By Robert Lalasz

Kyoto—Middle East water problems--chronic scarcity, high levels of salinity and organic pollution, inequitable distribution, and chronic low-level conflict among users that threatens to flare into wider violence--could serve as a bellwether for increasingly precarious global freshwater resources.

At the Third World Water Forum in Kyoto, Japan, the Environmental Change and Security Project (ECSP) hosted the premiere screening of Running Dry, a new documentary video that details both the difficulties and nascent cooperation over water in the Jordan River basin—-which is shared by Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority. A roundtable discussion chaired by ECSP Director Geoffrey D. Dabelko followed the screening.

Still Room for Optimism

Written, produced, and directed by filmmaker James Thebaut in association with former U.S. Senator Paul Simon, Running Dry tells the story of the ongoing Middle East water crisis with vivid on-the-ground footage and interviews with top water policymakers in Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority. Thebaut introduced the film at the Kyoto screening.

Despite the region's extensive shortfalls of clean water and the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict, experts in the after-screening roundtable said that there is still room for some optimism on water, both for the Middle East as well as globally.

Aaron Wolf of Oregon State University, a renowned expert on transboundary freshwater disputes, maintained that history is replete with examples of cooperation over water rather than conflict among states. Wolf said that this pattern of water cooperation has continued in the Middle East despite the current intifada.

Fida Hajeer of Friends of the Earth Middle East (Amman) followed by relating examples of grassroots collaboration among Palestinians, Jordanians, and Israelis over common water resources as well as over the waste their communities produce. Her NGO's "Good Water Makes Good Neighbors" project works with paired communities (Israeli and Palestinian or Israeli and Jordanian) to build trust, confidence, and understanding around these communities' shared water in order to improve the access to and conditions of these resources through cooperation.

Anthony Turton of the African Water Issues Research Unit at the University of Pretoria then reminded participants that conflict and violence over water usually occurs at more local levels rather than between states. Turton cited numerous examples of where water had been a tool or target during war in Southern Africa, but he stressed the comprehensive progress that is now being made in that region through the development of joint institutions such as river basin commissions.

The film premiere and roundtable were sponsored by ECSP's Navigating Peace: Forging New Water Partnerships initiative and by Jim Thebaut Productions. Navigating Peace is made possible with generous support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.