Arava Institute: Tap regional cooperation on water crisis

UN explores climate change, its consequences on indigenous peoples, water security, land use, energy.

By MICHAL LANDO, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
September 8, 2007 23:31
3 minute read.
Arava Institute: Tap regional cooperation on water crisis

dead sea 224.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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When the map of Israel and the Palestinian territories was displayed at a UN conference this week, it wasn't in order to discuss future borders of the region, but rather to discuss where borders must be overlooked. The map was showcased during a workshop on ways to address joint water management strategies in the Middle East. Sponsored by Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, the workshop was part of a UN conference on climate change, an issue that has been drawing increasing attention at the international body. The 60th Annual Department of Public Information/NGO Conference explored the scientific evidence on climate change, including its consequences on indigenous peoples, water security, land use and the politics of energy. Organized by the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI) in collaboration with the NGO/DPI Executive Committee, the three-day conference aimed to facilitate individual action plans that address the threat of catastrophe posed by climate change and inspire participants to take action to mitigate - and in some cases - reverse its effects. "Water is the only natural resource that has no substitute," Clive Lipchin, director of research at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies told a room full of listeners at Wednesday's workshop. "The issue of water security is fundamental to survival." Lipchin warned that in the coming years, demand for water in the region will outgrow the supply and presented the institute's model of trans-border cooperation as the only way to solve regional water issues. "When we look at the Arava, we look at it as one system, we don't see borders," said Lipchin. "The sources of water all cross boundaries... We must find a way to work together." Established in 1996, the Arava Institute is a non-profit organization located on Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava Valley near the Jordanian and Egyptian borders and the Gulf of Aqaba/Eilat. The student body at the institute is comprised of Jordanians, Palestinians and Israelis among others, and research programs at the institute include scientists and governmental bodies from many of Israel's neighboring countries. Some of the most pressing concerns in the region are the potential for less seasonal rainfall in the coming decades, the already noticeable water depletion of the Dead Sea and the potential rise in sea level. One map showed northern Tel Aviv engulfed by water if the sea level were to rise by five meters, and photographs showed already existing "sink holes" around the coastlines of the Dead Sea which will only multiply in the coming years. Currently the Dead Sea is shrinking by one meter each year, due in part to diverting water in the upper part of the watershed. One of the proposed projects to deal with Dead Sea shrinkage calls for a canal that would link the Red Sea in the Gulf of Eilat to the depleted Dead Sea. With the support of the World Bank, a comprehensive study will begin to determine the financial feasibility and the environmental results of such a project. In thinking about water management, Lipchin stressed, questions such as whether water is being used wisely and where it can be used more efficiently need to be asked, in addition to thinking about how to increase the supply. "Ultimately because water is shared, efforts need to be a joint framework, and decisions need to be made with cooperation between the countries," he said. While the UN has its "heart in the right place," Lipchin said he was frustrated by its refusal to fund projects in Israel. The UN Development Program, which works extensively with trans-boundary water issues, defines countries by their economic status, and Israel doesn't qualify. Water rights to the Jordan River, which is bounded by five countries, are already fractious. With the advent of climate change, experts expect the relationship between the boundary countries to become more difficult in the absence of a jointly accepted management plan. "The UN doesn't need to give us money, but they should work with us," said Lipchin. "Israel is part of the region, and a breakdown by country doesn't work with a trans-boundary system." Following the workshop at the UN, members of the Arava Institute traveled to Washington to meet with USAID and to conduct meetings with the Jordanian ambassador as well as several congressmen.

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