Water is one of many contentious issues in the Middle East, a region where political, cultural, and religious unrest is thousands of years in the making. Since 2009, I have had the great honor to be a member of the Water Resources Action Project, or WRAP. The group seeks to build peace and greater understanding in the Middle East by easing the growing water conflict. WRAP has grappled from the start with the question of how a small, entirely volunteer non-profit can possibly build peace in this troubled region. Over time, I have come to realize that to affect true change, to move in a direction away from hate and towards peace, which can be so abstract to define and measure, you must start simple and place your focus on establishing communication at whatever scale possible.
WRAP’s initial efforts have focused primarily on constructing rainwater harvesting systems in underprivileged schools in the West Bank, Israel, and eventually Jordan. The collection system relies on basic technology, but is quite effective. Rainwater is collected from the roof of each school, stored in a series of barrels or an underground cement cistern, and pumped to the school’s restrooms, where the water is used for toilet flushing. Due to the large number of students on a centralized site, sanitation is the primary water consumer for these schools. I have seen these systems provide upwards of 70% of the school’s total water needs during the rainy season, reducing the school’s water bills and increasing water security. WRAP also implements or supports a parallel educational program stressing shared environment and resource conservation.
By month’s end, WRAP will have completed its fifth project (two in East Jerusalem, one in the West Bank, and two in northern Israel). I believe our latest initiative—a paired pilot program between a Jewish Israeli school and a Muslim Palestinian school—embodies the key objective of fostering trust through communication that WRAP has set forth from the beginning. For this project, WRAP has partnered with Arava Institute’s Environmental Education Peace Initiative to construct a rainwater harvesting system at each school and implement a shared environmental education curriculum. As part of this curriculum, encounters between students from the two schools aim to build cross-cultural ties through the students’ shared experience of water conservation and common understanding of environmental stewardship.
WRAP’s efforts, however small and localized, are using water as a platform for communication amongst individuals and communities that would otherwise avoid interaction. I have witnessed this communication evolve into relationships, understanding, and trust. In this way, WRAP’s initiatives serve as a model for what may be accomplished at a regional scale. Similar collaborative frameworks are making real strides in the region, as evidenced by a recent New York Times article describing efforts underway to address the wastewater issues in the Kidron Valley that runs from Jerusalem through the West Bank.
I’m excited by the possibilities that exist when creating a safe, productive setting for constructive communication on matters of shared concern. While water, among other constrained natural resources, has fueled hatred in this region, maybe it can become a rallying point for these divided groups to positively engage with one another.