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Israel, Jordan, West Bank: Water in a Thirsty Land

It takes a minimum of two hours and four buses, each of which travels approximately the length of a tennis court, to cross the border between Jordan and Israel at the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee. We had just learned that through exhuastive experience.

The two countries enjoy an uneasy peace. Jordan lies along the east side of the Jordan River Valley, Israel and the Palestinian Authority along the west – but they share the river’s valuable and rapidly dwindling freshwater resources.

That day was our last day in Jordan, a country 80 percent covered in desert. With the fourth lowest amount of freshwater available of any country on Earth, Jordanians are intimately familiar with water scarcity.

Our editors, Jos and Duff, needed to work on the films, so they had taken off early from Amman and traveled ahead to Hula in Israel, our evening destination. The rest of the team explored the city of two million with our guides, Jordanian Samer and Israelis Clive and Shira. At lunchtime, we visited the home of a middle-class Jordanian woman to find out how she copes with extremely limited water supplies.

Leila, who runs a radio show and has published nine books on home economics, took me into the kitchen to teach me how to make Arabic coffee. Instead of mindlessly making an entire pot as we would in the US, she carefully measured out exactly eight cups of water – precisely enough for each member of our team to have one serving without any waste. We talked about how the people of Amman can only wash their clothes and their cars or do any other water-intense activities on Water Day, the one day of the week when water flows freely from the tap. The rest of the time, they rely on the finite store of water that resides in a tank on the roof, which must last them for the next six days.

To do the dishes, Leila ran the tap for just two seconds, filling a bowl in the sink to one-third its capacity before adding a squirt of liquid soap. She attentively washed each coffee cup and then rinsed them in a separate bowl. When she was done, she kept both bowls full. “I can use this to wash more dishes,” she announced proudly.

When I asked her what she’d do if she had more water, Leila looked at me like I was crazy. “I would do exactly what I’m doing now!” she proclaimed. “Water is life! It is a precious resource. I wouldn’t waste it even if I had much, much more.”

I deeply appreciated and admired this attitude. I also knew that, with freshwater resources dwindling as rapidly as they are around the world, aquifers being depleted, and populations rising, this was the attitude we all will be forced to take in the near future. And if we adopt Leila’s inspirational approach now, we might even be able to make our remaining water last a bit longer.

What ideas do you have for saving water in your home? How would you adjust your current lifestyle if you only had water delivered once a week? We would love to hear from you.