Conflicts around the world, especially in the Middle East, have hindered the ability of many people to develop economically and take sound actions to address environmental issues. However, in recent years, there have been many initiatives taken by NGOs and local communities that allow people who have suffered from conflict to develop in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way. This blog will focus on local initiatives undertaken by the 7 Virtues NGO and within the Palestinian Territories to highlight the fact that people living in conflict and post-conflict zones can also contribute to a more sustainable world.
We hear about NGOs and other organizations going into a country in an attempt to rebuild and help so often, that many people have become skeptical of the work many of them are doing. However, I think the 7 Virtues organization stands out since it aims to empower families in rebuilding countries across the Global South, including the Middle East and Afghanistan. The Canadian-based organization purchases natural oils from suppliers within these areas creating opportunity and employment for the communities, while also encouraging trade (The 7 Virtues Story, 2017). The company works closely with many of the local people and links them to other businesses that might be interested in conducting work with them and using their supplies. A unique aspect of the organization is its incorporation of environmentally friendly activities including carefully hand picking distilled essences (Blough, 2013).
The founder, Barb Stegemann, originally started the company to help local communities in Afghanistan and other countries become less dependent on illegal poppy crops (Blough, 2013); a crop that accounts for about 90% of heroin supply in the world (Q & A, 2017). In this manner, essential oils are provided as alternatives to illegal poppy crops. In Afghanistan, orange blossoms are tended and used to make organic oil that is then used to create perfume (Blough, 2013). All the fragrances do not have added phthalates and are considered vegan; thus, no animal testing takes place. Additionally, all fragrances have been authorized by the Council of cosmetic products and the Regulation of the European Parliament (Q & A, 2017). The 7 Virtues is unique in its approach because, in addition to working closely with locals rebuilding their lives in war-torn countries, it also gives them the chance to do so in a way that helps protect our shared environment.
The Palestinian Territories often makes headlines for its ongoing conflict. Palestinians have been living under occupation for more than 60 years and are facing several vulnerabilities ranging from limited resources to water scarcity. Nonetheless, they have been resilient through their agricultural practices and innovative techniques (Mansour, 2016). Due to Israel’s seizing Palestinian water resources, Palestinian farmers have been using drip irrigation as well as water harvesting and recycled water for their activities (Mansour, 2016). NGOs have also been capitalizing on such initiatives and help farmers in their irrigation. ANERA has been helping these farmers through the Jenin Water Reuse Project that relies on sub-surface drip irrigation, rather than surface wells due to severe water shortage. Such initiatives save the farmers’ time and allows them to allocate their time to activities like moving around water hose which reduces water consumption (ANERA, 2016). Farmers around the West Bank have been seizing on such opportunities to grow crops through sustainable agricultural practices that deal with water shortage.
Additionally, in Gaza where people have been lacking basic services, women and men have been turning to sustainable consumption and recycling waste for their livelihood. Following the 2014 Gaza War, both Israel and Egypt formed a blockade around Gaza limiting the resources that go in and out while aiding in the increase of waste and size of landfills. To stay afloat, many businesses, including that of Omar Ramlawi, have been resorting to recycling to earn an income and reduce some of the plastic waste around. Rather than closing his business and fire his workers, Ramlawi started collecting plastic, bags, and bottles as part of recycling effort (Associate Press, 2016). Today, the factory alone produces around 2 tonnes of trash bags, cable hose, and irrigation pipes through the material available which are then sold locally (Associate Press, 2016).
Women have also been creating their own initiatives to deal with waste. The New Heritage Project was launched by Zainab Aziz, along with other women, to transform garbage from plastic and nylon into toys, ornaments, cushions, and baskets (Abu Eltarabesh, 2016). The project aims to sell traditional handicrafts that are environmentally friendly through promoting refusal of waste and recycling. The project also provides women with working opportunities since they all were unable to find jobs upon graduation (Abu Eltarabesh, 2016). Despite being negatively impacted by the war and the Israeli blockade, people in Gaza have found different ways to improve their local economic development while also being mindful over the protection of our environment.
In conclusion, the initiatives above prove that despite living in conflict, people can still find ways to achieve sustainability and contribute to protecting our environment. Once given the chance, local people are resilient to the obstacles they face and often do not have a large ecological footprint due to their limited resources. Rather than having the West go to conflict zones and imposing different ways of development, we can work together to implement some of the initiatives undertaken in these conflict zones. In fact, together we can act as catalysts to support such initiatives to ensure their long-term success and continuation.
Rowaida Arafeh is a Masters of Development Practice student. Her research interest are Environmental issues, mainly water sanitation and security, climate change, ecology and biodiversity loss, sustainability, peacebuilding, social and racial justice