by Kendra Kintzi
In a world filled with mounting concerns about the effects of our human actions on the environment, many of our most precious resources have taken on new dimensions of social and ecological significance. As a critical resource essential to the continuation of all forms of life, water holds a uniquely pivotal place in the spectrum of these debates over natural resources. Access to adequate, safe water is one of the most fundamental human rights necessary for the realization of basic human dignity. Yet for many Palestinians, the struggles of water shortage and daily water insecurity are an all too pressing reality.
The primary water source located under the West Bank, the Western (Mountain) Aquifer, is at risk of overuse and contamination as the construction of military barriers and water-intensive, environmentally-damaging Israeli settlements continues, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs. Individuals and communities who are dependent on agrarian or ruminant lifestyles are particularly vulnerable to this infringement on natural water sources, as their entire social and economic livelihood is jeopardized. Given the strictures imposed by Israeli control over regional water sources, conservation education is the only tool by which Palestinians can take action and maintain access to this crucial resource and human right.
Within this context, the Environmental Education Center has worked hard over the past months to bolster and expand its water conservation programs through educational outreach in public schools. In an effort to reach out to more remote communities beyond the Bethlehem vicinity, the EEC started up a new educational program in November and December with students from government schools in the villages of Janata and Rashaida. Within these rural villages, most families earn a significant part (if not all) of their income either from herding sheep or goats, or cultivating local crops.
Staff members visited these schools with interactive presentations to introduce concepts of responsible water management and sustainable water use, involving the students in hands-on activities to further explore the meaning and significance of this important resource in their lives. After these presentations, the students were taken on field trips to the EEC campus in Beit Jala, where they toured the botanical gardens and learned more about water recycling at our waste-water renewal and natural treatment facility. The students enjoyed a picnic amongst the native trees surrounding the outdoor classroom, and learned more about the importance of water for local bird biodiversity with demonstrations from the bird ringing station.
Teachers, principals and numerous parents also participated in a seminar concerning conservation strategies and simple steps that individuals can take to improve community health and protect precious natural resources at their disposal. Although these are only small steps toward restoring equitable water distribution and sustainable resource use, these activities provided a unique opportunity for students to engage with this pressing issue and begin to formulate innovative new strategies to benefit their communities.
Kendra Kintzi is a volunteer at the EEC through the ELCA’s “Young Adults in Global Mission” program. She is a member of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Santa Maria, Calif.