"This project will help us become a green campus": story of a trip to Jordan and Palestine

From 14 to 16 March 2017, the ENPI CBC Med Programme together with representatives of European Commission’s DG NEAR, the EU Delegation to Jordan and the European Union Office for the West Bank and Gaza Strip, visited some funded projects in Jordan and Palestine. Here is a story of what we saw and who we met.

Energy efficiency, waste management, sustainable tourism, social inclusion, etc. Cross-border cooperation address multifaceted issues but is characterized by a same approach: men and women working together to make an impact on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea, developing joint solutions which can replicated by other people facing the same challenges.

From 14 to 16 March 2017, we visited five of our funded projects in Jordan and Palestine and had the opportunity to witness tangible results of Mediterranean-wide cooperation initiatives.

Fighting against poverty through sustainable agriculture

Nested among the lush green hills of Tal Al-Rumman, the Royal Botanic Garden is a pioneering institution for the conservation of the native flora of Jordan. Its range of activities also encompasses using nature and sustainable farming to improve the welfare and livehoods of 50 local herder families.

"The situation of the local communities we work with was of extreme poverty, diseases transferred from animals to humans and low level of education. Through the SIDIG-MED project, we were able to increase their set of skills to be more independent and bring their traditional knowledge up into modern techniques," explained Her Royal Highness Princess Basma Bint Ali, founder of the Royal Botanic Garden.

Part of the SIDIG-MED (Social and Intercultural Dialogue through Governance for Local development: Mediterranean Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture) consisted in the implementation of an hydroponics unit, which provide 1 ton of fresh fodder daily to herders during the long, dry summer months using around 90% less water than normal farming.

Extensive training - including bee keeping, composting, soil management, permaculture, medicinal plants oil extraction, biological control of insects, poultry production, wool making – was also conducted, creating new income opportunities for local families with products sold on a farmers market in Amman.

"A good result of the project is that local communities have been able to organize themselves into two cooperative associations, meaning they will produce, sell vegetables on their own and manage together the income generated," added Princess Basma Bint Ali.

As highlighted by Mohammed Ayesh, coordinator of SIDIG-Med, the partnership was crucial to achieve the project. "6 organizations from Jordan, Italy, Spain and Tunisia took part in the project. It’s been a challenging process since we, as Royal Botanic Garden, were the Lead Beneficiary of SIDIG-MED with the responsibility of ensuring sound management and implementation. But the rewards have just been amazing: we found in cross-border cooperation an efficient platform to address a common issue we all share - the exclusion of marginalized groups in urban and peri-urban areas - developing and testing joint approaches that proved to work well to foster the inclusion and empowerment of these groups. We learnt so much from each other. Eventually, we plan to work again together and design new projects."

Bethlehem: a room with a view…on the Church of the Nativity

There is a magical atmosphere in the white-paved streets of Bethlehem at dusk. With the busy shops closed, the little Palestinian city, known as the birthplace of Jesus Christ, turn again into a quiet, contemplative place.

It’s no secret that due to its religious significance, Bethlehem is a tourist-oriented city. Unfortunately efforts to develop the full tourist potential have been scuttled by the conflict in the region. 

"Of course, we would like all the hotels in the city to be fully booked," says Eng. Isaam Juha, Deputy Mayor of Bethlehem. "We have the capacity of 7.000 beds."

Despite this challenging situation for tourism, a new type of hotel was created in Bethlehem under the FOP (Future of Our Past) project in view of offering an enriching, authentic experience to visitors based on the culture and traditions of the Palestinian society.

The "Ad Dar" hotel is a brand new, innovative and community based way of hosting tourists: it is made of 26 privately-owned rooms and apartments (with a capacity of 70 beds) scattered through the old town of Bethlehem.

"The community hotel offers individual apartments to visitors who want to live within a local neighborhood, discover Bethlehem off the beaten track, and get to know the Palestinian culture and traditions. Its apartments are located in traditional/historical buildings spread throughout the historic center of Bethlehem," explained Ms. Judy Bandak, the local project coordinator from the Dar Al-Kalima University College of Arts and Culture.

