Regional Water Banks Project (RWDBP)

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Context


Middle East Peace Process

Multilateral Working Group on Water Resources Project (1995- ongoing)

Timeframe


Status

Focus Areas

Water Cooperation Initiative

Research, capacity building and data exchange

Geographic Scope

Stakeholders

The project is managed by an Executive Action Team, EXACT, comprised of water experts from Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian water-management agencies.

Technical and financial support to EXACT is contributed by the European Union, France, The Netherlands, and the United States. Former donors include Australia and Canada.

Contacts

Contents

Background and Significance

The RWDBP consists of a series of specific actions taken jointly by the core parties: the Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian water agencies. It is one of the projects that came out of the Multilateral Working Group on Water Resources of the Middle East Peace Process.

While advancing the peace process, the MWGWR’s goals included creating an awareness of water issues from a regional perspective, to fostering cooperation and coordinating efforts to ameliorate water problems. These goals were tackled under the following four agenda items: 1) enhancement of water data availability 2) improved water management practices, including conservation 3) enhancement of water supply 4) concepts of regional water management and cooperation.


The RWDBP was designed to respond to the need for enhanced water data availability and was more specifically aimed to:

  • Foster the adoption of common, standardised data collection and storage techniques among the parties;
  • Improve the quality of the water resources data collected in the region; and
  • Improve communication among the scientific communities in the region.


Once the international and regional experts had formulated an implementation plan containing 39 recommendations, the RWDBP began working in 1995.[1] The Executive Action Team (EXACT) was established as the steering committee of the RWDBP in order to ensure the implementation of the recommendations. EXACT consists of head representatives from the core parties (i.e. mainly of the PWA, the Jordanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation, and the Israeli Water Authority, plus a representative of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs), while the US acts as the ‘gavel-holder’, convening and chairing the meetings.

The Experience: Challenges and Solutions

Based on RWDBP information materials[2] and interviews, the project’s theory of change towards peace can be outlined as follows:

  • Water resources are a ‘technically oriented issue [...] the resolution of which is essential for the promotion of long-term regional development and security’[3]
  • Capacity-building of experts and water authorities of the three core parties will promote establishing, upgrading and synchronising regional data banks;
  • Standardised water data banks will facilitate exchange of technical water information among the three core parties and create common practice in water management;
  • Joint activities will help people from the three core parties to understand each other;
  • Continuing communication will establish working relationships and help coordinate efforts to ameliorate water problems;
  • Common understanding, established working relationships and awareness of common problems will encourage parties to transcend the realm of competing interests and create a situation in which all parties may share benefits;
  • Cooperative behaviour will allow improved water management, which is essential for long-term development and security; and
  • This will finally enhance the Middle East peace process.


PEACEBUILDING CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

  • Interference of political/security issues

Disparities in the parties’ capacity to generate, interpret and legitimise data can lead to mistrust of those with better information and support systems.[4] Against this background, exchanging data can act as a powerful tool for building trust and improving water management. In order for this to happen, however, there must be the political will to share the relevant data and information. If political will is absent, additional mistrust can accumulate, as was the case for some of the RWDBP participants. Participants and donors should therefore actively advocate for the exchange of data within the RWDBP, if cooperation is to be taken seriously. If, however, data exchange is considered politically unfeasible, the aims and limitations of the projects must be made transparent from the beginning, in order to prevent frustration and negative impacts on confidence-building.

On several occasions, RWDBP participants – mainly Palestinians – could not partake in project activities because travel permits were not issued. This not only prevented them from receiving training and experience, but also made them believe that they are not seen as equal and trusted partners. In order to circumvent such problems, meetings were often held outside the region, which not only resulted in increased project costs, but also represented a lost opportunity to publicly show that regional cooperation was possible.

  • Addressing asymmetries

The water sector is marked by major asymmetries between Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, such as power structure, access to resources, as well as financial and human capacity. Such inequalities need addressing in order to allow for communal cooperation and mutual benefits. One way to address asymmetric capacities is to allocate project resources in favour of the party with the greatest needs. Though a special component of the RWDBP focused on development of a Palestinian Water Data Unit, Palestinians expressed in interviews that they could not equally benefit from RWDBP activities.

