Jordan River 390.
(photo credit: Wayne Stiles )
On a family visit to Australia in 2010 I heard about a new book entitled The
River. “It’s all about the Murray Darling Basin and the great changes taking
place [there],” I was told. “Maybe there are lessons here for the River
The next day I purchased a copy, and by the end of the day had
read it cover to cover. I loved the style; a travelogue, telling the story of
the basin’s demise through the eyes of people living along its banks. The story
reminded me of my own countless journeys down the River Jordan.
similarities were indeed stark: natural waterways whose flow had been captured
by dams, diversions and irrigation canals.
Making the desert bloom was
the motto in Australia as well, and in both places it was carried out in the
spirit of man conquering nature – with no concern for environmental consequences
and nothing left for natural systems.
What lifted my spirits however was
that the author, Chris Hammer, documented the change in mindset in Australia and
how the public had come around to understand that the demise of the Murray
Darling Basin was both unacceptable and unnecessary.
Federal Government had intervened, and with carrot and stick enticed the
all-powerful states of Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia
to accept a new balance with nature.
The Water Act of 2007 that later
created the Murray Darling Basin Authority reversed the spirit of the river’s
function, setting diversion limits for the first time based on sustainable use
and the needs of a healthy ecosystem in a manner seeking to optimize economic
and other social interests.
The Australian model reflected real political
will that we at Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) are still trying to
create for the lower Jordan River. Years of advocacy efforts in the region have
led to sewage being removed from the river, a first commitment for a limited
fresh water release and a FoEME-led master plan being launched recently. But
FoEME’s rehabilitation call is still generally seen as unrealistic and
unachievable due to water scarcity and the national conflicts over
When I wrote to Chris Hammer inquiring as to whether he would come
to the region and be willing to speak before Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian
decision makers about the political will created in Australia, a land of water
scarcity and water conflict between states, he immediately responded with a
“yes, I’ll do it.” With the support of the Australian Government through her
embassies in Tel Aviv and Amman and the Representative Office in Ramallah, Chris
has this week completed a set of round-table discussions with parliamentarians,
government ministries, scientists and local NGOs in each city.
political will created in Australia for water policy reform is clearly not
directly transferable to the Middle East but there are clear lessons from the
experience that can be useful. The use of scientific method to determine
sustainable take, the stick and carrot approach that the international community
can offer through new investments in water infrastructure, the creation of water
markets to further increase efficiencies and principles of localism where,
though targets are set basin-wide, implementation of reforms are determined at
the community level.
These lessons and more can be drawn from the
Australian experience and are relevant to the lower Jordan Basin.
typical skepticism remains, clear statements were made during the round-tables in
Amman, Tel Aviv and Ramallah that each side would be willing to join the effort
of river rehabilitation if only they had a partner on the other side. Some would
say a lack of trust remains the greatest hurdle to political will. At FoEME we
have come to understand that the lack of trust is being used as a political
excuse for delay and inaction and that as in Australia, when the public outcry
is loud enough, politicians will follow suit.The writer, who grew up in
Australia, is the Israeli director of a regional Israeli, Jordanian and
Palestinian NGO called Friends of the Earth Middle East (www.foeme.org).