Sat 30 Sep 2023 1:53 pm - Jerusalem Time
Water: A matter of cooperation or conflict among Jordan, Israel, and Palestine
A study published recently by Stimson Centre located in USA and prepared by Asma Shabab on water issues between the most affected countries in Middle east and the potential of cooperation or conflict between them.
The Middle East and North Africa region is one of the most water-stressed in the world. The Levant area, comprising Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Palestine, was once part of the fertile crescent, known as the cradle of civilization. But water scarcity compounded by climate change has caused enormous stress and contributed to social and political turmoil. Tensions have risen between neighbors over shared water resources, but conflict can be avoided and there is an opportunity for more cooperation.
According to a UNICEF report in 2022, Jordan is one of the most water-scarce countries, with less than 100 cubic meters available per person, well below the 500 cubic meters threshold for “absolute water scarcity.” Jordan is forecast to hit critical water insecurity by 2100, as indicated by a 2021 study estimating that around “90 percent of Jordan’s low-income population will endure water insecurity by the end of the century.” These households are expected to receive less than 40 liters per capita per day, significantly falling short of the World Health Organization’s recommended threshold of 100 liters per day, essential for meeting basic human needs.
Jordan’s limited water supply and influx of refugees escaping turmoil and poverty in neighboring countries has exacerbated the crisis. Climate change has only made matters worse by causing record low levels of rainfall, increased rates of evaporation due to high temperatures, and sudden extreme weather events such as flash floods and droughts.
Israel also lies in an arid climate with limited access to freshwater reserves, but its situation is very different from that of Jordan. With direct access to the sea, around 75 percent of Israel’s drinking water is desalinated from the Mediterranean. Israel also repurposes nearly 90 percent of its wastewater for agricultural purposes, an impressive feat.
That does not mean that Israel is immune from the impact of climate change. Indeed, this past winter was the driest in over 60 years according to data collected from the Israel Meteorological Service. With water scarcity likely to continue, Israel has taken precautionary measures and constructed the National Carrier Flow Reversal Project. Completed in December 2022, this pipeline brings desalinated water from Israel’s Mediterranean shores to the Sea of Galilee, the country’s largest freshwater lake and historic primary source of water.
The water situation in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories is much worse than in pre-1967 Israel. With limited access to river water and reduced groundwater due to decades-long Israeli exploitation, Palestinians have been left in a desperate situation.
In 1967, Israeli authorities issued Military Order 158 which states that Palestinians are not allowed to construct any new water infrastructure without obtaining a permit from the Israeli Army. Such permits are nearly impossible to obtain, and Palestinians are also denied access to the Jordan River and freshwater springs. As a result, Palestinians consume an average of 73 liters of water a day per person, well below the World Health Organization’s minimum recommendation of 100 liters per day. This is in sharp contrast to 300 liters of water used daily by an average Israeli.
In Gaza, the situation is even more desperate. Water is drawn from a coastal aquifer which has been severely depleted and contaminated with seawater as well as raw sewage that is dumped in the ocean. In fact, 90 to 95 percent of Gaza’s water supply is considered unfit for human consumption. Israel restricts water movements from the West Bank to Gaza and continues its siege of the city.
Opportunities for Cooperation
The Levant has a history of water-related tensions among neighbors, often driven by military and political objectives. Yet, agreements on water sharing have been signed. The 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan allocated 50 million cubic meters to Jordan from the Sea of Galilee and assigned Jordan 75 percent of the water from the Yarmouk River. However, the treaty excluded other potential beneficiaries of the Jordan River including Lebanon, Syria, and the Palestinian territories.
In recent years, Israel has doubled the amount of water it sends annually to Jordan from 50 million cubic meters to 100 million. This amount is expected to rise due to the Israeli National Carrier Flow Reversal Project.
The introduction of a so-called Green Blue Deal in 2020 by the NGO EcoPeace Middle East, a group of Palestinian, Jordanian and Israeli environmentalists, provides a more optimistic outlook for cooperation on water and renewable energy. The deal aims to generate trust and equitable distribution of water and energy between Israel, Jordan, and the occupied Palestinian Territories. It envisions the construction of a 600-megawatt solar park in Jordan which would trade energy with Israel in exchange for 200 million cubic meters of potable water. The project also aims to improve water management, biodiversity preservation, and public awareness and education.
The Green Blue Deal has gained traction. A Memorandum of Understanding was formalized during COP27, and the plan is expected to be a major topic of discussion during COP28 in the United Arab Emirates this fall. However, Palestinians have been excluded from high-level regional agreements, prompting efforts by EcoPeace and other groups to ensure equitable water access in the Occupied Territories.
One way to provide unbiased information is through the use of remote sensing. Addressing the water data gap in the Levant can empower local communities and NGOs to raise awareness and potentially facilitate transboundary water negotiations to allow for a more equitable distribution of water among all parties.
In conclusion, while progress has been made in cooperation between Israel and Jordan on water issues, challenges persist for Palestinians. The political landscape, particularly with the current right-wing Israeli government, adds complexity. Continued efforts are needed to address water disparities and promote equitable solutions, emphasizing the importance of shared environmental interests in achieving sustainable peace in the Middle East.