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Jordan River Rehabilitation Project
The Lower Jordan River: Jordan, Israel, Palestine

Overview

This case study describes the efforts of a non-governmental organization to sponsor a public participation process to address a transboundary natural resource issue affecting three nations. It illustrates the importance of using trusted experts to establish the knowledge foundation for productive discussions and using a phased approach – first at the national level and then at the regional level – to build support for the effort.

Sponsoring Agency

  • EcoPeace/ Friends of the Earth Middle East

Background

The Lower Jordan River (LJR) once carried an average of 1.3 billion cubic meters of fresh water annually to the Dead Sea. Today this figure has been reduced to less than 100 million m3 per year due to widespread diversion of the River's flow by Israel, Jordan and Syria for domestic and agricultural uses. Diverting the fresh water flow of the Jordan River and its tributaries has devastated the Dead Sea and its environs and transformed the culturally and historically important Jordan River into little more than an open channel for agricultural run-off, diverted saline waters and untreated sewage. This destruction has occurred outside of the public eye as Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian communities along the river have little to no access to the river as it flows through the closed military zone maintained by the Israeli and Jordanian militaries along its banks.

The governments of Jordan and Israel committed to ecological rehabilitation of the LJR under Annex IV of the 1994 Peace Treaty. More recently, agreements between Palestinians and Israelis have recognized the right of nature to water. Despite these agreements, the LJR has suffered from a tacit regional strategy of diverting as much of the scarce water resources of the LJR as possible - primarily for agriculture.

After five years of consecutive drought, the LJR reached critical levels in the summer of 2009, measuring just 30 cm deep in many places, with an estimated total annual discharge of just 20-30 mcm – an alarming reduction of approximately 98% of the LJR's natural flow. Following years of advocacy by Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) and other national stakeholders to remove the raw sewage and saline waters currently discharged into the LJR, waste water treatment centers in Israel and Jordan are scheduled to become operational in 2011. While this is indeed an important achievement, it will also further reduce the overall flow of the LJR. Given these urgent conditions, the implementation of a coordinated regional strategy is required to maintain any semblance of a LJR.

FoEME’s Jordan River Rehabilitation Project aims to establish a consensus among key stakeholders in Israel, Palestine and Jordan for rehabilitation of the LJR. FoEME understands that a regional approach that brings all sides to act together is a pre-requisite for gaining the political support for the flow of fresh water back to the river. To this end, FoEME has partnered with leading experts from Israel, Jordan and Palestine to conduct innovative research to identify a regional rehabilitation strategy and opportunities to save or produce water from within the national water economies of Israel, Jordan and Palestine that could potentially be transferred to the LJR. Furthermore, FoEME established a Lower Jordan River Regional Advisory Committee involving key national stakeholders, including government representatives from the three states, to comment on the studies as they are produced. This is the first regional forum ever established that brings government representatives from the three riparian states together around the same table to advance solutions for the LJR.

In addition to developing a regional rehabilitation strategy for the LJR, FoEME will use this process to address the issue of Palestinian water rights to the Jordan River. The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict has postponed final resolution of water issues, including the Jordan River. As such, Palestinians have neither access nor riparian rights to the LJR.

Public Participation Goal and Level

The specific public participation goals of FoEME’s Jordan River Rehabilitation Project are to involve stakeholders from Palestine, Jordan, and Israel to develop recommendations for, and advocate for rehabilitation of, the LJR. To date, this goal has involved the following components:

  • Creating National Advisory Committees in each project area (Palestine, Jordan, Israel) composed of national stakeholder institutions relevant to the LJR to give feedback and advice on the two regional studies.
  • Providing stakeholders with clear information about the current state of the LJR.
  • Developing scenarios for rehabilitation with the support of leading regional experts
  • Creating a Regional Advisory Committee involving key national representatives active in the National Advisory Committees. This Regional Advisory Committee serves as a forum for discussing the scenarios for rehabilitation, forging channels of communication between regional stakeholders, and building regional political will for the establishment of a Jordan River Basin Commission.

Public Participation Approach

The Jordan River has been a focus of Friends of the Earth Middle East's (FoEME) efforts since its foundation in 1994. FoEME advances these projects by publishing scientific and social research and conducting national level advocacy campaigns and grassroots community development. FoEME's community based project, the Good Water Neighbors project, engages youth, adults and Mayors and Municipal Representatives in 25 communities throughout Israel, Palestine and Jordan, including 11 along the LJR in a united effort to rehabilitate the regions' shared water resources.

In parallel to ongoing community based activities, the Jordan River Rehabilitation Project's public participation approach is focused on building political will among national decision makers in support of the rehabilitation of the LJR. During Phase 1 of the project, stakeholders were identified from the national decision making bodies relevant to the LJR. These included local and National Water Authorities; National Parks Authorities; Drainage Authorities; and Ministries of Regional Cooperation, Agriculture, Tourism, and Infrastructure, in addition to select academics involved with national and cross border natural resource management issues and other NGOs working in the field. Representatives from the stakeholder institutions were invited to participate in the project's National Advisory Committee. National Advisory Committee meetings were held bi-monthly for six months to update stakeholders about the Jordan River Rehabilitation Project and its ongoing rehabilitation research in Jordan, Palestine, and Israel. FoEME solicited comments on rehabilitation research throughout this period and responded to the comments as relevant.