"Thanks to the FOP project, we were able to preserve and refurbish these buildings, which otherwise would have been abandoned. Great efforts have been made to support the continuous involvement of the local population in order to foster their engagement in the preservation of Bethlehem’s historic authenticity as well as direct encounters with foreign visitors," she added.

While the apartments still belong to their original owners, an interesting financial scheme has been implemented: part of the income generated through the renting of the apartments will be reinvested in the renovation of new houses.

Check-in and check-out services are centrally managed by an accommodation center which staff provides visitors with all relevant information about activities and attractions in Bethlehem and Palestine. In addition to planning trips, the accommodation center offers assistance on things to do in Palestine, including the possibility to book cooking lessons.

During our visit to Bethlehem, we met Clark, an American tourist from North Carolina who spent 7 weeks in one of the apartments refurbished by the FOP project: "It’s a wonderful place to stay. The hosts have been very nice. It is great location: you can wander around the old city and see the architecture, get known by the shop keepers. I will definitely come back."

"As Municipality, we do support the community hotel as it provides an income which is much needed for local communities. This will definitely have an impact on the economy and convince people to stay in Bethlehem,” said Eng. Isaam Juha.

The Ad Dar hotel has already inspired other historic cities in Palestine (Battir, Beit Sahur) and of the Mediterranean region (La Valetta, Cordova, Mahdia) which plan to develop soon their own community hotel.

This multiplier effect is the direct consequence of a successful cooperation among 9 partners from Egypt, Italy, Lebanon, Malta, Spain, Palestine and Tunisia. Working together, the partners of the FOP project have designed a common model for the implementation of community hotels that can be replicated and adapted to different contexts of the Mediterranean area.

Sun is independence

8 am: it’s busy on the campus of the Al-Balqa Applied University of Jordan with hundreds of students getting to their classrooms.

8 am: it’s also busy at the An-Najah University Hospital of Nablus, Palestine with many patients arriving to the largest medical facility in the West Bank to receive healthcare treatment.

Both the Al-Balqa Applied University and the An-Najah University Hospital of Nablus have been equipped with photovoltaic solar systems, respectively under the DIDSOLIT-PB (Development & Implementation of Decentralised Solar Energy-Related Innovative Technologies for Public Buildings in the Mediterranean Basin Countries) and MED-SOLAR (Machrek Energy Development-Solar) projects. Using a renewable source like the sun, medical and education buildings are now being powered by clean and cheap energy. 

"The MED-SOLAR project is very important to us. In Palestine, we don’t produce energy and we almost fully depend on electricity import from Israel," said Prof. Maher Natsheh, acting President of the An-Najah National University. "We are the largest University in Palestine with 23.000 students enrolled in over 130 programmes. We try to keep the tuition fees as low as possible so the project will help us reduce the energy bill. We want to become a green campus and be energy independent," he added.

"Palestine faces a very critical situation when it comes to energy. The national grid is weak and during peak periods, especially during the summer, electricity interruptions can last up to 6 hours each day. In this case, the energy is provided by polluting and expensive diesel generators," explained Dr. Imad Brik, director of the Energy Research Center, the Palestinian partner of the MED-SOLAR project.

"Thanks to the hybrid photovoltaic systems installed, the energy back-up is supplied by solar panels in case of electricity cut. This is highly innovative since we can also stock energy. In fact, our students are studying the performance of the system as part of their curricula. Overall, 24.000 Euros are saved annually from the energy bill of the hospital and we believe that the cost of the project will be covered in 6 years," added Dr. Brik. "The level of technical knowledge exchanged and transferred among the project partners from France, Spain, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine is huge. And this would not have been possible without cross-border cooperation," added Dr. Brik.

As highlighted by the President of the An-Najah National University, the MED-SOLAR project has a strategic dimension since Palestine is seeking 50% energy independence from Israel by 2020, including 10% of renewables.

