Gidon Bromberg: Jordan River Shows Water Can Be a Path to Peace, Generate Will for ChangeMarch 21, 2014 By Paris Achenbach
At last month’s launch of the USAID Water and Conflict Toolkit at the Wilson Center, Gidon Bromberg explained that the toolkit is about much more than just conflict. “It’s put very much in forefront the possibilities of peacebuilding,” he says in this week’s podcast. “Water is an opportunity in areas where there aren’t many opportunities.”
At last month’s launch of the USAID Water and Conflict Toolkit at the Wilson Center, Gidon Bromberg explained that the toolkit is about much more than just conflict. “It’s put very much in forefront the possibilities of peacebuilding,” he says in this week’s podcast. “Water is an opportunity in areas where there aren’t many opportunities.”“Whatever your neighbor does also impacts you, and vice versa”
Bromberg, the Israeli director of EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East, argues that a shared dependence on clean water can bring communities together, even in the most divided places. If you design a program that speaks to both self-interest and mutual gain, which water provides for, “you’re really changing mindsets on the ground,” he says. “Whatever you do of course impacts your community, but whatever your neighbor does also impacts you, and vice versa.”
He uses the Jordan River, which has headwaters in Syria and forms the border between Israel/the West Bank and Jordan, as an example. Over the last 50 years, 96 percent of its freshwater has been diverted for domestic and agricultural use, and annual flow dropped from 1.3 billion cubic meters to less than 30 million cubic meters. Despite a treaty signed by Jordan and Israel 20 years ago, there was “no political will” to implement the water rehabilitation aspect of it.
In 2013, however, after years of working through a cross-national committee on rehabilitation which included many local leaders, the Israeli Water Authority announced their decision to pump water regularly from Lake Kinneret into the lower Jordan River to restore its suffering ecosystem:
I had a water minister from both sides come and say, ‘You guys, you environmentalists, you’re dreamers, you’re tree-huggers! Water is too scarce! We’re not going to waste water to allow it to flow down the River Jordan. We’re not going to allow water to go beyond our borders and empower the other side, the enemy.’ Well, that was said to us a decade ago. Today, that same leadership is carrying the flag of rehabilitating the Jordan River. This is their project, this is their political leadership, this is their success.
Such a successful initiative “didn’t happen by accident,” Bromberg says. It took creating political will, “and the people who created that political will were the kids in the schools because they were first, and the leaders followed them, not vice versa.”
Bromberg believes that will for change starts from the bottom-up, through public awareness and practical educational initiatives on where water comes from, and then “doing the same thing next door, with the community on the other side.”
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Sources: Friends of the Earth Middle East, Yale Environment 360.