07/06/2011 04:20

“Water is a basic human right, it should not be used as a weapon against humanity,” environmental and water engineer Nader al-Khateeb says.
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A panel whose aim was to address “cross-border cooperation in managing water basins” quickly became a political struggle that overpowered participants’ individual ideas toward improving the water situation for the region.

During the International Water Symposium on Tuesday, experts from Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority discussed the increasingly dangerous situation the region is facing as water sources deplete, a problem they all agreed could only be solved by cooperation between neighbors, despite political differences.

The symposium was part of the 15th Cleantech Exhibition, held at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds and organized by the Mashov company, bringing vendors and speakers in from all over the world to present their renewable energy strategies.

“We don’t have enough water resources, and in order to complicate things, the countries in this region also have to share among them the small amount of water that we have,” said Shimon Tal, president of the Israeli Water Association and former water commissioner.

Tal advocated a “regional system that will combine water resources” for Israel, the PA and Jordan – the last of which he said faces a particularly grim water situation.

But the Palestinian representatives said their water situation is on par with, if not worse than, that of the Jordanians.

“If I addressed you yesterday it would be a totally different talk,” said Nader al-Khateeb, a water and environmental engineer from Friends of the Earth Middle East.

Just that morning he had attended an event in a Bethlehem mental health hospital where workers complained to the mayor that the facility had entirely run out of water, Khateeb said. But the mayor said he too has not had water for 34 days and must buy it privately.

“Can you imagine people, mentally sick, and they don’t have water?” Khateeb asked.

He said the Palestinians “remain the hostages and victims of Oslo and water,” referring to the 1993 Oslo Accords that set guidelines for water cooperation.

While Israelis consume 280 liters of water per person per day, Jordanians have only 145 and Palestinians have only 60, which is 40 less than globally accepted standards, according to Khateeb.

“Water is a basic human right,” he said. “Water should not be used as a weapon against humanity. Everybody is invited to use water at a hygienic level.”

At this point, an outburst of audience members interrupted the discussion, protesting that the conversation had become political.

But Khateeb said that “water should be used as a tool for peace” and he was bringing up these issues in order to “let us think as one region.”

Environmental consultant Avraham Israeli, who was the panel moderator, said, “We better listen to them and think about the situation that is sometimes 10 kilometers from our houses.”

Munqeth Melyar, a Jordanian panelist, also from Friends of the Earth Middle East, argued that “Jordan suffers the most” because the country is “at the lower end of every river.”

He acknowledged, however, that when Jordan is in a “tight spot” for water, Amman turns to Jerusalem, as Damascus refuses to help. But he expressed wishes that Israel would likewise share its superior desalination technologies.

“We are not using their technology despite the fact that we enjoy a peace treaty,” Melyar said.

Amjad Aliewi, a Palestinian water engineer, encouraged extending cooperation to Turkey and Egypt, to establish “a level of fairness” in supply. He also stressed the importance of enhancing regional wastewater treatment, and reminded Israelis that all PA sewage “actually is polluting Israel.”

But regarding “fairness,” Aliewi lamented that Palestinians don’t have “water rights,” which he said “is really appalling in terms of the integrity of the people.”

One solution that Tal proposed was conveying desalinated water from the Hadera plant to the West Bank, which when mixed with aquifer resources, could solve the area’s shortage issues, he said. For Gaza, he encouraged the completion of a pipeline to Gaza City that is only missing 100 meters.

But Aliewi called Tal’s suggestion for the West Bank misleading.

“We would like Israel to give up all the wells it built in the West Bank that it is using,” he said. “We need a Palestinian state where we can control its water. There is no point in having a state where Israel can open the tap when it wants.”

Tal said he did not mean that Palestinians should only receive desalinated water, just that a mix would be beneficial for the time being, since no one knows what the outcomes of a future treaty will be.

“Until the final agreement, let’s start doing the things that we can,” Tal said.