The Kidron Valley—Wadi El Nar. Master Plan and Action Plan

Wadi El Nar - Israel

2011-2015

The Kidron Valley/Wadi Nar begins in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Meah Shaarim and Talbieh, skirts the ridges of Mount Scopus and the Mount of Olives, passes through Silwan and continues through the Judean Desert to the Dead Sea. Some of the Middle East's most famous cultural, religious and historic sites dwell in harmony in the valley, along with underground watercourses, monasteries and breathtaking desert landscapes.

Unchecked development and neglect, however, together with an increase in population, has had major health, environmental, and economic consequences. Today one of the great centers of civilization serves as a conduit for raw sewage and a depositary of solid waste. The amount of raw sewage from Jerusalem and the riparian towns in the Palestinian Authority exceeds 15 million cubic meters a year. This unacceptable situation requires immediate action, ignoring borders and political differences. It also requires political decisions without regard to the final agreement between Israel and the P.A.

In 2009 the Dead Sea Drainage and River Authority decided to meet the challenge, and with the City of Jerusalem, set up a steering committee including representatives from the Ministry of Environment, the Peres Center for Peace, the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies and the Milken Institute to oversee the development of a Kidron Valley Master Plan. The steering committee is chaired by Professor Richard Laster.

The Master Plan, headed by Arie Rahamimoff and Liora Meron, and composed of a multi-disciplinary team of experts, was completed in January 2012. It identifies the issues, concerns and problems of the Kidron Valley/Wadi Nar and recommends solutions. A master plan, based on ecological, historical, physical, economic and geographical terms agreed upon by both sides will serve the best interests of the Valley, regardless of present or future political sovereignty issues. There is no alternative to collective action when managing a shared international basin. Nature, ecosystems and the intricate interaction between water, climate, soil, flora, fauna and people can only be protected by collective action.

During the Master Plan process, contacts were made in East Jerusalem and beyond the Green Line to improve communication in the Valley. The active involvement of Suleiman Al Assa, the Mayor of Ubadia, a small town of ten thousand residents, changed the debate over the treatment of sewage from a political issue to a health imperative. Suleiman also engaged the mayors of the adjoining towns to create an association of towns for environmental protection, to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to resolve the sewage issue. His efforts have borne fruit and the P.A. sees the benefits of a joint treatment plant for all the sewage in the Valley, and is willing to cooperate with Israel on this issue.

In time the steering committee has been replaced by a basin committee, composed of representatives of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The basin committee works through smaller committees, each working on an environmental initiative in the basin. At present there are some 15 initiatives working parallel in the field of water pollution, irrigation, solid waste, recycling, rain water harvesting, environmental education, bio gas and joint scientific initiatives.Improving the quality of the discussion, we have joined forces with numerous experts from all over the world, as well as institutions who support our efforts, such as the Portland Trust, scholars from European institutions and Rotary International. One of the most active supporters of the master plan process is an NGO known as Engineers Without Borders. EWB has members in Israel and the Palestinian Authority and they have worked untiringly to improve the quality of the environment in the basin. Due to their efforts, the basin committee has adopted a slogan for our work: “To bring environmental dignity to the people and the environment in the Basin”.The major beneficiaries of the Master Plan are the Valley residents themselves, both the citizens of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ubadiya and the other towns in the region, as well as the region's Bedouin and monks. Improved planning, land usage and infrastructure will convert the Kidron Valley/Wadi Nar from the back door of history to its rightful place as a showcase for residents and visitors alike. It is now clear to everyone involved that the basin approach reduces impassable problems to manageable levels. Just by changing one's viewpoint, ignoring borders and concentrating on improving the quality of the environment gives everyone a chance to improve their own livelihood, without compromising their political position.