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The Water Economics in the Middle East
Main Problems and Possible Solutions
4. Water situation in each of the area’s countries. 6
5. Understandings and Treaties regarding water in the Middle East. 22
6. Means of improving the water situation in the Middle East . 26
a) Methods of increasing the quantity of water
that do not require cooperation between the sides. 27
b) Cooperative projects of increasing the quantity of water
and preserving the required quality. 30
c) Ways of increasing the efficiency of water use. 35
The Middle East is an area of contradictions in all things having to do with water. The
northern and southern areas are abundant in water but the central areas are arid.
In the past, the solving of water shortage problems was based on relocation of
population to the water sources, but these days the solutions are technological, mainly by
bringing water to the people. Nonetheless, since the water sources in the Middle East are
situated in different countries, the solution should be a regional one. There are greater
possibilities of reaching a solution to the water problem, based on conveyance of water
between the countries of the Middle East and on cooperative management of the water
sources, as the peace process proceeds. This may be advantageous to all the countries of
Another possible solution to the water shortage problem is increasing sea water
desalination. Despite the relatively high cost of this method, it promises that there will not
be a shortage of water for basic urban uses. In effect, the possibility of unlimited water
desalination in the area, diverts the disagreements about water from maters of basic
existence to that of a basically economic issue, a fact, that in all circumstances, does not
2. Characteristics of water
Water is a limited resource that is essential to human life and hence has economic value.
In water abundant countries the value of water is very low, but in regions like the Middle
East where water is scarce, water’s value is high. Albeit, even in countries abundant in
water the marginal value of water is not zero, but rather the price at which it can be sold.
The ownership of water is determined according to the ownership of the ground where
the reserves are located, whether the water reserves are above ground (lakes, rivers,
3. Water in the Middle East
The Middle Eastern region, that was called the “South Levant” in the past, includes
Israel and the countries surrounding it - Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and the Palestinian
The region’s water balance is characterized by aridness along with a few sections
abundant with water. Among the arid areas, the Egyptian delta region and the Euphrates
In contrast to the few water sources in most of the countries, the region is characterized
by growing demand for water which is based on two main factors:
2) The existence of wide ranging agriculture characterized by a high rate of water
consumption. This mirrors, in many cases, the will of the region’s leaders to reach a
capability of self sufficiecny in supplying their country’s food consumption. This isn’t
necessarily based on economic principles.
In the following tables, the expected demand for water in the different countries of the
Middle East, at three different points in time, and the distribution of water consumption
between the different uses, is displayed.
Table 1: Expected demand for water until the year 2030
(In million cubic meters)
1985 2000 2030
1 Possibilities of Regional Cooperation in the Middle East 1996, Government of Israel, (Hebrew).
Table 2: distribution of water consumption between the different uses
in the countries of the Middle East
As can be seen from the table’s data, a sharp increase in demand for water is expected
during the coming years. This is affected by population growth and by agricultural
demand, that comprise the main components of overall water consumption, in each one of
In the following chapters, we will introduce the water balance for each of the region’s
nations and the possible solutions for the water shortage.
2 Development Options for Cooperation: The Middle East / East Mediterranean Region 1996, Government
4. Water situation in each of the region’s countries
In this chapter we will conduct a survey of each of the region's countries. Reference to
the countries will be conducted according to the amount of water available to them,
beginning with the relatively water rich countries and afterwards the countries with water
The area of Egypt is greater than a million square kilometers (Km2). It’s population is
about 55 million people, and growing at a very quick pace. Even though agriculture
comprises a significant portion of Egypt’s economy, the agricultural product of Egypt does
not succeed in supplying the large demand, that is constantly expanding as a result of the
Egypt, more than any other country in the world, is recognized according to it’s water
source - the Nile river, but only in the last generation, with the completion of the Aswan
Dam in 1968, did Egypt change from a situation of having to react to fluctuations in the
Nile river’s water level, to the position of being in control over it. The amount of water
that the Nile supplies Egypt is, about 20 times that of all the water in the disposal of Israel,
Jordan, the Palestinian Entity, and Lebanon, combined.
Egypt has a water treaty with Sudan regarding the use of water from the Nile. This
agreement is essential because the Nile river flows from Sudan to Egypt. The agreement,
which was signed in 1959, decrees that the basis for future consumption of water is “the
historical consumption (the consumption before the building of the Dam and the signing of
the treaty) of each country”, in addition to water added by the construction of the Aswan
Dam. It was agreed that the division of the additional water added by the Dam that was
estimated as 22 million cubic meter/year (mcm/year), will be at the proportion of 14.5
mcm/year for Sudan as opposed to 7.5 mcm/year for Egypt. This agreement is supposed to
enlarge the amount of water under Egypt’s disposal from 48 to 55.5 mcm/year and Sudan’s
water from 4 to 18.5 mcm/year. The agreement also specified that unexpected fluctuations
in the amount of water in the river will be divided equally between the countries, if for
good, as a result of the jungle works (the drying up of swamps in Sudan) and if for bad, as
a result of unforeseen consumption by the upriver countries (Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, and
Today, Sudan does not utilize all of the water available to it under the agreement, a fact
that causes surplus that can increase Egypt’s available water supply for a long time.
The completion of the Aswan Dam and the subsequent formation of the Nazzer lake
upriver supply Egypt with a number of alternatives:
One)Increased use of the Nile waters. Before the construction of the Dam, much of the
Nile’s water flowed into the Mediterranean sea.
Two)Regulate the flow of the Nile waters according to the needs of agriculture.
Three)Production of hydroelectric energy.
But, in spite of the many improvements brought upon by the Dam, few problems
One)In spite of the large amount of water added by the Dam, there hasn’t been any
substantial change in Egypt’s dependence on imported food. The solution of this problem
requires major changes in irrigation and agricultural technology.
Two)The irrigation is executed today with an surplus. This excess causes a waste of water
and also severe drainage problems which necessitate complex and costly solutions.
Three)The value of water’s contribution to agriculture is relatively small and stands at
about 4 -6 cents per cubic meter (in the other countries the water usage is more
efficient and the value of water’s contribution is higher, about 10 cents per cubic meter).
