Mey Sayegh

Refraining from paying water bills pushed Fardous Al Shabbar, the chairperson of the Jordanian Women’s Union in Irbid province, resort to simple techniques that would reduce the value of the bill and encourage citizens in this province to pay their water bills on time.

The story started after a workshop to raise awareness was held at Science and Technology University in Jordan. In the first six months, Al Shabbar noticed a 10 to 20% decrease in water consumption. During her participation in Women Alumni Regional workshop, organized by Stockholm International Water Institute in collaboration with Al Akhawayn University in Morocco, on Women and Integrity in the water sector on 23 and 26 May, she said: “I asked a religious figure to help me to convince women that wasting and overspending in general is not accepted in the Quran”.

Alchabbar added that the Jordanian ladies believed that there was manipulation and fraud in the water meter readings, that led their husbands to review and sometimes fight with the staff of water authorities.

Women have been trained to read the water meter, so that they recognize what they have consumed and reduce the amount of water to pay bills at a lower cost. Reducing water consumption included installing certain pieces in tabs and showers, closing the meter so air is not stored there, in order not pay an additional cost.

Alchabbar story could be considered evidence that women can play an effective role in enhancing integrity in the water sector.

All participants from Lebanon , Morocco, jordan, and occupied Palestine, who attended the trainings workshops, had already prepared an action plan that they proposed to implement in their institutions and organizations to promote water integrity.

Siham Fettouaki from Morocco talked about her experience in the Regional Directorate for Water and Forests and confronting desertification in the National Park of Ifrane, raising awareness in a campaign that included four elementary schools, where she introduced to students the concept of integrity in water sector through the distribution of leaflets, visits and lectures in these schools.

Lama Nakhal, a student at faculty of Public Health at the University of Balamand in Lebanon, presented her action plan, which included lectures, reports and open discussions on raising awareness about the importance of water and its relation to poverty.

Nakhal aspires to expand her awareness campaign to address other universities, while Fettouaki intends to target wider segments in elementary and secondary schools.

Lebanon: Challenges hindering water Integrity
Silva Kerkezian, Project Coordinator of building integrity capacities in the water sector in Lebanon at Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at American University in Beirut, explained how this project was launched in May 2014, and that AUB had organized workshops to communicate with decision-makers, government institutions and civil society organizations.

After these workshops, AUB launched “The Way Forward to Safeguard Water in Lebanon: National Water Integrity Risk Assessment” report, in the framework of the “integrity-building capacities in water management in the Middle East and North Africa” program, which is implemented by the Stockholm International Water Institute and its partners, with financial support from the Swedish government, and the presence and support of Lebanese Minister of Energy and Water (MoEW) Arthur Nazarian.

Kerkezian added: “Assessing the scope of integrity in the water sector came after inviting heads of departments in the ministeries and representatives of the Central Inspection and Court of Audit”. She pointed out that currently there are four major anti-corruption laws and regulations under review by the Lebanese Parliament: Law for the establishment of an independent national anti-corruption committee, Law for the public right to to access information, Law for the protection of whistleblowers, Reformulation of the law for illicit and illegal enrichment.

In 2000, the Lebanese government passed a new water law 221/2000, which is the main regulating law of the water sector. According to this law, the water sector is primarily managed by MoEW on national level and regional level through four autonomous Water Establishments (WEs) – North Lebanon, Bekaa, Beirut and Mount Lebanon, and South Lebanon. The Litani River Authority (LRA) is considered similar to the regional WEs and is tasked with managing the major rivers in the country.

Lebanon has already begun to integrate some principles of integrity in its resource planning, in the national strategy for the water sector in 2010 and the Environmental Law 444/2002.

What is more required after regulating the sector is implementation of decrees, and here lies the problem.

Despite the fact that Lebanon has basic laws and regulations relative to the water sector, these legislations remain incomplete along, in addition to weakness in implementation, as a result of overlap in the roles and responsibilities within and between the institutions. The weakness of law enforcement is due to the lack of executive decrees to current laws and the ratification process of the law, weak prosecution, lack of presence of one entity responsible for implementation and follow up on violations, and the absence of accountability mechanisms, rampant corruption, as well as the political stalemate. There is also lack of human and financial resources in the institutions related to the water sector, and lack of coordination between the ministries concerned, as stated in the “The Way Forward to Safeguard Water in Lebanon: National Water Integrity Risk Assessment” report.

