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Inspiring stories from the Mena region: Women & Water Integrity

  Mey Alsayegh Senior Correspondent and International news editor June 21 2016 Morocco Avoid paying water bills, pushed the chairman of the Jordanian Women's Union in Irbid province Fardous Al Shabbar to resort to small techniques that would reduce the value of the bill ,paid by the Jordanians in this province, to encourage them to pay their water bills on time. The story started after a workshop held at Science and Technology university in Jordan to raise awareness. At the first six months, Al Shabbar noticed a decrease that ranged between 10 to 20 % in water consumption. Alchaabar said during her participation in “ Women Alumni Regional workshop” organized by Stockholm International Water Institute in collaboration with Al Akhawayn University in Morocco on Women and Integrity in the water sector between 23 and 26 May  :”I asked a religious figure to help me to convince women that wasting and overspending in general is not accepted, in The Quran”. Alchaabar added that the Jordanian ladies believed that there was manipulation and fraud in the water meter readings, that led  their husbands to review and sometimes fight with the staff of water authorities. Women have been trained to read the water meter, so that they will recognize what they have consumed and reduce the amount of water to pay bills at a lower cost. Reducing water consumption included installing certain pieces in tabs and showers, closing the meter so air is not be stored there, and Jordanians in this case will not pay an additional cost. Alchaabar story could be considered as a evidence that women could play their role in enhancing integrity in the water sector effectively. In addition to Alchaabar, all participants from Lebanon , Morocco, jordan, and ocuupied Palestine who attended the trainings workshops, have already prepared an action plan that they proposed to implement in their institutions and organizations to promote water integrity. Siham Fatwaki from Morocco talked about her experience in the Regional Directorate for Water and Forests and confronting desertification in the National Park area of Ifrane, in raising awareness, in a campaign that included four elementary schools, where she introduced to students the concept of integrity in water sector through the distribution of leaflets and visits and lectures in these schools. In turn, Lama Nakhal a student at faculty of Public Health at University of Balamand in Lebanon presented her action plan, which included launching lectures campaign, report and opened discussions on raising awareness ,about the importance of water and its relation with poverty. Nakhal aspires to expand her awareness campaign to address other universities, while Fatwaki intends to target wider segments in elementary and secondary schools. Lebanon :Challenges hindering water Integrity Silva Kerkezian ,Project Coordinator of building integrity capacities in the water sector in Lebanon, at Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at American University in Beirut expalined how this project was launched in May 2014, and that A U B  had organized workshops to communicate with decision-makers and government institutions and civil society organizations. After these workshops AUB launched " The Way Forward to Safeguard Water in Lebanon: National Water Integrity Risk Assessment" report, in the framework of the "integrity-building capacities in water management in the Middle East and North Africa" program, which is implemented by the Stockholm International Water Institute and its partners, with financial support from the Swedish government, and the presence and support of  Lebanese Minister of Energy and Water, Arthur Nazarian. Kerkezian added: "Assessing the scope of integrity in the water sector came,  after inviting heads of departments in the ministeries and representatives of the Central Inspection and Court of Audit," pointing out that currently there are four major anti-corruption laws and regulations under review by the Lebanese Parliament, that includes Law for the establishment of an independent national anti-corruption committee, Law for the public right to to access to information, Law for the protection of whistleblowers, Reformulation of the law for illicit and illegal enrichment. 13340910_10154727223457565_198513812_o In 2000, the Lebanese government passed a new water law – Law 221/2000, which is the main regulating law of the water sector.  According to this law, the water sector in Lebanon is primarily managed by MoEW on a national level, and on a regional level through four autonomous Water Establishments (WEs) – North Lebanon, Bekaa, Beirut and Mount Lebanon and South Lebanon. The Litani River Authority (LRA) is considered similar to the regional WEs and is tasked with managing the major rivers in the country. Lebanon has already begun to integrate some principles of integrity, in its resource planning, in the national strategy for the water sector in 2010 and the Environmental Law 444/2002. What is more required after regulating the sector, implementation of decrees, and here lies the problem. Despite the fact that Lebanon has a basic rule of laws and regulations relative to the water sector, but these legislations remain incomplete along with the weakness in its implementation, as a result of overlap in the roles and responsibilities within the institutions and between. The weakness of law enforcement is due to the lack of executive decrees to current laws and the ratification process of the law, weak prosecution and lack of presence of one entity responsible for implementation and follow up on violations and the absence of accountability mechanisms, rampant corruption, as well as the political stalemate; and lack of human and financial resources in the relevant institutions related to the water sector, and lack of coordination between the ministries concerned, as stated in the " The Way Forward to Safeguard Water in Lebanon: National Water Integrity Risk Assessment" report. Moreover, the major challenges Lebanon facing are “illegal wells, we still do not use meters that may show the amount of pumping. We don’t know what we use and what is there. We do not know the water used and there is a large number of violations on meters," and public sector does not provide incentives to those working in the water sector, according to Kerkezian Kerkezian recalled that according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2014, Lebanon ranked 136 out of 174, and that is