Conserving Water - A Way to Peace?
By theParklander / June & July 2012
Is there an answer to the continuing enmity, violence and hatred in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians? The Rotary Club of Coral Springs-Parkland and Rotary District 6990 in southeastern Florida believe there is. The key is the most precious commodity in the Middle East - "Water" - or more accurately, working together for its conservation and efficient use.
One of its chief proponents is a slim unassuming Israeli named Amir Yechieli. His dedicated work over the past decade has concentrated on working with school children in productive ways. His aim? To have children learn about protecting the environment and conserving water even though they come from different ethnic and religious backgrounds through school projects. The means? Have the children be involved in the planning and management of the water system and become interested in how it works and affects the environment.
The European Union, the Jewish National Fund, the U.S. State Department, WRAPP, and the Jerusalem Fund have all supported his work in the past. The latest to see the importance of his work is the Coral Springs-Parkland Rotary Club in south Florida. In January 2012 Dr. Gerald Sussman, President of the club, brought Mr. Yechieli to Coral Springs to tell his story.
As he noted, it began somewhat by accident. While working in the schools, he noticed during the rainy season that thousands of cubic meters of water were running off from the rooftops and being lost. Extrapolating from this observation, he calculated that some two billion cubic meters of water were being lost annually to runoff in Israel. He thought to himself, "If we could capture the rainwater from the roof of the school, we can use it to meet the school's greatest water need namely water to flush our toilets, to clean, and to irrigate our gardens." With this thought in mind, he began a program in 2000 called the Rainwater Harvest School Project. It did so well that soon he was doing the same in other schools. The technology was low level, the cost of materials to build the rainwater system modest, and the savings substantial. Its need has grown as Israel and the Middle East have experienced seven years of drought conditions pushing the need to conserve water to heightened levels.
Not only were the Jewish schools in Israel interested in the project, but so were the Arab schools and schools on the West Bank. Amir showed that a system of gutters and holding barrels could capture the rainwater. Once stored it could then be pumped into the school lavatories or school gardens thus saving 70-90% of the school's water costs during the rainy season. Since then, more than 100 schools in Israel, East Jerusalem, Jordan and the West Bank have used the system.
There was also another important finding while doing the work. Amir decided to try out the system in schools in East Jerusalem which were entirely Arab. As he noted, "I wasn't sure that they would welcome me, an Israeli Jew, and quite frankly I was afraid." But still he did it and found some of his most receptive and appreciative users. Further, with funding from the European Council he showed that both the West Bank and Jordan would cooperate in the project.
Although encouraging, as with any program, sustaining and expanding the effort requires continuing commitment and resources. During the past year, the Rotary Club in Lod, Israel, and the Rotary District for all of Israel proposed a model project in a low economic and mixed community in Israel of Arabs, Jews, and Christians including a large segment of Ethiopian Jews. But it needed an international partner. Coral Springs-Parkland Rotary Club was interested and agreed not only to be that partner but brought together a coalition of clubs in southeast and western Florida (Plantation, Weston, Lakewood Ranch, and Palmetto Bay) along with the Newport Club in Rhode Island. The proposed project then went to both Florida Rotary District 6990 and the Israel Rotary District, which agreed to put in matching funds. The project then went to Rotary International. The idea was accepted and Rotary International awarded a matching grant fully funding the proposed project. The work will shortly begin and plans are underway to expand the project to other neighboring schools. Together, Rotary hopes to show how a program of mutual benefit -- rainwater harvesting, can bring together Arab, Jewish and Christian children to work together productively.
Those interested in learning more about the project should contact: Dr. Gerald Sussman, President, or Rabbi Bradd Boxman, of the Coral Springs-Parkland Rotary Club, 954-340-8866.
CAPTION: (l. to r.) Todd Dayton, District Governor for Rotary District 6990, Dr. Gerald Sussman, President of the Coral Springs-Parkland Rotary Club, Amir Yechieli and Dennis Terry from Rotary working on water projects for the organization.
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