Fresh water is the ultimate limited resource. The planet has all the fresh water it’s ever going to have, yet the world’s population—and demand for water—keeps growing. And growing demand for an essential resource with limited supply might seem to be a recipe for conflict.
But it’s a new year. Let’s find reasons for optimism.
As a company that makes water sustainability a top priority, we’re pleased to see that water can bring people together instead of pushing them apart.
Israel and Palestinians agree on water sharing and wastewater treatment
For evidence, look no further than two 2017 initiatives—helped by U.S. participation—involving Israel and the Palestinian Authority:
- A water-sharing deal, announced in July, gives Palestinian territories 32.9 billion liters of water annually—about a quarter of their annual water needs—at a reduced rate.
- In September, the U.S. announced that “Israel and the Palestinian Authority have both identified wastewater treatment and reuse in the West Bank and Gaza as a priority issue,” to improve public health and provide more water for agriculture.
Our takeaway: Fresh water is so important that two parties who can agree on virtually nothing else can agree on making it more accessible.
And, on an even more optimistic note: If Israel and the Palestinian Authority can agree on water sharing and wastewater treatment, can shared access to fresh water actually be the key to resolving long-term conflicts?
There’s actually a term for that line of thinking: environmental peacebuilding.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) defines environmental peacebuilding as “the process of governing and managing natural resources and the environment to support durable peace.”
Environmental peacebuilding works on two levels. The first level involves mitigating the natural resource destruction that results from open warfare. Reducing the impact of that environmental damage can help the adversaries move toward a sustainable peace.
The second level is more proactive, promoting environmental cooperation as a neutral ground where otherwise hostile parties can establish a dialogue that ultimately averts armed conflict.
What is water’s role in environmental peacebuilding?
UNEP and the Environmental Law Institute conducted a six-year study analyzing experiences in post-conflict peacebuilding and natural resource management. One of their policy briefs states:
Water, if properly restored and managed, can be harnessed to play a critical role in post-conflict recovery by protecting public health, restoring livelihoods, supporting economic recovery, and facilitating reconciliation.
The brief sees water as a “level one” factor—a shared need that helps restore peace after a conflict—and urges interventions and investment in regions where war has destroyed basic water delivery systems. We certainly agree with that belief.
If Israel and the Palestinians can agree on important water-related issues, there may be reason to hope water can bring about peace instead of conflict.
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