Kees@Amsterdam#1 The Right to Water
Kees van der Lugt is Regional Manager for the Middle East and Northern Africa. In this blog, he explains about the challenges of running a Water Operators' Partnership in the Palestinian Territories in times of war.
What to do if war breaks out in the area where you work? From the moment the conflict between Hamas and Israel started, I held my breath: what does this mean for our partners, their families and our cooperation in the West Bank? How are our partners and local team members doing? Can we still go there? What else can we do? What are the consequences for water supply?
As World Waternet, we work in a Water Operators’ Partnership (WOP) together with the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) in Salfit and North Hebron. We work on improving the drinking water supply, wastewater treatment and reuse of rainwater and treated wastewater. We do this from a water cycle approach within the Blue Deal program of the Dutch water authorities and the WaterWorX program of the Dutch drinking water companies. The developments have followed each other quickly and continue to go fast. The conflict is in the international spotlight. Everyone has an opinion about it or does their utmost to get a balanced opinion. What does it mean for our WOP?
From discussions with the embassy and our local team, it was quickly decided to put the planned missions on hold. Not long after, the West Bank received the code red as travel advice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, meaning we were not allowed to travel there anymore. The contact with our local team members intensified during this period of turmoil. It is heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. We are aware of and accustomed to the growing tensions over the last years. The roadblocks and gates that we have to pass to visit our partners and local team members and vice versa. Now the tensions are higher than we have seen before. Our team members and their families can hardly leave their homes for their safety and they all have family or friends who have died in recent weeks due to the conflict. Work serves now merely as a distraction from all the distress.
I follow the news about the conflict with different eyes because of our WOP. It's closer, it touches me more directly than all the other intense news stories that also flash by daily. For example, I was deeply moved by Ramsey Nasr's recording "Do we know the names of every Palestinian victim?" because it puts this conflict in context from a very personal perspective. And it makes clear the need for a structural solution. It was also special that I received the recording from our partner with an Arabic translation where the recording also appeared to be quickly distributed. Ramsey Nasr turned out to belong to the family of one of our team members. It's a small world.
We have, among other things, reduced leakages of drinking water pipes with a smart 'Non Revenue Water' approach, with the same approach ensured that storage tanks for drinking water can be operated remotely (safely from home). We have installed easy-to-operate decentralized water treatment plants (BluElephant), that can also be moved quickly. This way, wastewater does not end up untreated in the groundwater and the purified water can be reused for agriculture or other goals. 'We' refers to our partners, a Palestinian start-up and our own expert team. And we're far from done. The importance of the right to water as a basic condition for living is currently being underlined in Gaza. I hope we are able to stay in contact with our partners and they (and their families) will stay safe. We will do what we can remotely and hopefully we are able to meet each other live in the West Bank again soon. Insjallah.