WEDO / Friends of the Earth Middle East finalize Baseline Report for the Regional NGO Master Plan for the Lower Jordan River Valley

Submitted to WEDO / FoEME by Royal HaskoningDHV (RHDHV) in partnership with CORE Associates (Palestine), MASAR (Jordan) and DHVMED (Israel), the now completed Baseline Report describes the current situation in the Lower Jordan River Basin and presents the major challenges in the basin and for each of the three riparian countries (Jordan, Palestine and Israel) towards creating sustainable development conditions, including environmental flows provided through its natural resources; a healthy eco-system; equitable sharing of water resources; free public accessibility for all nationalities within an appropriate security framework; and a healthy economic development perspective.

This baseline report will be used as a starting point for the remainder of this study: the development of national and regional NGO Master Plans. The Baseline Report marks a critical first-ever integrated inventory of the Lower Jordan River’s current situation including up-to-date data from Israel, Jordan and Palestine and will provide the WEDO / FoEME and RHDHV teams the information needed to plan scenarios for development in the Jordan Valley. WEDO / FoEME and its consortium partners, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) and Global Nature Fund (GNF), aim to see the interventions identified in the national and regional NGO master plans adopted in full or in part by the national authorities in the region to advance the principals of integrated water resource management.

This publication, as part of the Regional NGO Master Plan (SWIM-JR) Project, is supported by the European Union’s Sustainable Water Integrated Management (SWIM) Programme.

Palestinian groups learn about the demise of the Jordan River
On the 7th of February 2014, FoEME’s Bethlehem office arranged a trip for 95 University students from the north of Palestine, and another 35 environmental guides and employees from the Palestinian Ministry of Education from all Palestinian Governorates. They visited the Kaser el Yehud baptism site just outside of Jericho, the Auja Spring area, the Environmental Center in Auja, and more.

At all sites, FoEME explained the environmental, cultural, and religious importance of the Jordan River; briefed them about efforts underway for the River’s rehabilitation, and distributed brochures, research reports carried out by FoEME and other documents about the River. For most of the participants, this was the first time they visited the Jordan River.

Swedish Delegation learns about the Jordan River, Dead Sea
Another example of FoEME’s relentless efforts to educate decision makers on the state of the Jordan River took place on Thursday, 13th of February, 2014.

FoEME’s Amman office took Mrs. Susanne Eberstein, the Swedish Deputy Speaker of Parliament along with a delegation of Swedish parliamentarians to visit the southern mouth of the Jordan River, the point where the Jordan River meets the Dead Sea.

Jordan River Interfaith Concert in Brooklyn, NY
The first-ever interfaith concert for the restoration of the Jordan River was held in Brooklyn on February 23, 2014 at the Kane Street Synagogue. Groups of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim musicians shared music about the Jordan River, who said that “the event was one big high”. Rabbi Simkha Weintraub’s remarks were perfect and inspiring: “…the Jordan River stimulates in us a profound appreciation of our history and the memory of our journey, recalling our heritage and our freedom…. It calls out to us to join heads, hands, and hearts with ‘The Other’, to reach across boundaries, with the peoples on the other sides of this remarkable water system that navigates from lush sources high up North through all kinds of territory to the lowest point on Earth, the salty Dead Sea.”

FoEME’s Israeli Director Gidon Bromberg was on hand to update the crowd about the current state of the Jordan River and how they could join FoEME’s campaign to rehabilitate the Jordan River. Read more in this blog….

FoEME’s Jordan River Faith Based Advocacy Program, part of the Jordan River Rehabilitation Project, is supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and the Osprey Foundation.

University student groups learn about sustainability at the Auja EcoPark
Throughout the month, more than 450 students from different Universities and other schools in Palestine visited the Auja EcoCenter, all undertaking the environmental education program offered in the park.

The focus of the visits ranged from learning about sustainable water and environmental practices such as water conservation, grey water use, recycling, renewable energy, permaculture, composting, aquaponics and the potential for such practices to develop “Green Economy” opportunities in Palestine.