In Phase 2 of the project, the National Advisory Committees were integrated into a single Regional Advisory Committee, including representatives from Jordan, Israel, and Palestine. The Regional Advisory Committee finalized and published recommendations for rehabilitation. In Phase 3 of the project FoEME will lead advocacy efforts to advance decisions and acquire the necessary resources to implement the selected regional rehabilitation scenario.

Specific Public Participation Tools and Techniques Used

During Phase 1, FoEME undertook the following public participation activities:

  • Stakeholders were selected to participate in National Advisory Committee based on their professional positions within decision making institutions, past involvement in support of the rehabilitation of the LJR, and their expertise in natural resource management.
  • Draft studies were prepared by FoEME including the Environmental Flows report to identify the rehabilitation needs of the LJR and the Transboundary Diagnosis Analysis to identify possible economic opportunities and trade-offs to return fresh water resources to the LJR.
  • National Advisory Committee meetings were held in Palestine, Jordan, and Israel to review draft studies and offer feedback. Proceedings were sent to all participants as well as others who requested them.
  • National and international media interest was generated through press releases and organized media tours to raise awareness about the LJR and the regional process to find solutions. Regular updates were published on FoEME's website and newsletter.

During Phase 2, FoEME undertook a similar process on the Regional level as was conducted on a National level in Phase 1

  • Stakeholders from the National Advisory Committee were selected for participation in the Regional Advisory Committee.
  • Drafts of the FoEME studies were presented to the Regional Advisory Committee for feedback. Proceedings were circulated.
  • FoEME encouraged decision makers to foster support for the selected rehabilitation strategy from within their own institutions.
  • National and International "Champions" were identified to lead high level efforts to raise awareness, hold parliamentary hearings, formulate policy and obtain appropriate resources for the rehabilitation of the LJR.
  • National and international media interest was generated through press releases and organized media tours to raise awareness about the LJR and the regional process to find solutions. Regular updates were published on FoEME's website and newsletter. FoEME presented the process and results of this effort at numerous international conferences.

During Phase 3, FoEME will undertake the following public participation activities aimed at implementing the rehabilitation strategy

  • Publish final studies to inform decision makers about the preferred strategies for rehabilitation of the LJR.
  • Develop strategic action plans to address each barrier to rehabilitation.
  • Develop regional policy groups based on specific issues.
  • Continue meetings of the Regional Advisory Committee to review these strategic action plans and discuss the project at regional levels.
  • Sponsor a Regional conference to launch final publications and present the coordinated regional rehabilitation strategy with the participation of and joint statements from the National "Champions" of the LJR.
  • Build upon national and international media attention through development of additional press releases and organized media tours to raise awareness about the LJR and the regional process to find solutions. Provide regular updates on FoEME's website and newsletter. FoEME will present the process and results of this effort at international conferences.

Result/Outcome

While it is too early to say if the public participation process of this on-going project has fully achieved all of its goals, early indicators show remarkable successes including:

  • Public awareness about the current state of the LJR was improved through the publication of dozens of articles in the main national media in the national languages in addition to major international news coverage.
  • Formation and active participation of key stakeholder institutions in National and Regional Advisory Committees created for the first time high-level forums focused on the rehabilitation of this transboundary system.
  • The Minister of Environment in Israel and Jordan and their counterpart in Palestine, the Head of the Palestinian Water Authority, have agreed to make a public endorsement about the need to rehabilitate the LJR at the public conference to be held in Phase 3.
  • Ministerial representatives from Israel, who are actively represented in the National and Regional Advisory Committees, have been outspoken in the national media about the need to rehabilitate the LJR and the importance of coordinating the process with Jordan for the section of the LJR that is shared between them. Funds were allocated to develop a rehabilitation master plan for the section of the river fully in Israeli territory. At the request of the Israeli Ministry of Environment, the terms of reference for the plan were presented to their Jordanian and Palestinian counterparts during a FoEME Regional Advisory Committee.
  • Jordanian and Palestinian decisions makers are considering replication of this approach in their respective territories so that a master plan could be developed for the entire length of the LJR.

Lessons Learned

  • Stakeholder participation greatly improved the decisions made over the course of the project by informing a regional perspective toward transboundary natural resource management and getting buy-in from the necessary national decision making bodies.
  • The public participation process greatly improved relationships, trust, and credibility among the regional stakeholders. This forum was unique in that it is the only regional forum actively working to find solutions for the rehabilitation of the LJR.
  • The forum's non-formal status created an environment in which participants felt comfortable discussing scenarios in a non-binding framework. Conversely, the participants’ roles as representatives of the relevant national decision making bodies created an environment of professional exchange with strong implications for formal decisions in the future.
  • Public awareness about transboundary water issues in the region is particularly important given the political nature of water allocation in the region. During the course of the project, numerous decision makers noted that if the public prioritizes the rehabilitation of the LJR, decision makers will likewise make fresh water resources available for the river. As public access to the river is greatly restricted, it is imperative to raise the public awareness about the river.
  • This project laid the ground work for a wider public participation process through the concerted involvement of representatives of national institutions, ensuring their support for the project.
  • The non-formal Regional Advisory Committee established by this project underscored the need for and role of a future Jordan River Basin Commission.

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Contacts

For additional information on EPA's Public Participation Guide, contact:

Shereen Kandil
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of International and Tribal Affairs (2650R)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460
E-mail: kandil.shereen@epa.gov

 

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