Four)Most of the agriculture in Egypt is situated in the Nile valley and delta. The
expansion of the agricultural areas will be enabled only by better water lines and
In conclusion, it can be said that the Aswan Dam had a large contribution to the
available amount of water in Egypt, but the solution of the Egyptian water problems
depends now mainly on the capability of transferring water between different areas, for
irrigation and basic existence. Without the trasnfer of waters, in respect to the water
situation, it is possible to divide Egypt’s area into two sections. The first, the Nile area,
that has excess water, and the second, the Egyptian desert, that suffers from severe water
shortage. Because of the water shortage, most of the desert isn’t habitated. An upgraded
water line system can bring a solution to the water problem in Egypt’s desert regions, and
can contribute to agriculture and even to it’s food export.
Syria’s population is about 13 million people and it’s area is 185,150 (Km2). It’s
economy is undeveloped, governed by central planning and is based on agriculture which
comprises two thirds of the national product. For many years Syria, suffered from import
surplus, but in 1989, following a sharp increase in olive oil export, Syria moved from a
A major portion of the agriculture is unirrigated crops of mainly wheat and grain. The
irrigated crops, on the other hand, are relatively few and are comprised of mainly cotton
and olives crops. The basing of the Syrian economy on agriculture in water intensive fields
is a result of the large amounts of water available to it, mainly from the Euphrates river.
2. The geographical structure and water resourceas
Along western Syria is a narrow plain and to it’s east is the Anzarra mountain range.
The range’s height is up to 1,560 meters and goes down to the Ichi river valley which is
part of the Syrian/African fault line. East of the Ichi river valley are the fertile plains but as
you move east the amount of precipitation decreases. The eastern part of Syria is a desert,
but it has some fertile areas, among them the Euphrates river valley which crosses
northeast Syria on it’s way from Turkey to Iraq. It’s two main tributaries, the Blich and
Habor, flow from Turkey and also cross Syria.
The border between Syria and Lebanon crosses the Lebanon mountain range which
reaches 2,500 meters and peaks at the Hermon mountain. The Hermon’s peak is in Syria
but is very close to the Syrian border with Lebanon and Israel. The Hermon area and the
highlands around it, known as the Golan heights, has plenty of rain (between 300-700 mm
per year). East of the Golan heights is the Druze mountain on which the Syrian-Jordanian
border passes. This mountain reaches 1,800 meters. North of the Druze mountain is an
rocky basalt area, abundant with water, but not agriculturally feasible.
North of this region is the Damascus basin which reaches 700 meters. The Damascus
basin is fed by the Euphrates river’s two tributaries - Blich and Habor. From the Damascus
basin to the border with Iraq is the Syrian desert.
In western Syria is a Mediterranean climate, the summer is warm and dry but the winter
is temperate and rainy. Further inland from the sea the heat in summer increases and the
rains lessen. For example, the rains in the Anzarra mountains reach 1,000 mm per year
while in the Syrian desert there is less than 100 mm rainfall per year.
In order to bridge the different amounts of water available to the different areas of
Syria, the Euphrates river was Dammed in the 70’s. This Dam added large agricultural
area's in northeastern Syria, but caused a significant reduction of water downstream in
Iraq. This Dam caused deep disagreements between the two countries regarding water
The heavy rains in the mountainous areas and in the Euphrates area, which supplies
water to the arid regions, provides Syria 10,000 million cubic meters. This amount enables
the existence of the extensive agriculture in Syria and even leaves a large surplus of water.
Due to the surplus, involvement of Syria in the water quarrels in the Middle East is limited.
1. Geographical structure and water sources
Lebanon’s population amounts to about 4 million people. It’s area is about 10,400 Km2.
The coastal plain
- A strip that stretches along the whole country. It’s maximum width is
10 Km down to nothing at places where the mountains reach the sea. The rainfall in this
The Lebanon mountain -
Starts from the Galilee in Israel and reaches 3,088 meters at it’s
peak. The rainfall in this area is 1,500-1,700 mm per year.
The Baqua valley -
The continuation of the Ahula valley from Israel. It’s width is between
5-20 Km, is relatively flat and serves as the main agricultural region in the country. There
The Lebanon mountains -
A mountain chain across the Baqua valley in the direction of
Syria. Reaches 2,814 meters in the Hermon area. There is 300-700 mm of rainfall annually.
The rainfall in Lebanon amounts to 8.8 mcm water annually and it’s majority flows in
streams (among them is the Litani river) into the Mediterranean sea. The water
development in Lebanon deals mainly with local works for utilization of surface flowing
water, and use of the Litani river waters. In the “Litani works” project, the Akron reservoir
Dam was built. This dam transports some of the Litani’s waters westward and runs three
hydroelectric production plants. There is an additional plan for utilization of the Litani’s
waters including construction of another reservoir (the Hardale reservoir), which is
supposed to supply water for electricity production and for housing usage.
The water problems in Lebanon have to do with development difficulties, and not with
shortage of water supply. The water development in Lebanon suffers from the country’s
problematic political situation. The development phases of the 50’s and 60’s during which
the Litani works and other such projects were built was halted during the 70’s and hasn’t
resumed since. But with the ongoing peace process in the Middle East, Lebanon may
resume investment in water infrastructure. An advanced water infrastructure may give
Lebanon large water reserves. In this situation, these water surpluses could be used for
export to Israel or Jordan. In the past, there have been plans to export water to Jordan or
Israel. These plans which had been part of the Israeli national water plans were shelved.
Jordan’s area is 89,000 Km2 and it’s population is about 2.8 million people, of them
about 1.2 million are Palestinians. Most of Jordan’s region (about 80%) is desert land.
Jordan has a relatively long border with Israel that crosses many common water sources:
the Yarmouk river, the Jordan river, the Dead sea, the Arava stream and the red sea. Since
1970 the border has been a peaceful one, and in 1994 a formal peace treaty was signed
Jordan’s area can be subdivided in to three main regions:
The A’ur and Arava valleys -
situated on the Syrian/African divide. The A’ur valley is
200-400 meters deep while the Arava valley is between sea level and 400 meters deep. In
this valley only irrigated crops are viable. Small parts of this region have been leased to
Israel as part of the peace treaty. The remainder are cultivated by Jordanian farmers.
