Event Reports

Sustainable Development: A Challenge for Cross-Border-Cooperation

by Hildegard Mohr, Annika Khano

Regional Follow-Up Workshop

In cooperation with the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue at the Netanya Academic College and the Amman Center for Peace and Development (ACPD), the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung organized and supported a follow-up workshop on one of the most crucial topics relevant for the Middle East area – cross-border-cooperation in finding solutions in the fields of gas pipelines and electricity grids, nuclear and renewable energy and the regional water shortage.

The global situation presents a worrisome picture owing to climate changes. No longer is it a question of whether there will be changes but what their potency and impact will be. The meeting was dedicated to solution finding of problems arising from that crucial fact.

The ACPD focuses on strengthening civil society capacity within the Jordanian nation and overcoming regional divides to seek collaborative solutions to common problems in the Middle East Region. Just as its partner ACPD, the Abraham Center of Netanyah College became pivotal in the establishment of suggestions for conflict resolution in the region and beyond.

The workshop in Jordan conduced both partners to continue working of the topics of utmost importance for their countries and the neighbors in the region. Dr. Lars Hänsel, director of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Jerusalem and his colleague, Dr. Martin Beck, director of the Stiftung in Amman opened the workshop with background information about the Stiftung’s work and mandate in the region, high lightening also the efforts to strengthen regional dialogue based on common challenges and common interests.

Gen. (ret.) Mansour Abu Rasid, chairman of the ACPD, emphasized in his opening remarks the importance of the NGOs and their ability of bringing people and organizations together despite of existing problems with the governments. Often, only the NGOs succeed in providing a common platform to enable open encounters and discussions.

Dr. Ephraim Sneh, chairman of the S. Daniel Abraham Center, regretfully accentuated the fact of many missed chances especially regarding the relationship Jordan-Israel. Both countries naturally determined to be allies prove a different reality. The desire of a triangle alliance of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority should be in the fore to create an economic block.

With regard to the forum meeting at the current workshop he emphasized the importance to discuss practical ideas for the private sector and the governments and less seeing it as a political meeting.

An Israeli expert on energy introduced the Israeli gas projects. Natural gas was found in Israel for the first time in 2004 kilometers offshore Israel close to Gaza. In 2009 the “Tamar”-field 200 km offshore Israel was discovered and will be able to answer Israel’s needs for the next 20-25 years. At other gas fields e.g. the “Leviathan”-field research is connected to oil exploration which – until now – is less sufficient. Israel will be able to export gas to Europe an Asia and is most willing to build a pipeline to Jordan. Jordan until now relies on Egypt gas supply. Israel easily could fit in where Egypt has problems in the gas supply caused first of all by lack of developments. The partnership with Israel could fill that gap and in about two years building time without difficult technical effort, Israel could provide gas supply via pipeline through the Dead Sea area until Amman. The project will be a political challenge because both, the market and the gas is there to help Jordan develop electricity production the moment the open political questions can be answered.

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A Jordanian member of a big electricity company reported about many ongoing activities in the region without Israel. About 60% natural gas can be found in the Middle East, Arab peninsula and Gulf States. Since water is used for electricity production, the impact on the environment is immensely high. Desalination and e.g. the Red-Dead-project could supply both countries Jordan and Israel with as well water and electricity. Since political instability makes it difficult to find investors in the Middle East it is highly recommended to strive after independence in the area. On the other hand cooperation could avoid conflicts and help strengthen the building of a functioning infrastructure meeting future demands. An Israeli owner of a gas company, gave an overview of the Israeli natural gas resources and the situation of the increasing energy demands due to growing population and economy changes. Only the energy demand in the Palestinian Authority will double itself in the next years and for all three countries (Israel, Jordan, PA) the following example might show reality: 2010 – the demand of 14,300.00 MegaWatt and by 2025 the demand will reach 24,000.00 MegaWatt. Regional cooperation has to be the high priority issue and includes development of gas-supply, renewable energies and solar power. Politics has to provide security; international governmental support is of importance, main areas for cooperation should be natural gas exploration and preparing a market for renewable energies such as solar, wind, biomass, and domestic waste. A Jordanian engineer underlined the growing demand of energy in Jordan and its dependency on imported energy. He introduced the TRIDE project, co-sponsored by the US that promotes the production of Diesel, fuels and thermal electricity by recycling of biological waste. E.g. 1kg biomass could provide 500ml Diesel. A first pilot project should be installed in the Jordan valley between Jordan and Israel.

