Water as Conflict Mediator: A Toolkit for a Decentralised System in Jordan River Basin
Analysis and Planning
The Jordan River Basin-Israel, Jordan and Palestine
Natalie Wai Yan Law, Student ASLA
Faculty Advisor: Maxime Decaudin
The University of Hong Kong
"This ambitious, well-communicated research project examines the politics of water in the Jordan River Basin, one of the world’s most politically unstable regions. Based on the premise that political stability and water security are interrelated, the proposal offers a strategic toolkit that envisions a bottom-up, decentralized approach to water access that recognizes the distinctive landscape features affecting water distribution across this arid region. With the life-or-death issue of access to water resources becoming more urgent around the globe, this project offers both a model of community-based interventions and a path toward widespread conflict resolution."
- 2019 Awards Jury
- Maxime Decaudin,The University of Hong Kong
- Matthew Pryor, The University of Hong Kong
- Xiaoxuan Lu, The University of Hong Kong
- Mandy Mui, The University of Hong Kong
- Xiaoyu Li, The University of Hong Kong
- Eshak Al-Guza’a, EcoPeace Middle East
- Shira Kronich, The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies
- Maoz Koresh, Katzin, Golan Height
- Asher Yermiyahu, Tel-aviv
The project examines the impact of transboundary water politics on water supply and the access rights in the Jordan River Basin. It proposes a new design framework that enables an inclusive and participatory new strategic plan for a decentralized system to achieve water security at the community level and to resolve conflicts at the regional level. It offers a viable alternative to the current centralized water management system and proposes to assert water security as a critical role in achieving political stability. Navigating between the geopolitical system and landscape features within the shared river basin, the project enables community capacity building to attain water security. It proposes a new link between water and stability, and provides a strategic toolkit that transforms water into a conflict mediator.
I. Investigation: Water Politics and Regional Instability
The project examines the relationship between water and regional stability in the Jordan River Basin. Water is a scarce resource that knows no borders. Yet, throughout history, numerous conflicts over water occurred across national boundaries. Water often falls into the hands of political disputes, and the term coined by the international community to describe this phenomenon as water politics, which denotes an availability of freshwater impacted by regional politics. In the Jordan River Basin, a politically unstable region where the borders of Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Syria and Lebanon are drawn, water is highly political: water sources and infrastructure have become a military tool and a bargaining chip resulting in controversial sharing schemes and unequal access rights between nations.
II. Diagnostic Review: A Centralized Water System that Fails Water Security
The research visualizes the entire Jordan River Basin to explore how systems of access, diversion, usage and treatment of different locations in the basin are affected by water politics - in the form of treaties and political decisions. The way in which communities utilize water for their daily lives and agricultural activities relies mainly on a centrally controlled supply.
In the six-day war of 1967, water infrastructure was a military target in the Jordan River Basin, resulting in a signing of treaties that outlined a controversial share of water through centralised water networks.To date, water access are still relying on on a centralized national network with water supply in pipes, dams and reservoirs. This over-reliance on the network is a cause of water insecurity and vulnerability for various populations since its distribution is a result of regional political decisions. Water has been abused in conflicts as weapons or targets, threatening safe access to clean water, exercerating water vulnerability in larger population. The project recognises the core issue of water insecurity in the region to be the centralised water system that is susceptible to political disputes in regional level and incapable of addressing water security on local level.
III. Proposition: Tailored Decentralised Water Systems for Community Capacity-building
To avoid water being used as a political tool, increasing communities' own capacity and independence is sought as a long-term solution. In the Jordan River Basin, fighting for water resources could become a catalyst for confrontation. This project's goal is community capacity building in order to achieve water security and maximize well-being within the limited resources and under the existing constraints. The project recognises the critical role of water security in achieving regional stability.
Allowing water management at the local level to engage with communities and offering them the opportunities to understand and build their own landscape of water accessibility, all people attain the concept of harvesting their own water and create localized models for living in water-scarce area. The system is tailored for communities more than policymakers. Nonetheless, it can also inspire changes in future water planning.
