Water As A Tool For Peace

Last month, on February 24th, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) released a new report, the Water and Conflict Toolkit. The toolkit is part of a series that explores the ways in which development assistance can assess and manage key risk factors that are associated with conflict and instability in developing countries.

One major contributing factor to conflict is in fact, water.

Water is a human necessity, essential for both survival and development. Its management can be complex, as it often generates competition between divided parties.

USAID is using this toolkit to try to mitigate these effects and promote effective water management. This will not only increase access to water and increase agricultural productivity, but also unite communities and lead the way towards peacebuilding.

This is the first time that USAID has created such a water strategy. During the five-year effort USAID hopes to ensure that 10 million more people have access to drinking water, 6 million have improved access to sanitation, and 3 million have improved access to agricultural productivity.

The report noted the multiple challenges that will be faced, with population growth and movement to urban areas at the top of the list. Other factors that also need to be taken into account include agricultural and industrial demands, corrupt governance, water politics, pollution and climate change.

A number of leaders spoke at the launch of the Water and Conflict Toolkit, held at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, D.C. Among them was Gideon Bromberg, the Israeli director of EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East.

Bromberg highlighted the particular importance of this report, noting that the toolkit is about much more than just conflict.

“It’s put very much in the forefront the possibilities of peacebuilding. Water is an opportunity in areas where there aren’t many opportunities.”

He used the example of the Jordan River to show how effective water management can generate the will for change.

The Jordan River has its headwaters in Syria and borders Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. Over the past 50 years, about 96% of its freshwater has been diverted for agricultural and domestic use and the river’s flow has dropped substantially.

In 2013, a committee of local leaders got together and successfully passed an initiative to pump water regularly from Lake Kinneret into the lower Jordan River, to revitalize the overused ecosystem.

Bromberg explained the change that this grassroots, bottom-up initiative generated,

“I had a water minister from both sides come and say ‘You guys, you environmentalists, you’re dreamers, you’re tree-huggers! Water is too scarce! We’re not going to waste water to allow it to flow down the River Jordan. Were not going to allow water to go beyond our borders and empower the other side, the enemy.’ Well, that was said to us a decade ago. Today, that same leadership is carrying the flag of rehabilitating the Jordan River. This is their project, this is their political leadership, this is their success.”

Public awareness and community mobilization were key to the success of the Jordan River initiative.

The Water and Conflict Toolkit will hopefully be another resource that can be used to effectively manage water, mitigate conflict, and promote peacebuilding among communities.

Mollie O’Brien

Sources: New Security Beat, All Africa, USAID
Photo: Aqua Rocks