Defining water needs workshop in Palestine and Israel

Press Release: Fair cooperation and water needs based approach to solve the water crisis in Middle East

By taking a water needs-based approach, rather than merely focusing on the supply side, 25 leading international water experts gathered in Geneva to initiate a new dimension for water negotiations in Middle East. The water experts propose that negotiations consider the sustainable water needs of current and future generations of Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Once the needs are agreed upon, the best way to address them can be addressed.  The water experts want to contribute to changing the way water is discussed in the Israeli-Palestinian context in order to focus on resolving the very actual and real needs of both communities, thereby helping to relieve the current water crisis in the Palestinian territories and Israel, while providing a firm basis for a permanent settlement of the outstanding water issues between the parties.
Invited by the Peres Center for Peace, Green Cross International, Green Cross France and Green Cross Switzerland, and water experts from Israel, Palestine, Europe and USA gathered in Geneva from 2 to 4 May 2008 to conduct a joint analysis of water needs, and reached a fundamental agreement on their definition.
• There is a basic human need for water resources of approximately 60 m3 per capita per year for human health, hygiene and running a water efficient economy that permits sufficient social and economic development to allow progress towards providing all people with a high quality of life.
• After this basic human need has been met, priority must be given to providing water for base flows in rivers and streams to prevent ecosystem collapse, and water for livelihoods for vulnerable groups that lack any alternative economic opportunities.
• Water surplus to these basic needs must be allocated between nations on an equitable basis, and subsequently allocated to economic uses relating to such production activities as those nations choose through their own internal processes, while taking into consideration principles of economic efficiency, social equity, environmental sustainability and international water law.
The international water experts gathered in Geneva urge Israeli and Palestinian political authorities, with the support of the international community, to create the conditions for sustainable access to safe drinkable water to all inhabitants of the region as soon as possible. As Bertrand Charrier, vice president of Green Cross International, said “Access to drinking water and basic sanitation is a universal human right that should be respected and implemented everywhere in the world including in Middle East, and today it is urgent to do it in Gaza Strip”.
Water is one of the critical outstanding issues between Israel and the Palestinians.  This is largely due to the scarcity of water in the region, and it being seen as a requisite for life, ecosystem health, and agricultural and economic activity, resulting in the centrality of water issues to peace and stability in the Middle East.  Previous negotiations on water within the Oslo Peace process have led to the recognition by Israel of Palestinian water rights, however, the permanent allocation of water between the parties awaits the permanent status negotiations. A major impediment to determining the allocation of water is the lack of a clear understanding on the principles of allocation.
While international law gives general guidelines for approaches to allocations, the actual allocations require direct negotiations and an agreement between the parties. Eran Feitelson, from the Hebrew University said: „It is obvious that the share of agriculture in fresh water consumption should decline as new water needs appeared with the human development, industry, tourism, leisure and nature preservation. Hence, irrigation plans cannot be used any longer as a basis for determining needs in the region.“  Thus, the term ‘needs’ has to be re-defined before it can contribute again as  a basis for negotiations.
Oren Blonder from The Peres Center for Peace summarized:“ The purpose of the Water Needs in Middle East Initiative is to identify and agree upon possible definitions of water needs. Once these definitions will be elucidated, they will be used by Israeli and Palestinian experts, assembled by Green Cross and the Peres Center for Peace, together with the Jerusalem Institute and Palestinian Hydrology Group, to formulate water need scenarios for Israel/Palestine“. Upon completion of the research, a final conference will be held in Paris and the potential outcomes resulting from the project will be examined, as will the potential effects of the project on the revival of the Palestinian and Israeli water sectors. The results of this research will play an instrumental role in the final status negotiations.
The study has the personal support of Israeli President Shimon Peres and was brought to the attention of the highest political authorities of Israel and Palestine Territories.
In the coming months, the Peres Center for Peace, together with Green Cross Switzerland, Green Cross France and Green Cross International, will undertake activities and initiatives that encourage regional and international policy and decision-makers to re-assess their present decisions and policies, and in particular, their effect on the regional water resources and environment.
Green Cross International, with headquarters in Geneva, was founded by the former President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, in 1993. The organization is composed of a network of 30 affiliate organizations, which work to support peace and security as well as solve problems of poverty and the environment. The global involvement of Green Cross in the water program works at  the highest decision-making levels to prevent conflicts which result from the scarcity of water. Within the framework of local projects, Green Cross concerns itself with preserving this vital resource.
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