Solar Energy & Water: Japan Shows the Way

The construction of new power and water plants, never mind wastewater schemes, may not be glamorous, but it is vital to the development of any country, especially one like Palestine whose people are struggling with living under occupation as well as with a lack of finance. When such projects are linked to sustainability and the use of low-maintenance, renewable energy sources, they can do even more to promote what the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) –Japan’s foreign aid organisation– calls “human security.” And that’s something that could benefit Palestinians living in Jordan and the neighbouring countries, as well in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
A Japanese engineer supervising the installation of solar panels at the Jericho Agro-Industrial Park.

At first glance, the construction site for a new solar electricity generation system just outside Jericho in the West Bank looks like a low-lying maze of horizontal steel beams stretching across an otherwise empty tract of sand to the administrative buildings of a new industrial zone – JAIP – that JICA is building nearby. (See Jericho Agro-Industrial Park, below.) But, if all goes well, by next year it should be providing much-needed power for Jericho city, as well as for the new factories in the Park.

Financed by a grant of $7.4 million from JICA for the Palestine Energy Authority (PEA), the facility will cover 13,000 square metres when completed and have a generating capacity of 300 kWp, producing some 422,000 kilowatt-hours each year. Equipped with photovoltaic solar panels, it aims to lower Palestine’s greenhouse gas emissions by more than 290 tonnes a year and, at the same time, reduce the West Bank’s heavy dependence on imported fuel oil and gas. JICA regards the project as a test case and pilot project, using Japan’s pioneering clean energy technologies, that could eventually be extended to other parts of Palestine, thereby reducing its reliance on electricity imported from Israel. JICA is helping Palestinian farmers to preserve and better utilise scarce water supplies in the Jordan Valley. Photo courtesy of Bryony Livingstone and sindicatumccf.org

An even larger project, financed by a grant of $32.6 million from JICA, is planned to treat and recycle wastewater in Jericho and its surrounding areas. Given the region’s location some 250 metres below sea level, the disposal of sewage from households and commercial premises is particularly difficult. Much of it is currently being transported by tankers and dumped in dry riverbeds, creating severe ground water contamination and health hazards not only for the Municipality’s residents but also for farmers, animals and the area’s rich wildlife.

Due to begin in May, the project is being supervised by the Palestinian Water Authority. It will establish treatment and recycling faciities so that the sewage and wastewater can be re-used for irrigation, thereby enhancing agricultural output and the livelihoods of local people, JICA officials in Jericho explained. The wastewater treatment plant will have a maximum capacity of 9,000 cubic metres a day, and new sewer networks will be built in Jericho city, along with water quality testing labouratories and piping systems to collect the wastewater. As with the new industrial Park, the treatment plant will be run with electricity provided by solar panels.

The Zai Water Treatment Factory in Jordan is helping to reduce water rationing for households and industries in Amman, Jordan’s bourgeoing capital.

Across the Jordan Valley, near the Jordanian city of Salt, JICA is also helping the Zai Water Treatment Plant to expand its capacity and update its equipment to provide fresh drinking water to the 2.5 million people, both Palestinians and Jordanians, living in the capital, Amman, and in its adjoining areas. Capable of treating some 250,000 cubic metres a day, the expansion plan is already helping to reduce water rationing in Amman and providing recycled wastewater for agricultural purposes in a country that is among the poorest in the world for water resources.

While many of Palestine’s international donors ponder the way forward given the failure of current efforts to establish a viable state of Palestine, and, in the case of the US and the European Union, the increased pressure on their aid funds due to economic turmoil at home, Japan’s quiet resolve to continue supporting such vital projects on the ground shows the way forward. Projects that are targeted at local communities, which promote private sector involvement and sustainable development benefit not only the people of the region. They will also be welcomed by those around the world who are concerned about the effect of development and economic growth on climate change.

© Pamela Ann Smith

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