The eastern highlands -
borders with the aforementioned valleys and peaks at 1,000
The eastern desert-
covers about 80% of the country.
Most of Jordan’s population (about 90%) is situated in the northwestern region of the
kingdom. In contrast, the desert region is typically very scarcely populated.
From an economic point of view, the economy is undergoing a process of reducing
unirrigated crops in favor of modern agriculture and industry. The industrialization process
is evident in the dwindling proportion of agriculture in the national product, which receded
from a level of 35% of the national product to 7.5% in 1992. The agricultural water
consumption represents about 65% of total water consumption while urban water
consumption represents only 29% of total water consumption.
Jordan’s water sources are comprised of rainwater in the winter season, river and stream
water (part of which are dry streams) and from subterrannean water in the different
- enables winter unirrigated crop harvesting on the mountain ranges and
on the northern reaches in north Jordan.
Two)The Yarmouk river
- produces about 430 mcm water annually.
- are mainly dry, flow westward into the Jordan river, the Dead sea, and
the Arava stream. Their potential output is about 370 mcm annually. In order to
efficiently utilize the stream water flow, the “eastern A’ur canal works” was established.
This plant irrigates the A’ur valley and supplies urban use, especially from the Zarka and
Kreyma stream waters, for the capitol city, Amman. There is also a water line leading
water from the Yarmouk river to Amman. These two sources are the only ones supplying
Four)Underground water in different aquifers
- Their total potential production is about
Of all possible sources only 500 mcm are utilized annually. Only about 100 mcm of
these are of Yarmouk river origin. The largest and best source for additional usage from a
technological and economic perspective is the Yarmouk river. Utilization of it’s waters
requires accumulation of it’s winter flooding, but so far this accretion has not been
implemented. The gathering of the Yarmouk river waters can be made possible by
constructing a Dam in the Yarmouk or Jordan basins or by diverting the Yarmouk’s flow
One)Jordan’s water sources are less than it’s demand for consumption. Since the water
shortage is so severe, Jordan is interested in importing water from the Euphrates Dam
Two)region in Syria, but such import is more expensive than desalination of water, about
85 cents per cubic meter (m3 ), and is very difficult.
Three)Development of water mains infrastructure is lacking. The main water source in
Jordan is the Yarmouk river but it’s utilization is not optimal. The water mains system
from the north to the very arid areas in the south is very insignificant. There are fresh
water pipelines from the Yarmouk river only to the capitol Amman, to the city of Azrak
and to the south. The southern pipeline is intended to reach the Aqaba area but it only
reaches the Dead sea. There is also a pipeline conveying desalinated water from Aqaba
about 50 Km northward, but there is still lacking piping to the Dead sea area and to the
southern desert areas of the kingdom. The water mains system to these regions is planned
to come from Aqaba in the south and from the Yarmouk river in the north.
Four)The disutilization of the Yarmouk river flood waters causes considerable waste of
Five)A few subterranean water reservoirs unused due to lack of wells.
In conclusion, it can be said that a major part of Jordan’s water problems is caused by
lack of infrastructure. Creation of suitable infrastructure will significantly diminish the
The area of Israel is approximately 21,000 Km2 and is inhabited by about 5.7 million
people. Israel is the country on the geographical border of the rainy Levant and the desert.
The Mediterranean sea bounds Israel from the west and the Syrian/African divide
bounds it from the west. The Jordan river flows along the divide into the Kinneret lake and
from there into the Dead sea. The coastal plateau that runs along the length of the country,
and the inland plains comprise most of the cultivable land in the country. The Israeli
agriculture is in the process of transformation into a competitive market structure in
conjunction with a move into agriculture that is economical on water (harvesting of less
water intensive crops such as citrus than in the past).
The water sources in Israel can be divided into three levels of quality:
- salinity of not more than 400 mg/liter.
- salinity of more than 400 mg/liter.
- composed of recycled waste water and flood waters.
a) Fresh water
- is the main source of water, with the potential of supplying about
1,500 mcm on regular terms or 1,600 mcm annually with overdrawing. About 70% of the
fresh water in Israel comes from three main sources: the Jordan basin, the coast aquifer and
the Yarkon/Taninim aquifer. The three sources are interconnected via the "national water
carrier pipeline" (constructed in 1964). This pipeline was intended to solve the water
problem in the south, by utilizing the more plentiful waters of the north. The remainder
Underground waters -
Comprise 60% of the fresh water source. Most of it is accumulated
in two aquifers: the coast aquifer and the Yarkon/Taninim aquifer. Utilization of these
waters necessitates the high electricity costs associated with the pumping of water.
The coast aquifer -
Situated parallel to the Mediterranean coast along 120 Km from the
Carmel mountains in the north to the Gaza strip in the south. It’s total area is about
1,800 Km2 . It supplies 240-300 mcm annually.
The Yarkon/Taninim aquifer -
Stretches along 150 Km2 from the Taninim spring in the
north to the wells of Beer-Sheva in the south. It supplies about 340 mcm annually. About
The Jordan basin -
Supplies about 35% of the fresh water in Israel. Most of the water is
pumped from the Kinneret lake at 212 meters below sea level to a height of 152 meters and
then flows to the national water system.
With the exception of the natural fresh water, there are also, as mentioned, flood waters,
saline waters and waste waters. The utilization of these waters is different from that of
natural water. The utilization is as follows:
Flood waters -
Their use is by trapping of the surface currents formed during very rainy
periods. This water would otherwise flow into the sea. The maximum use of these waters is
up to 90 mcm annually. There are exist six installations for the collection of flood water,
Three of them are used to replenish depleted underwater reservoirs and the other three are
above ground reservoirs. In addition, there are a few private consumers that have
constructed reservoirs of flood water for private use. But from all these reservoirs
collectively, only about 40 mcm are used annually.
b) Saline water-
The saline waters are suitable for many industrial and agricultural uses,
c) Waste water-
The waste waters are used mainly for agriculture and industry. Waste
water purification can be a solution for two problems: the first problem is the water
shortage problem and the second is the pollution of good water by sewage deposits (the
sewage purification process is expensive). There are a few areas in Israel where sewage
purification is accepted. For example: In the Haifa region almost all sewage is recycled
and utilized. In the Dan district all the purification systems are connected to one
purification plant, “Shapdan”, who’s product is conveyed to an underground reservoir and
subsequently pumped out as part of the purification process. In spite of the existence of
these plants, most of the sewage in Israel is still not recycled.
