Empowering Palestinian Community Water Management Capacity: Understanding the Intersection of Community Cultural, Political, Social, and Natural Capitals

Article excerpt

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) call for a reduction by half of the estimated more than 1.5 billion people still lacking access to potable water by 2015. As this date approaches, there is increased interest in developing capacity at the community level to supply potable water. Water supply is one of the most contentious issues in the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This article will use the sustainable livelihoods approach (SLA) and the community capitals framework (CCF) to frame efforts to by a consortium of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international donors to develop Palestinian village-level drinking water management capacity within the context of a regional water framework. Our study compares two villages within this context. Our finding of dramatically different outcomes indicates that community capacity development efforts are highly conditional on existing stocks of natural, political and cultural capital.

Keywords: community capitals, drinking water, Palestine, regional approaches, sustainable livelihoods


The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that came out of the 2002 Johannesburg Earth Summit called on the international community to half the population living without safe and adequate water and sanitation by 2015 (World Health Organization [WHO], 2009). This mandate has implications for many developing countries--not the least of which are those where water resources are contested, such as the Palestinian areas of the West Bank and Gaza.

The MDGs came about in the context of a fundamental change in the way that development institutions have approached water issues. The donor efforts in the 1970s and the "international water decade" in the 1980s attempted to achieve greatly increased access to water and sanitation through investments in central government programs. In the context of developing countries, this meant supporting water supply initiatives through funding expanded roles and initiatives by government ministries. The presumption was that governments would provide water and sanitation services for communities. The failure of this approach to achieve dramatic increases in the proportion of the global population with access to potable water coupled with an overall neoliberal development trend, led international donors to endorse alternative approaches (Nicol, 2000).

In the 1990s, most notably at the 1992 International Conference on Water and the Environment (ICWE) in Dublin, Ireland, international donors and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) began to embrace "demand responsive approaches" (DRA) to improving access to water services. The DRA is premised on the notion that water delivery mechanisms should be developed on the basis of citizen and institutional demand--rather than on the basis of supply plans implemented by government. In rural areas, this has meant the development of a relationship between civil society and the private sector, and the development of water supply on the basis of user fees (Nicol, 20023). The key tenets of the DRA are as follows:

* The community initiates and makes informed decisions about service options and how services are delivered.

* The community contributes to investment costs relative to the level of service and has significant control on how funds are managed.

* The government has a facilitative role, sets clear national policies and strategies (including legal frameworks), and creates an enabling environment for all participation groups.

* The community (or representative legal body) owns and is responsible for sustaining the facility.

* Community capacity is appropriately strengthened, and awareness is raised to stimulate demand (World Bank, 1998b; cited in Nicol, 2000, p. 10).

This approach has provided a key underpinning of a focus on developing community-level capacity to manage basic water resources. It is notable that efforts to develop the capacity to manage water resources in the Palestinian context were dramatically increased as this donor consensus on DRA was coming into fruition. …


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