First Palestinian Water Forum Invites Dutch-Palestinian Cooperation

The Birzeit University Institute of Environmental and Water Studies held on May 28, 2014 the first Palestinian Water Forum, under the title "The Water and Energy Nexus." The forum was attended by chairman of the Energy Authority Omar Kittaneh, Head of the Palestinian Mission in The Netherlands Nabil Abu-Znaid, as well as representatives of the Palestinian and Dutch water and energy sectors.

In his opening remarks, institute director Maher Abu Madi said, "The forum aims to strengthen the relationship between scientific research and decision making, with regards to the priorities and needs of the Palestinian water sector. We will also seek to explore the challenges and opportunities related to strengthening bonds between water and energy and supporting private sector participation."

Birzeit University President Khalil Hindi also spoke. "This forum is of vital importance to Middle East countries, especially Palestine, simply because the area is suffering from water scarcity in light of increasing demand, while Palestinian water sources are controlled by the occupation authorities."

Abu Znaid talked about the mission’s role in strengthening Palestinian-Dutch relations, in terms of academic agreements, exchange of experiences, and networking between universities in the two countries. "Birzeit University is not only a renowned seat of learning, but it is the real face of the Palestinian community and nationalism,” Abu Znaid explained.

Head of cooperation at the Netherlands Representative Office to the Palestinian Authority Gert Kampman reviewed Palestinian-Dutch cooperation on water, starting with Birzeit University. He said the parties are currently working on a water pipes and pumps installation project in Bethlehem. Kampman added that the forum intends to identify the challenges facing the water field and to work out creative and workable solutions, calling on Palestinian concerned parties to apply for a Dutch grant for sustainable water projects.

Director General for Technical Affairs at the Palestinian Water Authority Engineer Hazem Kittaneh overviewed the critical problems facing the water sector in Palestine, most importantly Israeli control over the water resources and the blocking of the entry of equipment needed for water treatment, in addition to the problems related to sanitation. Kittaneh said he hoped that the forum would contribute to the development of a national scientifically-based agenda for solving some of these water issues.

Director of Global Partnership for Water Education and Research (PoWER), UNESCO-IHE) Mr. Wim Douven emphasized his organization’s close partnership with the IEWS, underscoring joint ventures between Palestinian universities and their counterparts in the Netherlands and elsewhere.

Manager of the Palestinian-Dutch Academic Consortium on Water Maastricht School of Management Irna van der Molen introduced the program and reviewed its components in terms of research, joint projects, grants, exchange opportunities, and close work with the private sector.

The opening session was concluded by Omar Kittaneh, who announced that Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah announced that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has ratified the General Water Law.

Kittaneh spoke about the positive competition between water and energy sectors, calling for the use of renewable energy, particularly solar energy, which is beyond the reach of Israeli occupation forces. Kittaneh said that the electricity shortage in the Gaza Strip led to a serious negative impact on water, resulting in increased contamination, according to international organizations’ reports.

"The success of the forum is structured around the discussion of three axes: the first is how to come up with solutions to the issue of water in Palestine, and second how we define the role of the private sector in that respect, and finally, what is the role of universities and scientific research institutions in supplying the Palestinian government with the needs of the water sector?” he said. Kittaneh called upon donors "to assist us in preventing the occupation from exploiting our natural resources."

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