EcoPeace: Bringing People Together to Protect Our Shared Environment
Climate change and its disruptive impact on water resources are increasingly recognized as a cause for conflict in areas around the world. Conflicts over water prevail between India and Pakistan over the Indus River waters, between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo in the Sava River Basin, in former Soviet Central Asian Republics, the Nile Basin and in many other regions worldwide. These conflicts, coupled with the failure of governments to confront climate induced water stress and resulting poverty have contributed to suffering at an unprecedented scale. Climate induced water stress - from increased scarcity, to drought, flooding and water pollution – was recently identified by the World Economic Forum as the biggest threat facing the planet over the next decade.
Working in one of the most water-scarce and conflict-prone regions of the world, EcoPeace Middle East is an environmental peacebuilding organization that advances cross-border solutions to regional water-related issues. With offices in Amman, Bethlehem, and Tel Aviv, EcoPeace brings together Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli environmentalists to cooperate on protecting a shared environment. In so doing, it seeks to advance sustainable regional development and create the necessary conditions for lasting peace.
EcoPeace recognizes that shared natural resources are an important opportunity to broaden and deepen areas of cooperation and trust even in the midst of conflict. Solutions to environmental problems are rarely zero-sum; by collaborating on water security problems, an understanding between conflicting parties and a willingness to establish interdependence is forged. These set the foundations for the development of mutual prosperity and trust, and ultimately for peace.
Ecopeace has a unique approach that maximizes impact by combining top-down policy change with bottom-up community based constituency building. EcoPeace’s top-down programs are based on research, on the publication of policy briefs, and on the holding of events that highlight the national self-interest of each side in advancing our policy recommendations. The bottom-up approach is about educating local constituencies to call for and lead necessary cross-border solutions to regional water issues. EcoPeace's flagship "Good Water Neighbors" project engages dozens of cross-border communities, utilizing their mutual dependence on shared water resources to develop cooperation on practical win-win solutions that speak directly to the local interests of all parties. (See this external evaluation of the GWN project by the Butterfly Effect).
Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian Youth "Water Trustees" and Alumni from EcoPeace's "Good Water Neighbors" project campaigning on both banks of the Jordan River, calling for its rehabilitation.
EcoPeace has often taken on what was seen as impossible. We were told that fresh water would never flow in the Lower Jordan River, yet in 2013, following a decade of EcoPeace advocacy, fresh water was allowed to flow again from the Sea of Galilee to the Jordan River. EcoPeace is the only organization whose activities stopped the construction of the separation barrier between Israel and Palestine as we stood up to protect the World Heritage landscape in Battir. EcoPeace has helped leverage more than $500 million of investments in water and sanitation development projects, including the construction of wastewater treatment plants and new water supply networks, and doubled the amount of water supplied by Israel to Gaza.
EcoPeace Middle East has received international recognition as a trailblazer in the field of environmental peacebuilding and water security, receiving international awards such as the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, the Aristotle Onassis Prize for the Protection of the Environment and TIME Magazine’s Environmental Heroes Award (see list of awards). EcoPeace’s work has been covered by the Economist, the Guardian, NPR, CNN, BBC, National Geographic and others. New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman described EcoPeace as “the best hope for the future” and a model for peacebuilding in the region, noting that relationships of trust between neighbors such as those built through EcoPeace’s efforts "are the hardest things to build, but also the hardest things to break once in place" (read article).
A "Big Jump" event into the Jordan River with Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian mayors in a joint call to rehabilitate the river
The EcoPeace Program on Water Security in Washington DC
Over the years, EcoPeace received many requests by civil society groups and donors to support the implementation of EcoPeace methodology in different regions throughout the world. In response, EcoPeace has offered workshops to Indian, Pakistani, Balkan and Sri Lankan organizations and partnered with the Center for Ecology and Energy (CEE) in Tuzla, Bosnia to implement a successful one year pilot project in the Spreca River Basin in 2014 (see more details).
In 2016, EcoPeace received seed funding to launch the EcoPeace Program on Water Security in Washington DC, to serve as an international platform from which to share and disseminate Ecopeace's experience and methodology on a global scale.
The objective is to scale up a successful peacebuilding model of cross-border cooperation to a worldwide setting by connecting EcoPeace’s experience and proven methodology in the Middle East to the capacity building needs of civil society organizations coping with climate induced water stress and conflict over shared water resources in other parts of the world.
Starting operations in January 2017, the Program is currently identifying and approaching civil society organizations working in conflict regions with shared watersheds that can potentially benefit from EcoPeace's know-how and experience, in order to develop a pilot project with organizations in three different countries over the next three years.
Once fully operational, the Program will offer its services to civil society organizations located in shared water basins across the globe, and advise on how best to adapt bottom up and top down programming and strategies to the specific circumstances in the given locations. This may include capacity building, technical assistance, strategic planning and training on organizing ground grassroots activities and political advocacy, as well as site visits both at the target basin and in the Middle East for key stakeholders and local leadership.
In addition to local capacity building, the Program will advance environmental peacebuilding initiatives by developing strategic partnerships with international stakeholders (UN, World Bank, donor agencies, peace and development organizations), research institutions, think-tanks and academia. In parallel, the Program will engage in speaking engagements and produce materials to broadly disseminate EcoPeace know-how and experience.