June 8, 2003

Chairman of the Palestinian Water Authority Nabil El-Sharif speaks at a panel discussion at the Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.Chairman of the Palestinian Water Authority Nabil El-Sharif and Israeli Water Commissioner Shimon Tal agree that Israelis and Palestinians working together on water usage and development of new water resources is the only path to economic stability and long-term growth in the region.

The two officials appeared on a panel discussion on ‘New Strategies of Water in the Middle East’ appeared together last week at the Institute for Water Sciences and Technologies, part of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, as part of the University’s 33rd annual Board of Governor’s meeting.

“Cooperation on water is the only path to a better quality of life for Israelis and for Palestinians,” said El-Sharif. He expressed hope for progress in the political arena since “only peace will allow such cooperation to happen.”

He called on both Palestinians and Israelis to “sacrifice and cooperate” when it came to matters of water.

Thus far, a special memorandum of understanding signed by the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government has left intact the cooperation on basic water supply issues created as part of the Oslo agreement, despite the increase in violence in the area since that time.

Tal noted that while competing for existing water resources is a source of conflict, developing new resources – such as desalinization and development of agricultural techniques that demand less water can be a means to cooperation. “All of us – Jordanians, Palestinians, and Israelis recognize that we will not be able to depend only on the existing resources. The water problem is a regional problem and must have a regional solution,” he said.

Both of them pointed to desalinization as the hope for the future for increasing the supply of usable water. El-Sharif said that the Palestinian Water Authority he heads, established in 1996, “acknowledges” the contribution of the research conducted in Israeli academic centers like the Institute. “It is thanks to the research that the price of desalinization has dropped,” he said.

It was noted during the discussion that none of the major water sources in the area are within the domain of a single national entity – making it vital for Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, and Egyptians to work together to make the most of the water that exists.

Appearing at the forum, Avishay Braverman, president of BGU said that he hoped that in coming years, a joint water institute could be set up with the participation of all of the countries in the area.

“What we want is a major movement to change the conversation on water in the Middle East,” Braverman said.

Another speaker at the event, Jean-Louis Sarbib, Vice-President, Middle East and North Africa Region, World Bank Group. Sarbib, pointed out that while the Middle East holds 5 percent of the world’s population, it possesses only 1 percent of the world’s water supply. At least eleven Middle Eastern countries, he says, have “hit a wall in which a lack of water prevents economic growth, and when there is no growth, there is no hope.”

He said that “once you break through that wall, you can allow an economy to grow enough to fund ways of increasing the supply of water,” he said.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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