Managing water equity at two levels : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Managing water equity at two levels Ahmad Y. Majdoubeh LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — As I write this article, it is (and this is July) raining cats and dogs outside, as they say. This part of the US is blessed in many ways, one of which is abundant rainfall.

Since my arrival in this interesting, and blessed, city over a month ago, I have especially enjoyed what a lot of people here (and maybe elsewhere) take for granted: water.

For one thing, I drink a lot of water. For another, I am taking good showers. Furthermore, I wash my hands any time I feel like it. I also flush the toilet as much as I need to. More important than all, I use water without guilt or fear. Water is not an issue here, at least not in the way it is in our part of the world.

Do not jump to conclusions, though. Even though water is abundant here, I use it (unlike many in this part of the world and unlike many in our part of the world) responsibly. I still believe it is a valuable commodity that has to be dealt with and used wisely by all people, anytime, anywhere. After all, water is a global concern. What Benjamin Franklin says about money applies to water as well: waste not, want not. In other words, just because something is abundant, do not abuse and waste it.

But as I am writing this article and looking at the rain outside, I think anxiously (and sadly) about the water situation in Jordan and the whole Middle Eastern region. News and reports in the press and media about the continuing water shortage in Jordan, especially, and the region (some are calling it a “drought”) are truly worrying.

Before I arrived in Louisville over a month ago, I had, of course, experienced water shortage first hand.

Shortage? I should say, no water at all — at least not from my water tank. For two months, from late April until I left in late June, the water tank on top of my apartment had not received one single drop of water. Why? Because the place where I live is “high”, because (being a tenant) I have no well from which to pump water whenever I need it, because many of my neighbours (except the poor tenants like myself) have wells and extra tanks, because summer started early this year, and because of water shortage in the country and the region — even the globe, we are told.

For two months (especially, that is), I had a water complex, as it were. I desired it so much, but exercised so much suppression of such desire. I feared washing my hands and going to the toilet. The natural became so unnatural. I showered once a week — correction, I did not shower, I put in a plastic bucket an amount of water equivalent to that which you put in a tea pot, and poured small portions of it on my body. What else would you do? Do you marvel then that the joy I derive from my relation to water in Louisville is equal to — if not more than — the joy I am deriving from the books I am reading and the sights I am seeing? More seriously, though, one point I wish to stress here, so that my discourse will go beyond self-pity or self-indulgence: mismanagement of water distribution.

Until the time comes (if it ever comes) when we Jordanians and Middle Easterners enjoy a less uncomfortable relation with water, we need to do something, and more wisely than we have been doing, about water distribution, i.e., think of more equitable ways of distribution.

There are two levels of injustice with respect to water distribution (two levels of “waste”, that is), one local (i.e., Jordanian) and one regional (i.e., Middle Eastern).

Locally, I have already illustrated the problem, the discrepancy between the haves and the have-nots. Most of those who are landlords or have wells, extra tanks or (worse) luxury farms do not know what water shortage (“crisis”, “draught”, call it what you wish) means. They drink a lot, shower a lot, flush the toilet a lot, wash their cars with hoses a lot, water their plants and lawns a lot. They have not only no anxiety or fear, but they have no feeling of concern or guilt either — aside from the tiny few, of course, who apply the golden Franklinian motto cited above.

Who is suffering? Tenants like myself who have access to no wells or extra tanks.

Is this fair? Is not water supposed to be enjoyed equally by all? In this particular respect, water is not like wealth, distributed in society unequally. Rather, it is like the air we breathe and the sun which shines upon all. But this injustice is reflected at the level of the region as a whole. Is it fair that Jordan suffer and our neighbours to the west — the Israelis — indulge themselves without any concern, guilt or fear in alarming amounts of water?

There are at least two problems at this particular level. The first has to do with the fact that much of the water that Israel is using is not Israeli water. Since its creation, Israel made it a point to help itself — by force and occupation, of course — to the water of others. It has for many years, and it continues to do so until now, helped itself to (lavished on itself, I should say) water that belongs to Jordanians, Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians and (before that) Egyptians. As important as the matter of land (the land which Israel occupied through force and war) is, perhaps even more important and urgent is the matter of water. If Jordan, Palestine, Syria or any other country in the region is suffering from severe water shortages, it is because Israel is using more water (much more) than its share.

Just as my “lucky” neighbours with wells and extra tanks are washing their cars and watering their lawns with water that, in great part, belongs to me (water does not reach my tank, remember), Israel is consuming Jordanian, Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese water. Where is justice here?

The second dimension of the problem has to do both with Israel's mythical agricultural policies and its mythical (also racist) overall ideology. Since its creation, Israel has prided itself on its ability to turn the desert into Eden, and on the discovery of this very idea. And it has succeeded in marketing this notion to the Western world, through its mighty media machines and arms. (It is interesting that our bus driver/guide in the San Francisco tour we completed a couple of days ago — who is otherwise a man of incredible knowledge — did not fail to compare what San Franciscans have done to their land to what the Israelis have done to Palestine). The idea is that Israeli “genius”, Israeli “ingenuity” alone, is capable of discovering the secret that turns the Middle East desert into paradise (i.e., water), as if nations and generations of nations, since God's creation of Adam and Eve, have been unable to think of, discover and implement what the Israelis alone have thought of, discovered and implemented.

In reality, the current water problem comes as a reminder of the truth and ingenuity of the opposite of what Israel has been promoting. The most simple-minded farmer will know that if you pour enough water on the driest piece of land, flowers will blossom, crops will grow and trees will yield fruit. But the most simple-minded farmer will also tell you that no one can afford to do this in the Middle East. Water cannot be dealt with irresponsibly in this way.

History has in fact shown that our parents, grandparents and their parents and grandparents before them, all the way to Adam, have dealt with the land and with water more wisely than the Israelis have. Their agricultural philosophies and practices reflect the farsightedness which the Israelis have been incapable of recognising. They have appreciated water, and have not abused it. Middle Easterners today, as individuals and as nations, are thirsty largely because of Israel's sinister, evil “ingenuity.” The whole myth of turning the desert into paradise is — aside from being false in the first place (our parents and grandparents have long ago turned what ought to be turned of the land of the region into green orchards and fields) — a selfish, foolish and destructive one indeed. The Israelis are no wiser than my foolish neighbours who wash their cars with hoses in full capacity when I (their fellow human being) cannot find a drop to drink.

Need I say more?

Let's, as individual countries and as Middle Eastern nations, think of effective ways of water conservation and of new water sources. But let's also, more urgently, think of more equitable water distribution policies. Stark injustices and inequities exist, within individual countries and within the region as a whole.

-- Martin Thompson (, July 29, 2001

Moderation questions? read the FAQ