IV. Design Strateigies: Evidence-Based Model Visualisation for an Inclusive Design
This project visualises the Jordan River Basin's water availability and vulnerability with compilation of geopolitical and landscape data by using a data analysis tool - Geographic Information System (GIS). Water availability is based on a series of criteria about geographical and technical features: The criteria used to define water availability include (1) precipitation, (2) landuse and permeability of land, (3) soil type, (4) availability of relevant technologies and (5) extraction of groundwater. While water vulnerability is based on criteria sensitive to geopolitical tensions and the risk level of becoming a militarized zone: The criteria used to define water vulnerability include (1) hydrological position, (2) current political power, (3) regional treaties (and its bias) and (4) disconnection from water infrastructure. With a combination of the the 2 sets of criteria, a resultant "water security" is being measured and visualised. The modelling formula: water availability minus water vulnerability equals to water security.
The design process exemplifies an evidence-based design process that enables an inclusive and participatory actions from across societies and nations. The project developed a geospatial model to identify and quantify the potential for conserving, storing, treating, producing water and recharging aquifers strategically. This model is a visualization tool that uses a multi-criteria decision-making analysis to identify the most suitable areas for the above functions. Outputs from this analysis inform a regional water management proposal.
The model can guide efforts to capture local water in precisely identified zones by applying tailored landscape design strategies. It highlights the locations best suited for specific hydrologic functions using management practices, such as sewage evaporation pond, to treat sewage, companion planting, to reduce irrigation, and drip line irrigation to minimize water consumption.
V. Intervention: Toolkit of Bottom-Up Decentralized Interventions
The proposed interventions are based on research of historic infrastructure, climatic factors and modern technology. A design toolkit of strategies (in three languages: Arabic, Hebrew and English) is subsequently created for communities. It is a publicly accessible toolkit of water management at the local level. The design toolkits will be publicly available in the form of pamphlets. Strategies consist of regional planning with bottom-up decentralized interventions to conserve, store, treat, and produce water, and to even recharge watersheds.
Locals can locate their own communities on the map and be informed of the methods for securing water. Communities can then implement the corresponding suggested interventions to improve their self-sufficiency. They can turn the whole top-down water system into bottom-up interventions.
VI. Application: A Context-Aware Participatory Project
Take a small village in South Jordan (hyperarid inland) as an example. After obtaining the pamphlet, residents can locate the area on the map as an orange code 1625. At the bottom of the map, the code 1625 is an area with very low water availability and low water vulnerability. Hence, they can understand that the water security of their community is quite low in the Jordan River Basin. The proposed interventions include γ, θ, E, F, β, M, and G. Turning the pamphlet over, they can check out the interventions with corresponding letters. For instance, γ is a fog catcher to condense water from fog (production), E is a purification pond with wetland to perform natural phytoremediation (treatment), F is a sedimentation-trapping pond using gabion to trap sediment (treatment), M is a qanat system to store water underground to reduce evaporation (storage). All interventions combine historic techniques like the ancient qanat system, climatic mechanisms to condense fog at night and reduce high evaporation rate in desert, and current technology to treat water.
VII. Impacts & Implication: Water Security and Conflict Mediation
The project proposes a new design framework that enables a new strategic plan for a decentralized system to achieve water security at the community level and conflict resolution at the regional level. It offers a viable alternative to the current centralized water management system and proposes to assert water security as a critical role in achieving political stability. Navigating between the geopolitical system and landscape features within the shared river basin, the project enables community capacity building to attain water security.
The strategies enables the transformation of water into a tool for life, and not a tool for violence. With an informed spectrum of tools for securing water for community's usage, the project envisions a region of participatory intervention process on the matter of water security. Tackling water crisis is critical to regional stability. It prevents water from becoming a source of conflicts and turns it into a peacekeeping tool. This conflict mediation strategy around water seeks to pave the way for the long term stability in the Jordan River Basin.