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Israel Environment & Nature: The Environmental Security Initiative in the Middle East

(August 1998)

The concept of Environmental Security has a long and distinguished history in the public pronouncements of the past several administrations. The ability of the U.S. to alleviate environmental stresses, and thereby potentially prevent the outbreak of political violence motivated by environmental stress, has been identified by secretaries of both the State Department and the Defense Department. In concert with other U.S. agencies, the Department of Energy (DOE) has a key role to play in environmental security efforts. Only DOE can deliver some of the new and innovative technologies that can most successfully contribute to the environmental well-being, political stability, and economic development of these populations.

As an example of this role, DOE and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have teamed together to develop a Middle East Environmental Security Initiative. This initiative includes participants from Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority along with staff from DOE’s National Laboratories and EPA.

The objectives of this effort are to:

  • Provide a forum in which ‘sub-diplomatic’ regional technical cooperation may flourish and promote confidence-building.

  • Use U.S. DOE and EPA technologies to help the region address environmental concerns that will directly impact national and regional stability.

  • Motivate the regional participants to use this effort as the basis for sustained action on these critical environmental issues.

  • Wherever possible, encourage the growth and evolution of these projects into opportunities for local economic development

The project began roughly one year ago with an effort to define the most critical regional environmental concerns that also lent themselves to fulfilling the other objectives listed above. This early effort involved several trips and face-to-face interviews and meetings with nearly 100 individuals in the region. This effort identified two areas for focus of our efforts: the need for renewable energy sources, and a variety of strategic concerns about the quantity, quality, and reuse of water. Because of the close linkage between energy and water in the Middle East, this technical focus is consistent with DOE missions and authorities. This effort also identified the potential to develop a regionally cooperative approach, where each of the participants would work together extremely closely to develop solutions to these issues.

In July of this year, this effort culminated in a workshop held in Amman, Jordan. Attendance at the workshop was limited to 7 technical representatives from each of the participants. The objective was to collectively develop technical proposals that could be presented to sponsors for funding. In fact, the workshop produced 4 proposals. The first involves using renewable energy to power remote, portable water pumping and desalination stations for Bedouins in the desert areas. The second proposal involves treating waste water and reusing it for irrigation. The third and fourth proposals involve various aspects of hydrological modeling: one emphasizes the use of geochemical techniques to define the source of groundwater contamination and salinity: the other that emphasizes the development of new algorithms and modeling software. Each of these proposals has been developed jointly by a project team that includes members from all four of the participating entities.

Throughout this effort, the activities have been closely coordinated with a broad spectrum of U.S. agencies. This included especially the State Department, which "vetted" each of the team’s activities before they were undertaken. It also included AID, EPA, ACDA, and USGS. Ongoing communications also included some multilateral donors and other agencies, including the World Bank, USIA, and DoD.

These projects in the Middle East will provide a number of important benefits to DOE:

  1. development of new applications for technical capabilities already extant in the Labs;

  2. demonstration of a new DOE role using "scientist-to-scientist" technical cooperation as a key confidence-building measure that will

    1. contribute to U.S. foreign policy,

    2. spur local and regional economic development through technology transfer, and

    3. promote regional stability in areas of strategic importance to the United States;

  1. increased interagency cooperation between DOE with the other agencies involved in Foreign Affairs;

  2. furtherance of DOE’s missions and objectives in technology transfer, technical education, and training.

In summary, these projects are carefully-considered, have substantial support from the regional participants, and clearly meet the criteria laid out by DOE for involvement in ESI activities. Finally, these projects offer both DOE and EPA a significant opportunity to launch their ESI efforts with a successful beginning in a part of the world that has substantial strategic importance to the U.S.

Sources: U.S. Department of Energy