In his keynote speech, concluding the first conference day, the keynote speaker, a former Jordanian Minister and high ranking official invited the participants of the workshop to search for practical solutions also as aim for the workshop. After a difficult time with many ups and downs, where the ups where undoubtedly outnumbered, and Jordan seeing itself in the worst economic situation since the peace agreement with Israel in 1994, a solution has to be find to fill the lack of trust between the two countries. A decision made on the peace process will have a high impact on Jordan and its stability. Both countries have to concentrate their efforts in finding common ground to create and restore good relationships and the status quo cannot be accepted any more.

The second day of the workshop was dedicated to the two important issues of nuclear and renewable energy solutions and the regional water shortage and solutions for it. A botanist gave an overview on possibilities to produce energy given by nature e.g. oil seeds.

An Israeli expert on nuclear energy gave information on nuclear energy and its chemical background, international organizations, nuclear fission and energy generating systems. According to him Jordan is interested in nuclear energy and with the examples of the Israeli experience he explained the pros and cons of this energy in addition to gas and solar energy. Opponents of the nuclear energy bring forward the argument that an unstable political situation and a potential proliferation of terror in the Middle East would increase vulnerability of the region and nuclear energy could be used to the disfavor of region. The Israeli idea introduced by the speaker is a joint Israeli-Jordanian cluster of power plants near Akaba. A similar project with Egypt couldn’t be realized for political reasons. A successful cooperation with Jordan would be a promise for the region. He highly recommends both countries to stay informed on a bilateral basis and to urge parallel developments.

Another Israeli expert, specialized in renewable energies, supported the theory of the other speaker that renewable and nuclear energy is a must for the region to gain energy independence from imported energy of countries such as Iran. The deserts in the Jordan and Israeli area are a perfect condition and a big advantage. He explained the idea of solar thermal water heating, Israel deals with since the 1950th. Israel developed unique technologies such as not grid-connected electricity supply to Bedouin camps as well as hot water supplies. One of the most important advantages of solar energy is – besides the creation of new jobs – that this kind of energy does not contribute to the global warming. He nevertheless pointed out that a funding of those project developments by the World Bank is indispensible.

A Jordanian engineer gave an overview on the chances and possibilities of bio-fuel as a renewable energy resource for the production of energy in Jordan: Today, bio-fuel can be produced either from the fermentation of agricultural crops, such as sugar can, algae and other by producing ethanol or methanol which can then be used as bio-fuel in power plants especially designed for this purpose. Or it can be produced by biogas, resulting from the anaerobic digestion of organic waste found in municipal sewage and the waste of cattle or poultry farms. This technology is mainly used in developing countries all over the worlds, as it also provides a solution to the waste problem, including flies emerging from organic waste at farms etc. The third possibility of producing bio-fuel is by producing biodiesel, manufactured from vegetable oils, animal fats or recycled restaurant oils. The advantages of bio-fuel are that it is renewable, safe and bio degradable. In addition it is safer in transport than regular diesel as it ignites only at around 140C, in comparison of 52C for regular diesel. First pilot projects in Jordan who are producing bio-fuel in research stations in Aqaba, Ghor Safi, Al-Karama and Dair-Alla have been promising, but must continue especially with regards of the needs for water, fertilizer and land. The speaker concluded that even though more research has to be done in the field, the use of bio-fuel as a source of energy can be very useful for the region.

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The regional water shortage and its solutions was the topic of the last session. Reuven Pedatzur, Academic Director of the Netanyah College emphasized the fact the region currently faces the driest November in more than 60 years and an emergency solutions have to be find by the neighboring countries not to let water problems cause severe conflicts.