Israel Utilizes all of it’s natural water resources that total about 1830 mcm per year, of
which 1150 mcm is destined for agriculture, 560 mcm for urban consumption and 120
mcm for industrial use. Experts’ estimation is that the non-agricultural use is destined to
double itself within 30 years. Since the “non-agricultural” demand for water is not elastic,
in absence of any new water sources, Israel will have the following problems:
One)The available amount of water inhibits agricultural development and is subject to
Two)Though it is possible to use recycled waste water in agriculture, and to transfer the
remaining water from agriculture to domestic consumption, growing use of recycled
water will cause quality problems with the water consumed.
Three)In absence of sufficient accumulation, dependence on flood waters is created. A
single year of drought can bring upon a shortage of water (accumulation is now executed
only in the Kinneret lake and in a few aquifers in the center of the country).
4.f. The Palestinian Entity
Even though the area under Palestinian control now includes the Gaza strip and only
parts of Judea and Samaria (“the west bank”), we will refer to all this area as under the
Palestinian Entity’s control, since the water planning is for the long term and the Judea and
Samaria region is under negotiation between Israel and the Palestinian Entity.
4.f.1. The Gaza strip
The strip’s area is about 360 Km2 along the coasts of the Mediterranean sea. It is
bordered by Egypt in the south and by Israel in the north and east. It’s population is about
720 thousand people. The Gaza strip is characterized by high population density and by
extensive agricultural activity. These two characteristics produce a high demand for water.
The Gaza strip’s water economy is reminiscent of that of the arid Israeli south,
regarding water availability, but on a more severe level. The almost only exclusive water
source available to the Gaza strip is it’s sandy coastal aquifer. This source can produce
about 60 mcm annually without depleting the reserves and water level, but it’s present
use reaches 150 mcm annually via drilling along all the Gaza strip, under lacking and
problematic supervision. If the supervision over the level of depletion of this aquifer is not
broadened and the pumping stays at it’s present level, saline sea water will permeate into
the aquifer and cause it’s salination.
Following the diplomatic agreement and the hand-over of the Gaza strip to control of
the Palestinian Entity, the region is undergoing many changes, that are expected to be
manifested in economic development (an increase in investment) and population growth
(as a result of the return of many Palestinians from abroad). This population growth will
supplement the already high natural population growth rate and bring upon an additional
increase in demand for water. The increased investment will result in additional demand of
Hence the water needs of the Gaza strip includes two components:
1.Supply of more water than is available from the reservoir that will enable to stop the
depletion. This additional amount of water is vital to the saving of the reservoir from threat
of salination due to seepage of sea water.
2.Supply of water that will meet the higher future demand.
The solution of the water shortage problem in the Gaza strip can be based on an
external solution such as transferring of water from areas abundant in water (Egypt or
northern Israel) or desalination of sea water.
4.f.2. Judea and Samaria
This area covers about 6,000 km2 and totals about 1,100,000 inhabitants. It includes the
1. The plains of G’enin and Tul-Karem.
2. The mountains of Judea and Samaria including their eastern slopes.
The water sources in this area are mainly underground reservoirs from the mountain
aquifer that is partially under Israeli territory and is the main drainage destination for the
regional rains. This area currently consumes about 140 mcm annually, mainly for
irrigation. The current sources of water are not sufficient for expanding the amount
consumed, though for satisfying the urban needs and agricultural potential, hundreds of
4.f.3. The potential water shortage in the Palestinian Entity
The situation of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza strip as a geopolitical unit, headed by the
Palestinian Entity, is different from that of the other countries in the area. Aside from
different political situation, there is also a difference in their water situation. The regions
nations are partially arid but as national units they have the opportunity to transfer water
from region to region with help of water plants, and they will be able to meet their
non-agricultural water needs (and in many cases their agricultural water demand), in the
foreseeable future. In contrast, the water resources available to the Palestinian Entity will
not suffice even to fulfill these basic needs.
The potential water shortage in the Gaza strip may be caused mainly by the dense
population and the extensive agricultural activity. The potential shortage in Judea and
Samaria is connected with the fact that most of the water sources that can be made
available are already being utilized. The aquifers of Israel and the southern Jordan river
waters are already being used by Israel and Jordan. Utilization of the resources situated in
Judea and Samaria by Jordan and Israel is possible, because the aquifers that exist under
Judea and Samaria, drain mainly into streams and springs in Israel (Taninim, Harod, and
Currently, Israel is benefiting alone from the mountain aquifer’s waters and shares the
southern coastal aquifer with the Palestinian authority. This fact, and the shortage of water
in the Palestinian Entity, can bring upon political conflicts, regarding water, in the whole
region. The water shortage problem can not be solved solely by conveying water from
Israel to the Palestinian Entity, as Israel also suffers from water shortage.
The situation aforementioned showcases the difficulty in reaching a solution to the
Middle East’s water problems without cooperation between the region’s nations.
5. Understandings and Treaties regarding water in the Middle East
Already in the early 50’s, with the establishment of the state of Israel, water disputes
where initiated in the region. The hostility between the Arab nations and the state of Israel
necessitated exogenous intervention in order to solve the problem.
Most of the region’s waters are above ground, but some of the issues under contention
deal with subterranean sources. These include the aquifers associated with the Yarmouk
river and the Arava aquifers, both shared by Israel and Jordan, and also the aquifers that
supply the population of Judea and Samaria and the Gaza strip. There is also a need to
discuss winter flood water that is usually not in shortage (for example, the Yarmouk’s
surplus flows into the Dead sea in winter), as there is the need to discuss the reservoirs that
Along the years, understandings have been reached regarding some water disputes, and
lately, under the framework of the peace agreements, even water treaties have been signed.
