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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

Water scarcity, peace topic of March 1 program

The Jewish Review

February 15, 2009

By Deborah Moon

“Across the globe, a lack of clean water and sanitation forces many … into poverty. I believe that by securing and by sustainably managing freshwater supplies we have an opportunity to foster hope and peace,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.).

Blumenauer and water resource specialist Dr. Jeff Albert will speak about “The Politics of Water in the Middle East and the Developing World,” 4-5:30 p.m., March 1. Sponsored by the Portland chapter of Brit Tzedak v’Shalom/Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, the program will meet at Congregation Shir Tikvah/Bridgeport United Church of Christ, 621 NE 76th.

Blumenauer, who has introduced two major bills to alleviate the water crisis in developing countries, will discuss “Water for the Poor: Confronting the Challenges of a Global Water Crisis.”

Albert, who worked for the Israeli Water Commission from 1998 to 2001, will discuss “Freshwater scarcity and its effect on the struggle for Arab-Israeli peace.”

Blumenauer has been a strong advocate for U.S. leadership in providing drinking water and sanitation to developing countries around the world.

“I look forward to having the opportunity to highlight the relationship between human conflict and resource scarcity all over the world,” wrote Blumenauer of his March 1 appearance in response to email questions from the Jewish Review. “It is important that we increase recognition about the urgency of the global water crisis, how it impacts all of us, and what needs to be done. Though we have enacted the Sen. Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act and established clean water and sanitation as a cornerstone of United States foreign assistance, there is more work to be done. That’s why I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to meet our commitment to over a billion people in need.”

In the Middle East, the water situation is complicated by the fact that most of the rivers and aquifers are transboundary: Both the Jordan River system and the major aquifers of the region cross international boundaries.

Albert worked for the Israeli Water Authority for three years.

“In addition to making water allocation decisions within Israel, the Commission (now known as the Water Authority) is responsible for implementing the water-related provisions of Israel’s treaties with Jordan and the Palestinian Authority (Oslo II),” said Albert in an email interview from Africa with the Jewish Review.

Albert, whose mother is Israeli, lived in Israel while serving on the water commission from 1998-2001. In 2005 Albert co-founded the Aquaya Institute, which brings safe water innovations to those in need in low-income countries. That same year, Albert received the Environmental Protection Agency’s Medal for his work on drinking water in response to the Indian Ocean tsunami.

Well acquainted with the stresses caused by water shortages, Albert still remains optimistic that solutions are possible and economically feasible if countries are willing to collaborate.

“A Harvard/MIT study conducted in the late 1990s estimated that the economic value of all the water under dispute by Israel, Palestine and Jordan is roughly analogous to the price of a small number of fighter jets,” said Albert. “This is to say that the problem of water sharing is far more manageable than the parties make it out to be, so long as there is political will to go down the road of collaborative action.”

Albert said he sees many potential solutions to the water crisis in the region: “Increases in water use efficiency, reclaiming wastewater for agriculture and other purposes and expanding seawater desalination. All such measures are currently being pursued by the Israeli government; what is lacking is a regional approach. ... When a basinwide approach is pursued all kinds of collective gains can be achieved—and the solutions actually require very little sacrifice of sovereign rights.”

This program is made possible by the Marc Zwerling Fund for Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, Portland Chapter. For information, contact Sandy Polishuk, 503-249-2957, portland@btvshalom.org.

 

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