On the campus of the Al-Balqa Applied University in Jordan, two solar systems have been integrated to existing administrative and education buildings and provide up to 80% of the energy needs.

"Not only the solar systems provide clean energy to our University, but they also provide shadow from the sun, thus contributing to cooling buildings", said Prof. Mohammed Matouq, Dean of Scientific research and local project manager of the DIDSOLIT-PB project.

"Of course, the reduction of the energy bill is one of the major benefits of the solar systems. The extra energy which is generated by the solar cells and is not consumed immediately is stored on the national grid and used when needed: this is what we call net metering," explained Dr. Matouq.

The solar systems, installed on the façade and skylight of two buildings, are very visible on the campus and this was made on purpose as explained by Dr. Matouq: "we have recently created a master’s degree in renewable energy and we use the solar plants as tangible case studies for our students."

"Solar energy was only research and ideas on paper for us before. Now, we can witness with our own eyes and study as part of our curricula actual, working and innovative solar systems on our campus," said a student from the Al-Balqa Applied University.

The success of the DIDSOLIT-PB project is serving one of its main objectives: being an inspiration for other institutions in Jordan seeking to develop energy efficiency measures. "We recently had a visit from the Royal Court and signed a technical assistance contract to help them implement a green energy policy," said Dr. Matouq.

"The project produced a real impact on both sides of the Mediterranean with 24 solar applications installed in public facilities, including hospitals, schools, universities, across Egypt, Spain, Jordan and Greece. All together, we have demonstrated that the sun is a secure, sustainable and cost-effective source of energy and the most suitable alternative to fossil fuels," added Dr. Matouq‬. 

"Waste is not waste. We can benefit from it"

In Palestine, the illegal dumping of household garbage and the improper incineration of solid waste may jeopardize the environment and public health. 

In a fragile context like Palestine, waste sorting, selective collection and reuse are still a new culture and implemented on a limited scale. 

One of the good practices in sustainable waste management in Palestine is the SCOW project (Selective collection of the organic waste in tourist areas and valiorization in farm composting plants), which focuses on the valorization of organic waste. We visited the composting facility of Beitillo, one of the two developed in the West Bank in the framework of SCOW. Overall, these plants can treat up to 2.400 tons of biowaste each year while 1.000 tons of compost will be sold to local farmers to increase soil fertility.

"From the beginning of the project, we involved all stakeholders – the Ministry of Environment, Environmental Quality Authority, Municipalities, restaurants, hotels, households – because our aim is to change the attitude of people. Waste is not waste: we can benefit from it," said Ms. Sawsan Al Qudsi, Acting Director of the House of Water and Environment, the Palestinian partner of SCOW. "The mutual benefits we got from the other partners in Spain, France, Italy, Malta and Israel have contributed to the success of the project."

The ownership of the composting plant of Beitillo has already been transferred to the Municipality of Al-Ittihad who will be responsible for its management. "We have defined a business plan to ensure the sustainability of the plant. Besides local funding, we will benefit from the selling of compost to farmers," explained the Mayor of the Al-Ittihad Municipality.

The Municipality of Ramallah, the largest city of the West Bank, was also associated to the project and will continue to transfer organic waste to the Beitillo plant. "Hotels, restaurants and households were provided with bins to separate biowaste. The experience has been very encouraging and we plan to extend it to larger portions of the city," said Malvina Aljamal, Director of Health and Environment at the Municiplaity of Ramallah.

Cross-border cooperation works!

Despite the challenging and changing context in the Mediterranean region, our visits to funded projects in Jordan and Palestine have proved that working together, sharing expertise, developing joint solutions is a successful approach to solving real issues on the ground, helping at the same time local communities.

The Programme would like to thank all the visited projects for their availability as well as European Commission’s DG NEAR, the EU Delegation in Jordan and the European Union Office for the West Bank and Gaza Strip for their support to the organization of this intense yet rewarding week across Jordan and Palestine.

Long live ENI CBC Med Programme!

Media coverage

Al-Quds newspaper

An-Najah NBC

Sasha news

Wattan News Agency