5.a. The Johnston plan
In October 1953, Johnston was appointed by the president of the United States to
mediate between the opposite sides. The gap between the sides was very wide and the
region’s nations refused to cooperate. Only Egypt, which wasn’t a side in these disputes,
pledged to assist Johnston and promised to help solve the disputes. Upon understanding
that there where no easy solutions, Johnston suggested that the sides formulate their own
suggestions in addition to his own. The different side’s suggestions are presented in the
3 Kally, Elisha, Water in Peace, Sifriyat Hapoalim, 1989 (Hebrew).
Table 3: Positions regarding distribution of water in the Johnston plan
Israel Jordan, Judea
Lebanon Syria Total
Position taken by
As can be seen from the table, the main disagreements were regarding the distribution
of water between Israel and Jordan (including the Palestinian Entity). In an attempt to
attain a resolution of the regional water issue, the sides treated Johnstons’s plan as an
initial proposal, that can be employed as a starting point for negotiations regarding water
5.b. The water issue in the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan
With the signing of the peace treaty between the two countries, the water dispute
between Israel and Jordan reached it’s conclusion.
The peace treaty implies mutual recognition between Israel and Jordan regarding the
water rights of each country. The treaty includes definitions regarding the amount of water
designated for each country, timetables for it’s drawing, and the division of the water
sources. The major points mentioned in the treaty are:
* The amount of water available to each country, in excess of previous consumption, will be
equal but will be pumped out from different sources at different seasons of the year. In the
summer, Israel will pump water from the Jordan river and Jordan will pump water from the
Yarmouk river. In the winter, the roles will be reversed.
* In addition to the quantity of water specifically defined, it was decided that in order to
prevent waste of water, each country can use as much "otherwise wasted water" as it
desires (flood waters that without accumulation would flow to the sea or evaporate).
* For the sake of future development, it was agreed to establish a special water committee to
oversee the issue. The joint committee will consist of three members from each side. The
water committee will act to take care of maintenance of the water sources, and of the
creation of new ones. Among the supplementary projects, it was decided to construct a
Dam on the Yarmouk river and a water collecting system on the Jordan river.
* Each country is obliged by the treaty to conserve the water reservoirs and not to pump over
the quantity allotted, in order not to deteriorate the quality of water. The two sides also
agreed not to contaminate the water sources with sewage water and not to cause damage or
deviation of any water source. The economic costs arising from the protection of water will
be financed by the sides in such way that each side will finance the operations on it’s
* A number of wells drilled by Israel that are situated in Jordanian territory will be under
Jordanian ownership but Israel will continue using them and will be allowed to increase
the usage to 10 mcm, as long as the utilization will not deplete the sources.
* Saline water flowing to the Jordan river will be desalinated. The desalination of these
waters will be executed in a new plant which will be constructed by Israel. Until the
construction of the plant, Israel will supply 10 mcm to Jordan annually.
The water agreements between Israel and Jordan are a beginning of a
new road of cooperation and long range planning in the water issue. The treaty’s main
contribution is the two side’s mutual recognition of the need to develop new water sources
and to conserve the existing ones. This treaty, by solving the Israeli/Jordanian conflict,
leaves unsolved the water dispute between Israel and the Palestinian Entity.
5.c. The water issue in the Oslo “B” agreements between
Israel and the Palestinian Entity
With the signing of the Oslo “B” agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Entity,
the final phase of the solution of the regional water problem has begun. In these
agreements, Israel recognized the Palestinian rights to the water in the West Bank and it
was agreed between the sides that in the next phase of talks these rights will be discussed,
in order to achieve a lasting solution. Along with the Israeli recognition of the Palestinian
rights, the agreement includes some additional decisions :
* Until a full treaty will be achieved, there will be cooperation between the sides in order to
conserve the existing water sources, while fully complying with the supervising
* Both sides agreed that the future water needs of the Palestinian Entity are estimated at
* Until full agreement is reached, there is need to currently supply the Palestinian Entity
28.6 mcm water. This supply will be financed by Israel.
* Along with the water supplied by Israel, the Palestinian Entity is responsible for supplying
about 24 mcm/year to Hebron, Nablus, Ramallah, and Gaza. This supply’s source will be
* The remaining needs (about 45 mcm/year) will be supplied by the Palestinian Entity from
the eastern aquifer in a manner to be agreed between the two sides.
* A joint water committee (JWC) will be established. This authority will supervise the joint
water consumption and will conduct follow up checks on the transfer of water from side to
* Each side is committed to preserve the water sources and to not perform any actions that
may harm the future of the water source.
In advance of the final agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Entity, there is a
need to examine all the alternatives for the water problem solution, in order to find the
6. Means of improving the water situation in the Middle East
The first part of this paper pointed to the objectively difficult situation of the water
economy in the Middle East, which is expected to get worse, as a result of the rapid
population growth rate in most of the region’s countries and as a result of the
disagreements between the region’s countries on water sources property rights. This
inhibits joint development of the water economy and further degrades the existing
This part will intreduce the different proposals that exist in the literature to close the
gap between the water consumption of the Middle East as a whole and the consumption of
each nation in the region, and to reduce the cost of supplying water.
The proposals can be divided into three main categories:
One)Proposals with the intention of increasing the quantity of water produced.
Two)Proposals for more efficient ways of conveying water and for improving the matching
between sources of water production and sources of water supply.
Three)Proposals for reduction of water consumption by structural changes in the economy,
and by enacting a new method of costing water that will make utilization more efficient.
Out of all the methods proposed, the one that stands out the most for importance is the
method of desalination of sea water. Given the available technology, this method
represents the top threshold for the price of water that is feasible for most of the region’s
countries (in terms of per capita product), and thus prevents the possibility that a water
shortage will endanger the existence of the region’s nations. In a practical sense, the
existence of the desalination system transforms the water shortage from an issue of basic
existence to one of standard of living and standard of development.
The discussion of means to improve the water balance will be divided into two main
fields: first, methods that facilitate the increasing of total water production in the region
and making the use more efficient, without requiring cooperation between the different
sides, will be introduced, and second, methods that demand prior resolution of the water
property rights disagreements, between Israel and the Arab countries and even a
comprehensive peace in the Middle East, will be presented.