Moreover, the major challenges Lebanon is facing are “illegal wells”, according to Kerkezian, who added “we still do not use meters that may show the amount of pumping. We don’t know what we use and what is there, and there is a large number of violations on meters”. Moreover, public sector does not provide incentives to those working in the water sector.

Kerkezian recalled that, according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2014, Lebanon ranked 136 out of 174, and that is a clear warning of how bad the situation is.

She says: “Concepts of integrity and good governance and access to information have been included in the Environment Law 2002/444.Change needs time and cooperation. Cooperation is not going on an institutional level, “this is without neglecting the effects of drought in 2013-2014, and the stress created by the Syrian refugees on water resources.

Morocco and Tunisia
If we make a comparison with Morocco, that witnessed in recent years major climate changes ranging between droughts and floods in 2009-2010, we find that the concept of integrity in the field of water was enhanced more than in Lebanon.

The director of the agency of Sebu River basin Samira Alhawwat said: “The agency can intervene in case of violation of implemented laws. Water police operates within the basin authourity, and those who violate the law are subjected to lawsuits. There are also having bodies authorities that receive complaints and claims from people affected”.

Alhawwat added: “There are pre-emptive campaigns to raise awareness and warn of bribery, to help us promote integrity in the water sector.”

Engineer Dhekra Hidri talked about a suggestion presented by Tunisian Union to Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries, through launching the national dialogue, that included changing the current system that lacks compensation for disasters, accompanied by absence of justice and equal opportunities between career women and men in Tunisia.

Parties that participated in the national dialogue, included the Ministry of Agriculture and Tunisian Labor Union, political parties and civil society, the Ministry of Social Affairs, and the Ministry of Women, Family and Children’s Affairs.

The dialogue, which will continue until May 2017, will focus on key issues, most notably the request to achieve equality in wages and improve the coverage of social system for women.

Occupied Palestine and the role of social media in confronting corruption
The Palestinian activist Diana Alkharraz at “Sharek Youth Forum” talked about a unique experience in trying to promote the concept of integrity and combat corruption in occupied Palestine, where people buy water for drinking and domestic use from the Israeli occupation authorities.

The You Know website enables interaction between citizens and officials, where one can create a special account and post a complaint to any municipality.

Alkharraz said: ” Sharek Youth Forum was launched to connect with officials without mediation. When anyone sees a problem, they post a photo about it on the website to promote transparency and accountability. That led to solving many problems within the scope of the work of the municipalities in the West Bank”.

It was clear that Morocco made great steps in legislation that promotes integrity, particularly in the field of water. It ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in 2007, law 113.12, on the National Commission for integrity and preventing corruption, and law 31.13 on the right to access information. Still, illegal wells remain one of the main obstacles in this country.

Swedish Government and the role of Civil Society
One may wonder why the Swedish government in general and Stockholm International Water Institute are particularly interested in enhancing integrity in the water sector, that requires commitment of concerned authorities and institutions to the principles of good governance, transparency and accountability?

In the eyes of James Leten, program manager at Stockholm International Water Institute SIWI, the world looks more like a village where villagers interact, impacting each other. The overlapping of issues makes Sweden interested in much more than economic interests: to work with partners to ensure sustainable development.

Leten referred to the importance of civil society collaborating with governments to adopt more equitable policies in the water sector. He said that “it is no longer possible for donor countries to ignore the demand of communities for rapid poverty eradication and equitable development”. He pointed out that Sweden proposes to invest in capacity building and awareness that endeavor impartial and equitable development in these communities, based on professional public services and enforcement of law. A status-quo will only exacerbate negative impact in the future: an economic development captured by an elite, associated poverty, climate change, degradation of ecosystem. Building a process to sustainable development for all requires combining efforts of all the players of a society in a collective effort”.

Leten believes that the outlook for cooperation with the countries in the Middle East and North Africa group is changing. The need for close partnerships arises — partnerships that recognize mutual challenges and benefits. He looks forward to trust-building and long-lasting partnerships on which collective actions can be built. “For local, national and international crisis, joining forces is the solution”, he said.

The next national workshops will be held next November in Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine. Exchange of experiences will take place in May 2017, aiming at a platform to translate water conservation and sustainability into reality.

(An Arabic version of this article will be published in the July issue of Al-Bia Wal-Tanmia magazine)