Capacity development and technology transfer can play a major role in overcoming asymmetries. EXACT’s plan to increase the RWDBP’s focus on training in the coming years is therefore a step in the right direction. Such initiatives, however, can only be effective if the acquired knowledge can actually be applied. The PWA has limited monitoring and managing power. Therefore, much of the capacity that has been developed is lost over time. In order to be effective, capacity building must be complemented or coordinated with initiatives advocating for empowerment of the parties.

  • Identifying shared interests and win-win opportunities

The RWDBP shows that water professionals from Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories acknowledge the need for collaboration to solve the water problems. Due to different needs and capabilities among the three parties, however, identifying topics of common interest poses a major challenge. Instead, it could make sense to have different focus in efforts with the different parties, while ensuring that the issues tackled are linked to each other. This could allow for win-win situations with mutual gains from collaboration, and thus more incentive for cooperation. In order to ensure that projects still promote building working relationships and confidence between water professionals, exchange and communication need to be ensured and appropriate channels identified.

  • Promoting individual change and relationship-building at an operational level

According to interviews, the only lasting working relationships of the RWDBP are those within the EXACT committee.[5] On the operational level, contacts have, in most cases, been restricted to the duration of a project, and even then cross-border communication is limited, as little collaborative work on joint tasks exists. Professionals involved in RWDBP activities expressed in interviews that they felt motivated by the fact that the project provided cross-border cooperation.[6] This motivation level and the opportunity for peacebuilding should be capitalised upon and additional attention placed on establishing relationships on the operational level, such as through developing collaborative tasks that can help build confidence between participants.

  • Promoting spillover

The ultimate goal of the Multilateral Working Groups and their projects, such as the RWDBP, was to enhance the peace process. While limitations will always exist due to the political conditions in the region, actors should not lose sight of the ultimate goal. EXACT established a mechanism for continuous communication between the three water agencies, which has proven successful, as it has met regularly for the past 13 years – even during the second Intifada (2000– 2005). However, cooperation in water management seems to have improved little. For example, cooperation in the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee is ineffective[7] and the Israeli- Jordanian committee has not managed to resolve the ambiguities of the Peace Treaty. [8] EXACT should therefore identify opportunities to cultivate outreach activities at higher political levels.


Moreover, the lack of visibility of RWDBP efforts in the public realm is a deterrent to public buy-in. Some might argue that excluding the media and setting political issues aside at the beginning can help initiate cooperation and reduce the risk of spoilers threatening the programme’s mission. Once deemed successful, however, cooperative behaviour should be promoted to decision-makers and the public. The aim of peacebuilding initiatives should be to reach out towards those who are undecided or oppose peacebuilding, which inevitably involves confronting internal opposition. Furthermore, transfer of the model to sectors other than water could be explored or activities coordinated with existing initiatives in other sectors in order to increase peacebuilding effects.

Results and Impact

The RWDBP consists of several sub-projects that have materialised since 1995, which several donor countries and intergovernmental bodies have funded (mainly Canada, France, the Netherlands, UK, US and EU). Most of the activities are coordinated by agencies from the donor countries and implemented with staff from the three water agencies and sometimes additional experts. Implementing staff and coordinators gather for project meetings and workshops held within or outside the region throughout the duration of a project.


The projects’ final outcomes include several internal reports that assess current data availability and data collection practice within each core party, as well as public reports summarising information on water resources in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories. During the preparation of the regional reports, little data was directly exchanged among the core parties, because clearance to share data was not given from their authorities. Instead, each core party provided data to the US Geological Survey, which then drafted the final report. The projects under the RWDBP included considerable training activities for the staff of the respective water agencies. In addition, the core parties were provided with equipment and were trained on how to use it. Training topics included database development, interpretation of water quality network data, interpretation of surface-water network data and the installation and operation of hydro-meteorological and stream gauging stations. In the past few years, activities have shifted from databases towards more technical projects, such as development of decision support systems and implementing pilot plants.


