploited by all three countries, which divert or pollute them by discharging their untreated or poorly treated sewage into them. As an example, EcoPeace has estimated that Israel, Jordan and Syria have diverted such large quantities of water from the Jordan and Yarmouk river, that the former has shrunk to 5% of its original flow. One of the consequences of this water policy is the shrinking of the Dead Sea.
Different elements of the GWN project were discussed, all of which aim to create awareness of water scarcity issues and to promote peace and stability in the region. For example one project component involves getting youth involved by organizing regional meetings, summer camps, conferences and workshops about water. Several of the youth that partook in these activities attended the workshop to speak about their experiences.
Another presentation was about the GWN project being a platform for local communities from the three different countries, from farmers to authorities, to communicate and work together. Two local mayors came to speak about their experiences with EcoPeace. One of them spoke about the help that EcoPeace offered by conducting feasibility studies on efficient water distribution in his municipality.
The international participants shared their experiences with water management and environmental peacebuilding in their own context. Two participants from Bosnia- Herzegovina for example, with the help of EcoPeace applied the GWN model to their own region. Their organisation, Centre for Ecology and Energy, used cooperation over water to tackle the political and ethnic tensions that exist over shared water resources in the Balkans. A second organisation from Kurdistan (Iraq), DOVY, talked about their experiences in bringing together Christian, Yazidi and Arab, youth at camps to learn about water issues. A third example is a participant from Nepal, who’s organisation ICIMOD works with eight different countries in South Asia, including India, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. ICIMOD is considering using the GWN model to bring together grassroots organisations and government authorities.
Other organisations shared experiences in environmental work that are new to EcoPeace, such as the Chilean Geute Conservation and Restoration organisation. Geute protects the environment in Chile by providing legal counselling and bringing cases against environmental pollution to national courts. An example they shared was their work on the issue of fish farming, particularly the salmon industry, that pollutes large bodies of water by dumping dead fish. Geute proposed regulation and solutions to this problem in cooperation with other NGOs. Present during the workshop was also the first female marine biologist of Bahrein who with her organisation Inspiring Change and others educates Bahraini youth through educational talks, workshops and educational trips.
Aside from the different lectures and presentations, the group of participants embarked on several sight-seeing trips. They visited the Baptism sight of Jesus in the Jordan River where one of the EcoPeace staff members talked about its deteriorating condition. EcoPeace has incorporated religion into its sustainable water initiatives due to the fact that the water resources in the region have important meaning for the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This visit to the baptism site was accompanied by a visit to a Lutheran Church in Jordan’s capital city Amman where a Rabbi, a Sheikh and a Catholic Priest spoke about the importance of safeguarding nature in their respective religions.
Another visit was to the ancient Greek Decapolis city Umm Qais, known for its ancient ruins of Gadara. During the trip the group saw the King Abdullah Canal, which runs parallel to the east bank of the Jordan River and is Jordan’s largest water carrier. The canal receives water from the Yarmouk river. Part of the water also comes from the Sea of Galilee located in Israel, in compliance with the water regime established by the Israeli-Jordanian Peace Treaty.
Although the five day workshop went by fast, the amount of information shared between the participants was of countless value. EcoPeace will incorporate all this information into its future projects, such as its Water Energy Nexus initiative that promotes regional interdependence in the region. Participants also expressed their gratitude and appreciation of the elevating workshop and will keep in touch with EcoPeace about their future endeavors as well as any potential to work together.
Contributed by Desiree Custers - EcoPeace Middle East, Amman office.