An Israeli Professor and expert on Geo-Strategy presented a worrisome picture and forecast for the region due to climate changes. The rise in the standard of living, the lack of awareness by the people of the region of the water crisis and therefore there continued wasting of water (also because of traditional irrigation methods and water-wasting crops) and the severe lack of cooperation among the neighboring states in the region are the main reasons for the more than problematic situation. Descriptions of the situation in the Nile basin, the Euphrates basin the Jordan-Yarmouk basin, which affects the entire Israel-Palestine-Jordan district expressly underlined the seemingly hopelessness. As solutions two alternatives where presented: the first alternative – in case of “business as usual”, Israel will overcome the crisis with a series of desalination plants on the Mediterranean cost. The Palestinians would benefit from those Israeli waterworks. Jordan however will find itself in trapped situation with still a water shortage and the need to get more water (which could be a desalination plant in Aqaba or a unilaterally construction of a Red-Dead-Sea conduit) to ensure not only water but also electricity supply. The second alternative would be regional endeavors. Especially for Jordan some possibilities would be given to ensure water supply such as a pipe-canal from the Nile to Gaza, Israel, the PA and Jordan – Egypt wouldn’t agree, would cause water shortage to Egypt and big environmental damage. A nuclear reactor in the Gaza- Strip for water desalination could supply the PA and Jordan. A canal from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea which could lead from the Haifa area desalination plants to the Dead Sea would due to its drop of about 400 meters also support electricity creation. Transfer from Euphrates water to save Damascus, Syria and Jordan is possible but would create political problems in Syria and Iraq. Transfer from water directly from Iraq to Amman is reasonable from a technical point of view but Iraq would need the water for itself and therefore hardly agree. A nuclear reactor in Aqaba for desalination water for Jordan and perhaps Israel and Egypt (Sinai) would be very efficient, relatively inexpensive and could be undertaken immediately. The Red Sea – Dead Sea canal would be an alternative for both Israel and Jordan and would be jointly run and welcomed by Israel. The third partner would be the Palestinians who have rights in northern Dead Sea area. This alternative would cause serious environmental damage, expensive construction costs but would beside the water and power supply for both countries bring a reasonable solution to the diminution of the Dead Sea. The condition – so the sum – is regional cooperation to achieve solutions. The speaker concluded his remarks by saying:”Water is not a reason for war or confrontation – it is only an excuse for confrontations.”

An Israeli professor for business administration gave an overview on sustainable water management of the Jordan River Basin Area based on Cross Border Cooperation: She started with explaining that Jordan and Israel belong to the countries with the highest water scarcity in the world while 87% of water resources are being consumed by agriculture. Since the 1940s, the water flow of the lower Jordan River who is a major water resource for both Jordan and Israel has decreased from 45 billion cubic feet per year to 3.5 billion cubic feet per year and is still decreasing. In addition to the decrease of the water flow, the salinity level has constantly increased over the years due to the extensive water use of both Jordan and Israel. Additionally the Mountain Aquifer has been overdrawn over the years and has suffered from more and more pollution. Thus, the man-made problems mentioned above are only adding to the increasing water scarcity of the Middle East as a result of climate change. Therefore only cooperation in the field of water management can ensure a durable solution to the water shortage in the Middle East. The need of cooperation is especially high as water has been already the source for many conflicts and the increasing water shortage could lead to more and severe conflicts in the region if not taken care of. Water should serve as a catalyst for regional cooperation thus creating a "win-win situation" instead of being a source for competition. Solving the water problems in the Middle East could create overall socio-economic prosperity and growth and could be the basis for regional cooperation, bringing in additional financial funds from the international community. In combination with better water management, the speaker suggested the treatment of wastewater both for restricted and unrestricted use and the desalination of sea and marginal water sources as new sources for water. Both methods will increase energy needs why water, energy and the environment cannot be treated separately. And while producing and treating water needs a high amount of energy, many methods of producing renewable energy require a high amount of water. Taking into account all considerations, a sustainable water management depends on successful cross-border cooperation.

Each session was followed by open discussion rounds. All discussions were characterized by the question, whether a political solution of the Middle East Conflict should come before starting concrete joint projects or whether regional cooperation could re-encourage the peace process. Ephraim Sneh emphasized that Israel would need a strong and stabile Jordan for own security and economic reasons and called it a “golden opportunity” to start now. The call for political stability first and solving of the Israeli-Arab problems was by comment consent contradicted by those voices that do see a big chance in supporting the peace process by regional cooperation.

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The conclusion of the workshop was that while big, regional projects demand political stability and a sustainable peace in the region, projects on a lower scale could be implemented already today and could even support the political leaders of the neighboring countries. Herein the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung feels vindicated in its approach to support common interests as main key to develop a strong and reliable cooperation.

(Due to the sensitivity of the subject and in respect for the participants, the authors of this article apologize for not mentioning all names.)