Managing our environment: A pathway to cooperation

We all share the same environment, the same globe – the world – whether we like it or not.  The scarcity of clean drinking water, the increase in pollution and the deterioration of natural resources have been constantly covered in the world news during the last decade.  Clean water – the source of life – is the most precious of all natural resources.  Despite being such a plentiful resource in certain parts of the world, clean water resources cannot be taken granted anymore in the twenty-first century.

5 MW Solar Power Installation in Kibbutz Ketura 5 MW Solar Power Installation in Kibbutz Ketura
Photo: Brian Hoefgen 

A few weeks ago, at the end of June, a group of environmental engineers and professionals visited Israel in order to learn more from desalination and renewable energy resources.  This unique group consisted of Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians, both from West Bank and Gaza.  They all shared one concern; how to efficiently develop the very scarce water resources that we share in the Middle East.The Oman based Middle East Desalination Research Center (MEDRC), together with MASHAV, the Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, sponsored and organized this group.

I had the privilege to meet these water and renewable energy experts as they visited Arava Institute and toured the Arava Valley to learn about Israel’s latest achievements in the renewable energy sector.  The group was very impressed by the cutting edge solar power technology and remarkable innovation that they witnessed.  The group toured the Arava Power Company, Shikun & Binui, and Aora.

Numerous questions were asked and many discussions were held during the tour. The discussions ranged from wastewater treatment, to desalination and solar power.  I sensed from the tone of their voices that the issues of water and energy were the most critical in the region.  For instance, in Amman, Jordan, there are great parts of the city that get drinking water only once a week due to insufficient water supply.  On the Mediterranean coast in Gaza, tens of thousands of tons of untreated sewage water are sent out to the sea every day, due to the lack of appropriate wastewater treatment facilities.

On the other hand, Israel would be ready to transfer 20 million cubic meter of drinking water from the coastal desalination plants to Gaza.  All the pipes and most of the infrastructure are ready.  One would only have to connect the two water systems; Israel and Gaza.  Israel would immediately be ready to share the resources it has with its neighbours to develop the living conditions, which would be beneficial to everyone. If this very unique group of ordinary people can work together to bring cooperation to a whole new level, why are there political forces that don’t want anything to do with the Israelis even though working together would be highly beneficial, especially when this would improve the lives of ordinary people?

Personally, I was touched by this MASHAV group.  The pollution, energy and the lack of clean drinking water are serious challenges to the people of this region.  Perhaps at last these issues will start the dialogue with the neighbours.