Good Water Neighbors: Rehabilitating the Jordan River through transboundary cooperation

Full Solution
Meandering Jordan River
EcoPeace Middle East established "Good Water Neighbors" (GWN) in 2001, to raise awareness of the shared water reality of Jordanians, Palestinians, and Israelis. The project develops political will for transboundary cooperation on water and sanitation. The GWN methodology is an original idea based on engaging cross-border communities and utilizing their interdependence on shared water resources to develop dialogue and cooperation for sustainable water management and advancing peacebuilding.
Last update: 06 Feb 2023
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Context
Challenges addressed
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Pollution (incl. eutrophication and litter)
Changes in socio-cultural context
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Social conflict and civil unrest

A conflict mindset that urges upstream landholders to grab as much water as possible has led the Jordan River to be a mere trickle of what it originally was with 94% of the original water flow diverted. The water flow has a high concentration of sewage, fishpond effluents and agriculture runoff, despite its incredible environmental importance to the world, as a migration stopover for 500 million birds every year. The Jordan River is a border area surrounded by minefields, checkpoints and fences. The physical separation guarantees a complete lack of interaction between communities across the conflict; it secures a fear and lack understanding for people on the other side. It exacerbates the feeling of injustice and resentment. As a result, the quality of the environment, social stability and economic opportunities have been held hostage to the conflict.

Scale of implementation
Local
Subnational
National
Multi-national
Global
Ecosystems
Cropland
Orchard
Rangeland / Pasture
Hot desert
Salt marsh
Pool, lake, pond
River, stream
Wetland (swamp, marsh, peatland)
Green spaces (parks, gardens, urban forests)
Theme
Connectivity / transboundary conservation
Ecosystem services
Legal & policy frameworks
Protected and conserved areas governance
Peace and human security
Sustainable livelihoods
Local actors
Watershed management
Location
Middle East
West Asia, Middle East
Process
Summary of the process
The two approaches maximize the results: The Bottom-up approach addresses issues from a grassroots perspective with local initiative and engagement. In the Top-down approach, EcoPeace works with national governments and international institutions to raise awareness and develop advocacy strategies to advance concrete solutions. The synergy between the two approaches has proven to be important to deliver the necessary results.
Building Blocks
Bottom Up - Grassroot initiative
Local stakeholders learn to become environmental leaders. They learn about their water reality. When people understand the local problems and their community's responsibility, they can meet and engage with similar groups of stakeholders from other communities across the conflict. The common ground for these cross conflict meetings is the safeguard of the shared watershed and the communities engage in productive meetings to identify solutions. Together they identify projects that speak to the self-interest of both sides. Through this process, the communities gain the capacity to advance solutions even within a turbulent political environment. In most cases, the combination of a strong youth program and outspoken adult leadership creates the political will of mayors and other municipal leaders to get involved.
Enabling factors
The local community's leadership needs a respected leader from the local community to provide the best leadership. It is important that a regional project manager with strong project experience mentors the local leader.
Lesson learned
Local leadership from the local community is especially important in a conflict situation to secure the trust that the leader acts in the community’s self-interest. Walks in the nature and along shared water bodies provide the best opportunity for communities to understand their water reality. Only when people understand the local problems and their community's responsibility, they can meet other communities. Community members voice an appreciation and need for an organization as EcoPeace to facilitate cross border meetings to ensure that the meetings provide a “safe-place” for the local communities to discuss issues effecting cross-border and neighbor communities. Participants were free to talk about their realities while using constructive means to seek solutions. Meetings and collaboration on environmental issues delivers a capacity to create and sustain strong networks of cross-border communication with long-term impact beyond the cross-border initiative.
Top Down - National and International initiative
Top-Down is the process to create broader political awareness of the issue. It includes advocacy for national and international support. Commonly a concept paper that explains the problem initiates this process with further research to support and document the issues. It is important to appeal to the news media, as their attention is necessary to heighten the political awareness of the issues and to convey the information to the public, resulting in the creation of a broader public demand for action. Media attention mobilizes national and international engagement and can foster domestic and international resource mobilization. In our experience, public opinion plays a decisive role in dictating the political agenda to local leaders as well as national decision makers.
Enabling factors
Strong community engagement and public initiatives create the demand for political action. It is important to create an environment in which it is politically safe to discuss the solutions, if the solutions are truly in the national self-interests then politicians will more easily embrace the change and even lead it. Good relations to media and the international community can facilitate government involvement.
Lesson learned
In an unsteady political landscape, environmental issues are held hostage, used as pawns in the overarching political conflict and within the framework of the official peace process. In order for the initiatives to produce a real change, a careful balance must be maintained: to achieve the explicit approval of officials without losing momentum to the tedium of politics.
Impacts
EcoPeace successfully raises awareness of shared water issues among Palestinians, Jordanians, and Israelis and brings them together to jointly advance sustainable cross border water and sanitation projects and improve the natural environment. In 2015, EcoPeace presented a regional Master Plan for the Jordan River Valley, which with the support of community leaders and members identified, advanced common solutions to cross border environmental challenges. EcoPeace widened the constituencies of support for a shared vision of the valley. As more and more people articulate the geopolitical, social and environmental benefits of investing in the river’s rehabilitation, the issue has garnered the attention of national decision makers and key world powers . In 2016, EcoPeace established a Center of Water Security in Washington DC to advance the resolution of water security issues in other conflict zones across the globe by replicating EcoPeace GWN model. The center seeks to disseminate best practices and adapt programming and strategies to the specific circumstances in the given locations.
Beneficiaries

The project delivers increased sustainability from an economic, social and environmental perspective. The beneficiaries are the citizens, the governments, international visitors, other stakeholders, and the global environment.

Story
EcoPeace’s Good Water Neighbor project works in communities to facilitate their understanding of their water reality AND their neighbor’s water reality. It is important for people to understand the interconnectedness between the communities even in the midst of conflict. People need to understand that they have the ability to influence the future, they are not victims without power - we develop their capacity and empower them to become good stewards of the environment. It enables children to take action and demand change and empowers adults to become advocates for solutions. Mayors and civic leaders turn the situation in the midst of a conflict. We bring people together across the conflict to find solutions that are in their self-interest and achievable only through cooperation. These solutions serve a common good across the conflict. When communities understand their interdependence, when they understand the interconnectedness of their future - then we see real progress in livelihood, sustainability, and peacebuilding. "We are the future, and if we start our future with a clean slate, without prejudice, then problems can be solved. Water is the most important thing for all of us, we all live in the same territory and nature connects us" - a 12-year old Israeli girl involved in GWN. It is a long-term process but the benefits are huge; advances are possible even in this long-term conflict with asymmetrical levels of power. Jordan, Palestine and Israel built sewage treatment plants. For the first time in 49 years, release of fresh water into the Jordan River allowed the survival of replanted native willow trees. Israel and Jordan initiated a sub-committee for rehabilitation of the Jordan River. We encourage the three governments to cooperate on water and projects in the Jordan Valley, with the confidence that by moving forward on water, it will create mutual trust and faith in a better future – even in the Middle East. We empower the local people to advance sustainable water security, they do not have to wait for politicians or diplomats. We encourage the local communities to take ownership over the process to advance solutions. "Through water and environment we can create true coexistence, based on respect and the protection of the rights of each side” – 16-year old Palestinian boy.
Connect with contributors
Other contributors
Marina Djernaes
EcoPeace's Center for Water Security
Other Organizations