The Arab Group for the Protection of Nature
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APN seeks to strengthen the capacity of the Arab peoples to sustain the region's natural resources and gain sovereignty over them , particularly in areas suffering from war and occupation.
Powerful Palestinian perspectives on the impact of conflict on climate change dominated the sixth Hikma session at COP18/CMP8.
The effect of war on Iraqi food security and the environment was also among three case studies presented passionately by environmental and social activists at the side event organized by the Arab Group for the Protection of Nature.
Razan Zuayter, president of APN and moderator of the session, described her organisation’s Million-Tree Campaign in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where Israeli forces have uprooted trees, mainly olive, to construct settlements and roads. Such actions, she said, strip local communities of livelihoods and APN had risen to the challenge of redressing the “injustice”.
Under the rallying cry “They uproot one, we plant one hundred”, APN has planted 1,400,000 olive trees in Palestine, to help farmers facing the threat of losing their lands and providing work opportunities for them.
Suhad Jabi’s case study on the West Bank highlighted the pressure that Israeli settlements put on the land, water and population. She quoted an Amnesty International report that said “450,000 settlers in the West Bank use as much or more water than two million Palestinians”.
Palestinians have to be innovative in their use of a scarce resource such as water if they have to cook, bathe and drink it, Ms Jabi said. Land use becomes a bureaucratic challenge when industry has to be set up.
Ms Jabi, who is with the Tomorrow Youth Organization in Palestine, gave the example of Ayat Atallah, a 25-year-old woman engineer who wished to turn the mountains of rubbish in the West Bank into egg cartons, to do something for the environment and reduce reliance on Israeli suppliers for this basic product.
To obtain the necessary permit from the Israelis, she walked among the three designated zones in the West Bank, within each of which Palestinians are confined, and collected research data to build up her project plan.
Ms Jabi, a psychologist who has worked with abuse cases in the Palestinian territories, said TYO aims to improve the lives of Palestinians by creating awareness about their human rights, fostering ideas and creativity among youth for eco projects and building networks with governments to highlight the situation in Palestine.
“Palestinian women should be able to raise their children with dignity, and the children should be aware that the situation that they are born in is not natural,” Ms Jabi said.
Abbas Al Rahi, director of the Iraqi Organization for Rehabilitating Society and Environment, said Iraq’s natural resources should make it a donor in the fight against climate change. Tragically, the opposite had happened.
His case study focused on the ruination of agriculture in Iraq and its effect on the environment after decades of war. Scarcity of water and the devastation of farmlands has meant that a country that used to export fruit and vegetables is now forced to import them, he said.
He lamented the lack of action by governments on the environment even though protecting and improving it for the benefit of every Iraqi is enshrined in the constitution.
Returning to the Palestinian situation, Mariam Al Jaajaa, from APN, took up the case of
Gaza and said natural resources, human security, societal stability and the climate system were linked.
She argued that climate change led to devastation of land and food resources, and sparked conflict. Conflict also damaged ecosystems by wiping out water and land resources, leading to further wars for them. She quoted the economist Jeffrey Sachs who maintains that the Darfur conflict was more ecological than political.
Ms Al Jaajaa spoke of the effect of Israeli shelling in Gaza, claiming it had left 75 per cent of the population food insecure. From an oasis in the Middle East, she said, Gaza was now a place where 30 per cent of farming land was inaccessible to Palestinians and the rest under huge stress from the conflict.