6.a. Methods of increasing the quantity of water
that do not require cooperation between the sides
In the following items the main methods of increasing the water supply, which do not
require cooperation between the sides, will be presented.
The Mediterranean sea and the Red sea are salt water basins which by the desalination
methods, currently available, can become virtually unlimited sources of water for the
region’s nations, albeit, at relatively more expense than the methods currently emploted in
producing water. The cost of desalination is estimated at 80 cents/m3 (in 1992 prices). In
contrast, for example, the cost for pumping out water from the Yarkon/Taninim aquifer is
estimated at 20 cents/m3 and a cost for production from the southern coast aquifer is
estimated at 40 cents/m3. Therefore, the supply curve of water in the long term (in which
desalination plants can be constructed) consists of several rungs where the top rung is
completely elastic at the price of 80 cents/m3. The high price of desalination may serve as
an obstruction to the existence of agricultural crops (almost all crops will not be
economically viable to produce at these prices of desalination or the quantity produced will
be reduced), But the price will not bound the urban domestic uses, especially in the more
developed nations. For example, in the year 2000 the average annual per capita
consumption in Israel for domestic use is expected to be about 100 m3 of water. If the
quantity of water demanded at eaqualibrium will require desalination, the marginal price of
producing water will rise from 40 cents/m3 to 80 cents/m3 . This price increase will raise
the marginal cost of water for domestic use by 40$ per year. This amount is negligible in
relation to the per capita product in Israel. Notwithstanding, the increased cost of water
will have an indirect effect on the consumers via the price of agricultural and industrial
Based on the existing desalination technology, it is possible to calculate the value of
water in the joint reservoirs of Israel and the Palestinian Entity, who’s future is slated to be
decided in the final settlement between the sides.
From the economic perspective, the disagreement regarding the water property rights is
in essence the rent of water in the common reservoirs. Water belongs to the common
reservoir if it is possible to draw it out from sites in Israel and from sites in the Palestinian
Entity, or to be able to negate the opportunity of the water to reach the reservoir.
According to this definition, the mountain aquifer and the southern coastal aquifer are
common reservoirs. If we presume that all the water in Israel is disputed, since most of it
can be diverted and thus not reach the reservoirs, we find that the total available amount of
water is about 2,000 mcm/year. The economic value of this water is $1.6 billion/year
(according to the cost of 80 cents/m3 for desalination). If we deduct the cost of production
from this sum, we will find that the maximum value of all the water under contention is
estimated at $220-$230 million annually (if there is cooperation between the sides). For
instance, this amounts to only 0.4% of the GNP of Israel and 10% of the Palestinian GNP
in 1993. Therefore, the contention regarding water property rights between the two parties
is primarily a matter of standards of living and not a matter of existence.
2. Collection and recycling of waste water
The amount of sewage produced in the Middle Eastern region is large and is rapidly
growing, in absolute terms and in proportion to the quantity of water consumed in these
countries. For instance, it is estimated that the quantity of waste water per capita produced
annually in Israel exceeds half of the per capita quantity of water consumed (60 m3 as
opposed to 100 m3 annually, respectively). The waste waters represent, on one hand,
sanitation hazards that could endanger the public health and even to contaminate the fresh
water (by way of seepage into the fresh water reservoirs) and the sea (where the untreated
sewage flows in absence of purification plants). On the other hand, the waste water
represents potential for purification and reuse in irrigation of agricultural crops, as a result
of the relatively low cost of recycling waste water.
Some of the region’s countries have recognized the health necessity of collecting waste
water and also their recycling potential, and have established in the urban areas networks
of waste water collection and plants to recycle the collected sewage.
4 Eckstein, Zakai, Nahtom, Fishelson: Allocation of water sources between Israel, The West Bank, and
Gaza, The Economics Quarterly 1994, 329-367 (Hebrew).
The leading county in recycling waste among the region’s nations is Israel. The
collection and recycling in Israel started in the 60’s. Along the years, the methods have
been refined and the scope of recycled water has been expanded, so much so that in the
90’s it reached two thirds (about 200 mcm) of the waste produced. The recycled water is
piped to irrigate the crops in the arid Negev district, and it’s high quality enables it to be
used for irrigation of all the different crops. Although it’s quality is suitable also for human
consumption, It has been decided not to utilize it for drinking water. In light of the
important health matters and the relatively low cost of recycling (about 30 cents/m3),
which is lower than supplying water from other non-conventional sources (such as sea
water desalination), the planning is that waste water recycling in Israel will continue to
expand, and by the year 2010 will represent up to 35% of the total quantity of water
utilized for irrigation (in contrast to the rate of 23% in the early 90’s).
Jordan has also recognized the necessity of collecting waste water, and in the 80’s much
effort was invested in collection and recycling of sewage water in urban centers, where the
rate of citizens connected to a sewage system who’s final destination is a recycling plant is
about 40%. In the rural areas, in contrast, waste is not yet recycled. As a result, the rate of
Jordan’s citizens who’s waste waters are recycled is only about 25% of all the citizens.
Despite the above, the recycling situation in Jordan is much better than that of Gaza,
Judea and Samaria. There are hardly any organized sewage systems in these areas, and the
sewage flows unimpeded into the ground or into the sea. Thus, the potential for recycling
in these areas, and especially in Gaza, is large.
6.b. Cooperative projects of increasing the quantity of water
and preserving the required quality
After the disagreements between the sides regarding the water sources property rights
will be settled, it will be possible to initiate common projects in order to preserve the
existing water sources and to develop new Water sources.