FoEME’s “Green Economy Initiatives” project is funded by USAID’s Conflict Management and Mitigation Program.

Tackling the Houseflies Problem in South Ghor, Jordan
FoEME organized a Jordanian Parliamentary tour to the South Ghor Municipality in Jordan, to bring political attention to one of the most urgent environmental problems in the area; the houseflies problem. Participants in the tour included several Members of Parliament, the Governor of South Ghor and the Mayor of South Ghor, and local farmers from the community.

The delegation visited a traditional farm in Ghor Mezra’a, where local farmers – who are aware that their use of raw chicken manure as fertilizer is the main cause of the houseflies’ problem – explained the economic difficulties preventing them from following best agricultural practices. Following a thorough discussion between all sides, the Parliamentarians agreed to take the lead on this issue and bring the relevant ministers together to try and find a more sustainable economic and environmental solution.

Battir featured on World Monuments Fund Website
The Good Water Neighbors (GWN) community of Battir was featured on the World Monuments Fund Website and Social Media outlets during the week of February 23-28th, as the “endangered site of the week”. Background information, articles, maps, videos and a blog were all disseminated to their wide audience, helping to get the word out about this ancient cultural landscape that is threatened today by the proposed building of the Israeli Separation Barrier.

FoEME, together with the Village of Battir and several Israeli residents from the neighboring GWN community, together submitted an objection to the High Court of Israel to the proposed Barrier, with a final decision still pending. See our Good Water Neighbors / Press Coverage webpage for articles written on Battir, including this important CNN item.

Mesila Industrial Zone; FoEME’s efforts against “Pollution Havens”
The Good Water Neighbors team held a media tour this month at the “Mesila” Industrial Zone in Tulkarem, highlighting the illegality of actions being taken by the Civil Administration who are looking to retroactively approve the Industrial Zone with a new Master Plan for the area. Factories operating on this site never received formal approval from Israeli authorities, and none have undertaken any environmental assessments. Click here to read press coverage from the media tour.

The media tour was a run-up to a Public Hearing held at the Civil Administration Planning Committee on February 24th, where FoEME submitted a formal objection to the Master Plan being developed, as did two additional NGO’s, the Israeli Union of Environmental Defense (IUED) and Bimkom, and representatives of the city of Tulkarem and nearby Israeli villages, including the GWN partnering community of Emek Hefer, were also present at the Hearing, supporting FoEME’s opposition to the plan. The objection included scientific findings of heavy pollution in the drainage water of the Industrial Zone, and on the risk of further contamination in nearby wells in Tulkarem. FoEME attorneys also claimed the illegality of the Industrial Zone’s site, since they were partly built on private Palestinian land. We await the outcome of the Hearing and will share updates when received.

The “Good Water Neighbors” project is funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), the European Union’s Partnership for Peace Program and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)

‘Protecting Ground Water’ project holds 3 workshops
The “Protecting Ground Water” team in Palestine held 3 workshops this month; in Auja, Fasayel, and Yatta, to discuss the Implementation Plans being developed in the communities and to hear feedback from different stakeholders, including officials, mayors, officers in the Palestinian police, doctors, academics and students.

The team presented the GIS audit report and the new Hazard Map for each of the communities, and concluded with next steps, depending on the vision and priorities of the communities and the experts’ points of view.

The “Protecting Ground Water” project is supported by the European Union’s ENPI CBC Mediterranean Sea Basin Program.

FoEME Israeli Director, Gidon Bromberg, was invited to speak at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington D.C on February 24, 2014 at anevent entitled “Water, Conflict, and Peacebuilding in Development: Lessons for Practitioners”.

The event launched USAID’s Water and Conflict Toolkit for Programming, a document designed to help development practitioners gain a deeper understanding of the forces driving violence and instability related to water, including contributions by FoEME from our ‘Good Water Neighbors’ and ‘Jordan River Rehabilitation’ projects’ experiences. Click here for a link to a video of the full event.