EXACT meets twice a year with all donor representatives. These meetings have been funded and convened by the US. The aim of these meetings is to evaluate the projects’ progress and to plan future activities. The two-day meetings usually follow the same agenda, including separate core party and donor meetings, as well as panel and bilateral meetings. Decisions on whether to initiate a project are taken by consensus. In the last few years, so called parliamentary meetings occurred every six months in between the EXACT meetings. These parliamentary meetings consist of only core party members and allow for projects to be discussed amongst themselves. According to interviews, project topics were usually suggested by the donors in the initial years of EXACT, whereas for about ten years the core parties have proposed topics themselves. All steering committee meetings excluded the media and civil society, with the intention of avoiding political interference as much as possible.


Peacebuilding impacts

EXACT considers its greatest achievement to date as having established ‘effective and continuing communication channels [...] among colleagues from the Core Parties’ participating agencies’.[9] Communication and meetings take place at two levels: one, between steering committee (EXACT) representatives; and two, within the several sub-projects of the RWDBP (the operational level, consisting mainly of water agencies’ staff and external experts). According to interviews, meetings at all levels helped build personal relationships, which promoted equal partnerships in discussions. EXACT meetings and workshops on the operational level allowed participants to discuss technical issues, while leaving political differences outside the room. This can also influence negotiations within the Joint Water Committees and during peace talks, since many EXACT members are also representatives in the respective delegations (they might also assume this position at a later stage in their career). In particular, Palestinian interviewees for this study largely acknowledged the training and equipment that they received through the RWDBP, but also representatives of the other two parties mentioned the benefits of knowledge exchange. On a few occasions, personal relations established through EXACT and the RWDBP facilitated informal exchange of information between water agency staff members. Interviewees involved at the operational level, however, mentioned that the projects provided little opportunity to actually work together on a given task.[10] Usually participants would go home after project meetings and work on their tasks individually. While some communication took place through email on specific questions, no lasting working relationships developed at the operational level.


Different expectations towards the data banks have been expressed in interviews from the different sides. Some interviewees said that the idea had always been to develop separate data banks, with the potential to join at a later stage when the political situation would allow for it. Other participants, however, expected a joint data bank and expressed their disappointment that the data had not been shared. Furthermore, Palestinians expressed that they could not equally benefit from the project activities, because they did not have their own data and were restricted from taking samples on their own territories.88 The occupation also complicated the implementation of pilot plants in the Palestinian territories and sometimes prevented Palestinians from participating in meetings, because they could not receive travel permits. When Hamas won the election in 2006, representatives of the PWA were not invited to the EXACT meetings, although they had been members for years. Instead, a Palestinian civil society representative in the National Water Council sat in on behalf of PWA members. Palestinian interviewees perceived this as political interference, which caused members of the PWA to feel distrusted.

Lessons for Replication

Testimonies and Stakeholder Perceptions

Project ID

Type

Lead Organization(s)

Project Partners

Financing

Timeframe

Status

Project website(s)

Description

Expected Outcomes

Achievements: Results and Impact

References

  1. Regional Water Data Banks Project (RWDBP) (2002). Regional Water Data Banks Project: Multilateral Working Group on Water Resources, Middle East Peace Process. Project Brochure.
  2. See: http://www.exact-me.org; Regional Water Data Banks Project (RWDBP) (2002). Op. cit.
  3. Regional Water Data Banks Project (RWDBP) (2002). Op. cit.
  4. A.T. Wolf et al. (2005). Op. cit.
  5. Personal interviews with consultants and academics involved in EXACT projects (Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Amman, July 2008) as well as PWA stafff (Ramallah, July 2008)
  6. Personal interviews with consultants and academics involved in EXACT projects (Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Amman, July 2008)
  7. M. Zeitoun (2008). Op. cit.; Selby (2003). Op. cit.
  8. I. Fischhendler (2008b). ‘When ambiguity in treaty design becomes destructive: A study of transboundary water’, Global Environmental Politics, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp.111–136.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Personal interviews held with consultants and academics (Tel Aviv, Amman, July 2008) and PWA staff (Ramallah, July 2008).

See also


This article is based on Regional Water Cooperation and Peacebuilding in the Middle East, by Annika Kramer, as part of a Initiative for Peacebuilding (Ifp) Series Publication (2008).

External Resources

Attachments

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