1. Projects requiring regional cooperation
a). Importing water from Turkey by way of pipeline or by freighters and sacks this
program is based mainly on Turkey’s willingness to export water (Turkey is abundant in
water). Although the transfer of water from Turkey does not depend, directly, on
cooperation between the sides, it seems that without agreement from all sides, Turkey
would not be willing to transfer water to any country, which could be interpreted as
politically supporting one of the sides in the conflict. Furthermore, and in addition to the
political problem of being based on external water sources, there is also the logistics
problem of conveying the water. Suggestions for constructing a pipeline from Turkey to
the Gulf countries with a diversion to Jordan were rejected by the receiving countries
because of cost considerations (the cost is higher than desalination) and political
considerations. Another proposal to construct a pipeline to Jordan, Syria, and to the West
Bank were rejected due to political considerations. For similar reasons Israel decided in
1988 not to import water by way of the sea, but new technology developed for transfer of
water using vinyl bags, may substantially reduce the cost of conveyance and make the
import of water viable (the cost of conveying one m3 of water in vinyl bags is estimated at
25 cents in contrast to $1/m3 to transport water in containers). The quantity of water that
Israel strived towards was 100-200 mcm/year. For Jordan, though, it looks like the new
technology will be of no help, because Jordan’s only pathway to the sea, in the Aqaba
region, is 400 km away from the main areas of consumption and thus, a further system is
required to convey the water from Aqaba to the population centers, which will render the
importing of water by sea not economically viable.
b). diversion of waters from the Nile river - there are a number of alternatives to divert
1.conveying water from the Nile to the Negev and as compensation transfer of waters from
the Kinneret to the Jordan river (to the A’ur plant) or to Judea and Samaria. This method is
worthwhile for Jordan and the Palestinian Entity as it will enlarge the quantity of water
available to them, and is also worthwhile for Israel, because it will decrease the cost of
2.Transfer of water from the Nile to Gaza - the project will augment the quantity of water
This project can annually supply 100 mcm of water to the Gaza strip or 500 mcm in
case that the water is also supplied to the Negev. The project can be executed by widening
the El-Salaam Dam and the Egyptian Sinai Dam. The cost of the expansion and
conveyance of 500 mcm annually was estimated in 1986 as $315 million (1984 prices).
The calculated cost of supplying one m3 of water (in the case of conveying 500 mcm) is
19.8 cents (1984 prices). This amount is the sum of the original cost of water, the
load of the cost of finance (at an assumed 5% interest rate), the cost of energy required to
convey the water, and the operating costs. In the case of supply of water from Israel as an
exchange, the cost of water in Judea and Samaria will be 19.8 cents/m3 (1984 prices) and
in Jordan (the A’ur plant) will be 4.8 cents/m3 (1984 prices).
For Egypt, the quantity of water it is required to transfer is negligible - 0.5% of it’s
consumption. This amount is in surplus, that is not expected to decline with time. Egypt
lets water flow to the sea, because in winter the quantity needed in order to produce
electricity at the Aswan Dam is less than that needed for irrigation purposes. However, a
problem crops up in the implementation of the projects - there is a state of asymmetry in
the importance of the project to the water supplier - Egypt and the receivers - Israel, The
Palestinian Entity, and Jordan, which leads to enhanced importance of ideological rather
than economic considerations on the side of the supplier. Thus, without peace in the area,
the probability that Egypt will agree to the implementation of these projects is modest, and
correspondingly, without peace the receiving sides would not wish to enter these projects,
on account of the high severance cost for the receivers, who may base their whole water
2. Projects requiring cooperation betwen Israel and Jordan
a) The water shortage at the Dead sea - both countries are currently utilizing the sweet
water that used to flow into the Dead sea. This abuse causes the dwindling of the sea’s
volume and has been one of the main reasons for the proposal to divert water from the
Mediterranean sea or from the Red sea into the Dead sea for electricity production. An
advantage not connected to electricity production is the deslanination of 100 mcm/year as
The problem is that it is not possible to simultaneously execute both the Israeli plans and
Jordanian plans because the Dead sea is only able to receive and evaporate one allotment
of 1,000 mcm annually, and not the quantity that Israel and Jordan planned to transfer
(1,500 and 1,000 mcm respectively). Morever, A BI-national plant may receive
international support with subsidized capital, that will make the project viable. Without
subsidies, it seems that the cost of executing the project of connecting the seas and
producing water is not economically viable.
Aside from building the Canal, there is a need to collect the Yarmouk flood waters that
are wasted. This can be done by the construction of the Al-Wuheda Dam, because if not,
the waters will continue flowing to the Dead sea and reduce the capability of diverting
water to there from the Dead or Mediterranean seas.
b) Diverting the Yarmouk waters to the Kinneret lake. The estimate is that by diverting the
otherwise useless flood waters, 100-240 mcm/year can be collected (at this level the
Kinneret reaches it’s full capacity and requires augmenting the capacity and pumping
ability). The cost of the diversion of the Yarmouk into the Kinneret is low relative to direct
collection of the Yarmouk flood waters. Notwithstanding, the diversion of the Yarmouk
waters to the Kinneret will not utilize all the wasted potential.
c) Cooperation in the aquifer management - While Israel and Jordan coordinate the use of
ground water (some cooperation on the south Jordan but more on the Yarmouk), they
utilize their common aquifers with inadequate coordination - to both their detriment.
3. Project requiring cooperation between Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Entity
Desalination of the moderately salty waters of the Jordan valley and Jericho can yield
about 7 mcm/year, which can be used by the three parties. The cost of constructing this
4. Projects requiring cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Entity
a) Constructing a common desalination plant on the Gaza coast - this plant will supply
water to Gaza and to the Negev at an estimated cost of 80 cents/m3. The construction
should cost $200 million. It was suggested that the plant be jointly financed by Israel and
the Palestinian Entity by proportion of their use.
b) Construction of 16 purification plants to raise the quality of water in the Gaza strip -
Following the high rate of pumping in the Gaza strip, the quality of water is very low. The
creation of purification plants, that will supply water to the Gaza strip and to the Jewish
settlements near it, will increase the water quality in this area. The cost of each plant is
$750,000. Joint proportional financing was also suggested for this project.
c) Operating a joint committee for management of the water economy - In order to insure
efficient water allocation, it was suggested to form an Israeli - Palestinian committee for
joint management of the water economy. This committee will function according to the
1. All the disputed water sources or waters from a common reservoir (mainly the
mountain aquifer and the south coast aquifer) will be administered exclusively by the
2. The water from these sources will be sold to all consumers at fixed prices, according to
their place, the cost of conveyance there and the quality.
