Water stories for peace
Focus on the Middle East to mark World Water Day. The Blue Peace Media Lab is a Swiss initiative to promote media reporting on the water sector. A report on the Blue Peace initiative.
Blue Peace Media Lab workshop in Lebanon. © FDFA
Sarah Abdallah is a staff reporter for the Lebanese newspaper L'Orient-Le Jour. With the help of the Blue Peace Media Lab, she covers stories about the Litani, Lebanon's largest river. Industrial waste dumped with impunity causes severe water pollution and is also the reason for many cases of cancer. One year after Abdallah began reporting on the problem, politicians and industry leaders decided to close down polluting factories, leading to a marked improvement in the situation.
The media play a crucial role in highlighting water-related issues. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), which is part of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), founded the Blue Peace Media Lab in 2019. The Lab serves journalists from Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. It has provided training and coaching for dozens of journalists, who have published over 75 water-related articles to date.
Journalism on water issues contributes to peace
"The correlation between water, security and peace in the Middle East is often portrayed in very negative terms in the media. Coverage of the water sector is very much driven by political turmoil," says Mufleh Aref Haza' Alalaween, a programme officer for Swiss cooperation in Amman, Jordan.
Journalism is both able and ready to shine a spotlight on the underbelly of the water sector. Corruption, indifference, disregard for laws and regulations, pollution, poor governance: there is no shortage of issues to report on. But for the media to be able to publish reports and information the public can rely on, investigative journalists must know the water sector well.
The Media Lab connects professionals across the region and offers them training and mentoring from journalists with experience of the water sector, as well as free use of resources. "The Lab motivates them to carry on raising awareness of water security in the region and offers them hope for the future," says Aref Haza' Alalaween.
Water to strengthen cooperation
For Switzerland, water is an effective means to manage conflicts and strengthen cooperation. Switzerland has been developing Blue Peace initiatives in several regions around the world for over a decade and has also set up a global centre of excellence, the Geneva Water Hub. The Blue Peace Media Lab was developed as part of the Blue Peace Middle East Initiative.
Water is a vital resource, especially in the context of global climate change. Water challenges are particularly acute in the Middle East. While water resources do exist, the region is experiencing rapid population growth, which is putting pressure on this vital resource. Management policies are not always well adapted to the situation and conflicts are a fact of life in the region. Cross-border issues make cooperation more complex.
"The Middle East Blue Peace Initiative helped establish the first-ever regional water cooperation mechanism in the recent history of the region, and is enabling Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey to work together to find solutions to the region's water problems," explains Aref Haza' Alalaween.
The Global Sustainable Development Goals – Goal 6 is safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030 – and Switzerland's foreign policy strategy for 2020–23, which promotes peace, security and sustainable development, provide the framework for Switzerland's action. To meet its commitments concerning water, Switzerland has developed an annual programme and is pursuing a range of water measures. Blue diplomacy is one of them.
At a high-level meeting on the implementation of the water-related goals of the 2030 Agenda on 18 March, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis, head of the FDFA, stressed the importance of addressing water issues in international processes. He reaffirmed Switzerland's commitment and underscored the potential of water resources for world peace.
Selected stories produced by journalists participating in the Blue Peace Media Lab
- Mariem Khadhraoui: Northwestern Tunisia: too much water, so many thirsty people
- Mohammed El-Said: Addressing water insecurity in Egypt
- Mey Sayegh: The recipe of water-secure future for OIC countries
- Sarah Abdallah: De nets progrès enregistrés dans la lutte contre les rejets industriels dans le Litani
- Mustafa Habib: In Iraq’s Water Crisis, The Country With The Biggest Dam Wins
- Nawzat Shamdeen: In Southern Ninawa
- Water Resources, Management and Policy in Jordan Part I