a clear warning of how bad the situation reached to. In spite of her praising to Water Strategy launched by the Ministry of Energy and Water in 2010; that included the Good Governance concept in the water sector, Kerkezian  pointed to challenges that prevent laws from being implemented. She says: "In the Environment Law 2002/444, concepts of integrity and good governance and access to information have been included .Change needs time and requires cooperation. One of the problems is a conflict between the interests of government institutions and the lack of cooperation .Cooperation is not going on an institutional level, "this is without neglecting the effects of the drought in 2013-2014, and the stress created by the Syrian refuges on water resources. Morocco & Tunisia If we make a comparison with Morocco, that witnessed in recent years, major climate changes ranged between droughts and floods in 2009-2010, we find that the concept of integrity in the field of water was enhanced more than in Lebanon. The director of the agency of Sebu River basin Samira Alhawwat said: "The agency can intervene in case of violation of the implementing laws, Water police operates within the basin authourity, and those who violate the law are subjected to lawsuits, as well as having bodies who can recive complaints and claims from people affected " Alhawwat added: "There are a pre-emptive campaigns to raise awareness and warn of bribery to help us promote integrity in the water sector." In the neighboring country, engineer Dhekra Hidri talked about a suggestion that was presented by Tunisian Union to Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries, through launching the national dialogue, and that included changing the current system that lacks compensation for disasters, accompanied by absence of justice and equal opportunities between women and men in careers in Tunisia. Parties that participated in the national dialogue, along with the Ministry of Agriculture and Tunisian Labor Union, are the political parties and civil society, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Women, Family and Children's Affairs. The dialogue, which will continue until May 2017 will focus on key issues, most notably the request to achieve equality in wages and improve the coverage of social system for women. Occupied Palestine and the role of social media in confronting corruption In occupied Palestine, activists resort to social media in promoting integrity, and how it contributed to shed light on the corruption that was practiced by The head of the Palestinian Water Authority, Dr. Shadad al-Attili, who was later forced to resign. The Palestinian activist Diana Alkharraz at "Sharek Youth Forum” talked about a unique experience in trying to promote the concept of integrity and combat corruption in occupied Palestine, where  its people buy drinking water and water for domestic use from the Israeli occupation. Anyone, can enter this website "You Know" that enables interaction between citizens and officials, and they can create a special account and  put any complaint relating to any municipality. Alkharraz said: "Sharek  Youth Forum was launched  in this way to connect with officials without mediation. When anyone sees a problem, he posts a photo about the problem on the website to promote transparency and accountability, and that led to solving many of the problems within the scope of the work of the municipalities in the West Bank ". As an outcome, we find that Morocco made great steps in the field of legislation that promotes integrity, particularly in the field of water,and has ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in 2007, law 113.12, on the National Commission for integrity and preventing corruption, and law No. 31.13 on the right to access to information, but still illegal random wells remain one of the main obstacles in this country.   Swedish Government and the role of Civil Society But one may wonder, why the Swedish government in general and Stockholm International Water Institute is particularly interested in enhancing integrity in the water sector, that requires commitment  of concerned authorities and institutions to the principles of good governance , transparency and accountability? In the eyes of James Leten , programmer manager at Stockholm International Water Institute SIWI, the world looks more like a village where villagers interact with each other, impacting each other, and the overlapping of issues make  Sweden interested in considering much more than only economic interests, but also to work with partners to ensure sustainable development Leten referred to the importance of civil society collaborating with governments to adopt more equitable policies in the water sector mainly. He thinks that “it is no longer possible for donor countries to ignore the demand of communities for rapid poverty eradication and for equitable development”, pointing out that  Sweden proposes to invest in capacity building and awareness raising that endeavors impartial and equitable development in these communities, based on professional public services and the enforcement of the rule of law. A status-quo will only exacerbate negative impact in the future: an economic development captured by an elite, associated poverty, climate change, degradation of ecosystem,  Building a process to sustainable development for all requires combining efforts of all the players of a society in a collective effort”. Leten believes that the outlook for cooperation with the countries of the Middle East and North Africa group is changing. The need for close partnerships arises - partnerships that recognize mutual challenges and that benefit the partners equally.  He looks forward to trust-building and long-lasting partnerships on whish collective actions can be build!  For local, national and international crisis – joining forces is the solution!” 13324004_10154057947455470_1427443820_o Conclusion Based on this, we can seek a glimmer of hope in cooperation with the international bodies such as the Stockholm International Water Institute, and in coordinating with the countries of the Middle East and North Africa , wishing one day we will witness the change to which we aspire in terms of conserving our water resources and ensuring its sustainability. we look forward that the next national workshops in Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine next November and the exchange of experiences in May 2017,  would become a platform to translate these wishes into reality.
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