3. All profits from water sales will be invested in further water projects (such as those
4. In case there will be uninvested profits remaining, they shall be divided between the
Creation of this joint committee will bring on increased economic efficiency, while
completely separating the dispute on the ownership rights of water resources from the
5. Project requiring cooperation between Israel and Lebanon
Conveyance of water from the Litani river - conveyance of surplus water from the
Litani river in Lebanon to Israel can be relatively easily executed by conveying the surplus
in a canal to the Hatsbani river or to the A’yun river which both flow to Israel. From there,
the water can be conveyed via the national water carrier pipeline to the West Bank or to
the Gaza Strip or stay in Israel (according to an agreement). The conveyed water can also
be used to produce electricity, so that the net cost of conveying the water will be about
8 cents/m3 (1986 prices). However, the Litani has a relatively small surplus, if any, as it’s
waters are already being used for electicity production and irrigation in southern Lebanon.
It is estimated that, at most, only 100 mcm/year can be transported (maybe partly as an
5 F.M Fisher, Water And Peace In The Middle East: Report Of The Harvard Middle East Water Project,
6.c. Ways of increasing the efficiency of water use
Asides from ways of incresing the water supply, there are ways to decrease the gap in the
water balance using methods that will bring more efficient consumption without affecting
the standard of living of the population. As the urban and industrial uses of water are not
elastic and represent only a small part of the total water consumption, the potential for
more efficiency consumption is mainly in the agricultural sector. In order to depict
potential efficiency, one has to remember that over 75% of the water consumed in the
Middle East are directed towards irrigation of agricultural crops, that in many cases are of
less value than the water used to irrigate them.
1. Reduce the agricultural sector and import agricultural products as a substitute
The policy of the region’s Arab countries has been to reach, as far as possible, self
sufficiency in the food that they consume, in order to avoid the dependence on external
food import (more than half of the region’s food is currently imported). This policy
produces inefficiency in water utilization, as in a number of crops the value of water
required for irrigation is greater than the price of the crops themselves on the international
market, that is determined mainly by crops grown in water abundant countries (among
these “wasteful” crops are wheat, rice, and sugar). Consequently, the reduction of crop
cultivation, especially the “wasteful” ones, and supplementation of food consumption by
importing of agricultural product at reduced prices from water abundant countries can
partially alleviate the water problem. The significance of this import is that it implies
indirect import of water (the water used to irrigate the imported crops) at a discounted
price, and it can free water sources for the ever growing domestic urban consumption.
The main impediment to implementing this approach is the eagerness of the region’s
nations to attain self sufficiency in the food supply. The example of Iraq, that was
dependent on food imports, and who’s inhabitants reached the verge of famine following
the trade restrictions imposed ensuing the Gulf war, is clear in the minds of the policy
makers in the region’s countries and causes them not to yield in their striving to achieve a
self sufficient food supply. An additional problem that makes the reduction of the
agricultural scope more difficult is the concern of the countries leaders that such a decision
would bring upon a wave of migration from the countryside into the urban areas, where the
rates of unemployment are higher and there are usually housing shortages. Thus it seems
that without additional measures, it is not plausible to make the agricultural water
consumption more efficient by augmenting the dependence on imports.
2. Technological improvements in agriculture and altering the crop mix
A path that can make agricultural water use more efficient without causing influx of
population into the cities is the introduction of improvements in cultivation methods that
will increase the yield per mcm of water, and also the alteration of crop types harvested
(although alteration of crop types harvested will not necessarily avoid the need for
expanding food imports). The regional leader in introducing technological improvements
in the irrigation methods and in altering harvest to crops that are less water intensive, is
Israel, that started focusing on greenhouse cultivation of flowers, fruits, and vegetables
who’s economic value is high and water consumption is low. Altogether, Israel succeeded
in doubling it’s agricultural harvest while reducing it’s consumption of irrigation water.
The water balance in the Middle East, Characterized by many arid areas, induces
disagreements between the region’s nations concerning the ownership rights and requires
the countries to conduct measures of development that will augment the quantity of water
The means of increasing the quantity of water require, in some cases, cooperation
between the countries, which will more likely be increased as the peace process is
sustained, while in other cases can be arbitrarily enacted upon by the different countries.
Nevertheless, the existence of technology that provides the means of seawater desalination
at a cost that most of the countries can withstand, transforms the water problem in the
Middle East and the ensuing dispute between the countries, into an economic question
regarding standards of living rather than an issue of existance. Therefore, there is no reason
for the water issue to impede the attainment of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.
1) Assaf, Karren, El Katib, Nader, Kally, Elisha; and Shuval, Hillel A Proposal for the
development of a Regional Water Master Plan, IPERI, Oct. 1993.
2) Avishai Braverman, Nehemia Hassid, Shalom Drori, Yehoshua Shwartz, Yaakov Maoz,
The water economy in Israel - A view into the twenty first century, The Economics
3) Eyal Brill, Eitan Hochman, Allocation and pricing of water in common ownership on the
regional level among users of equal rights: The problem of the water cooperative, The
Economics Quarterly 1994 417-465, (Hebrew).
4) Development Options for Cooperation: The Middle East / East Mediterranean Region
5) Zvi Eckstein, Dan Zakai, Yuval Nahtom, Gideon Fishelson, Allocation of water sources
between Israel, The West Bank, and Gaza, The Economics Quarterly 1994, 329-367
6) EcoPeace Middle East Enviromental NGO Forum, December 1995, Middle East.
7) Kally Elisha , A Middle East Water Plan Under Peace, The Armand Hammer Fund, Tel-
8) Kally, Elisha, The national water economy, The Ministry of Economy and Planning,
9) Kally, Elisha, Water in Peace, Sifriyat Hapoalim, 1989 (Hebrew).
10) F.M Fisher, Water And Peace In The Middle East : Report Of The Harvard Middle East
Halbach, Alkazaz, Gregory, Helmschrott, Rohm, Stark ; Regional Economic
Development In The Middle East, Veltforum Verlag.
12) Israel - Jordan Peace Treaty Oct. 26. 1994, Ministry Of Foreign Affairs , Government Of
13) Masahiro Murakami, Managing Water For Peace In The Middle East, Alternative
Strategies, United National University Press.
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