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Water for Peace
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Water for Peace

The Jordan River Basin

The precious waters of the Jordan basin are growing ever scarcer, and as populations increase so will the pressure on and competition for this water. Multilateral management plans and agreements are urgently needed to secure a viable future for all people in the basin and avoid the re-emergence of conflicts over water. A joint search for solutions has become a necessity, but this requires greater awareness and understanding on the part of the public in the riparian nations. With this understanding of the wider picture should come the will to resolve the remaining disputes that prevent genuine regional management of the water resources in the basin. Water undoubtedly has the potential to divide the people in this region, but it also provides a natural incentive for cooperation and if approached in this way could be a powerful and much-needed catalyst for peace. Whatever the political situation, people need water to drink and farmers must water their crops: it is therefore impossible to postpone addressing the water problem until ”higher” political issues are resolved. This project aims at raising the interest and involvement of local people all over the basin in order to send a message to the Governments that the time for unilateral management has passed. At the same time, experts from around the basin will work together to develop joint strategies, mechanisms and innovative solutions to the critical problem of water scarcity. Every effort with be made to ensure the involvement of individuals and representatives from all riparian entities.

water for peace,The Jordan River Basin
The Jordan River Basin

The countries which share the basin of the Jordan River have extremely limited water resources, and water rights in the basin have been one of the leading causes of conflict in this much-troubled region. This project will focus on developing multi-lateral water management strategies in the riparian states of the Jordan River System, namely Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine (the West Bank and Gaza Strip), and Syria.

The arid climate and the low and variable precipitation rates have made water the most valuable natural resource in the region.

The continuously increasing population growth rates, limited supplies, and political constraints have led to significant water resources management challenges. Surface water accounts for 35 % of the existing water resources in the study area; groundwater aquifers account for 56% of the resources; while wastewater reuse accounts for only 9%.

The Jordan River System includes the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers and represents the largest surface water resource in the region. The failure to date of the riparian entities to develop a multilateral approach to managing this valuable water resource has encouraged unilateral development by the various riparians and the subsequent worsening of the overall water situation in the basin.

With an annual precipitation rate of up to 1400 mm, the Upper Basin, North of Lake Tiberias, contributes the vast majority of the water in the River. The headwater of the Jordan River originates from three rivers that merge at a point 5 km south of the Northern Israeli borders; The Dan, The Banias, and The Hasbani Rivers.

The Lower Jordan River Basin, on the other hand, has the much lower average annual precipitation rate of 100 mm at its southern end. The Yarmouk River, which is the main watercourse in this part of the Valley, joins the Jordan River in an area partly occupied by Israel. The total catchment area of the Yarmouk is 6790 km2, of which 1160 km2 lies in Jordanian territories, while the remaining area lies in Syria. During the summer, most side streams dry up completely and capturing the winter floodwaters is one of the most critical aspects of water resources management in the Jordan basin. If these waters are not diverted or stored, they flow directly to the Dead Sea.

Table 1. Populations and Minimum Water Requirement For the Jordan River Basin Riparians.
Population In millions (2000)
Projected Population (2020)
Water Potential MCM/Year
Total Water per capita (2000) m3/year
Projected Water per capita (2020) m3/year

Groundwater aquifers are the principal water resource in the region. The three main aquifers in the system are west of the Jordan River, and are central to the water supply of Israel, Jordan, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Those are: 1) The Western, or Mountain, aquifer, 2) The Northeastern aquifer, and 3) The Eastern aquifer. The Jordan River Basin is the major source of water for Israel and Jordan, and also supports the many aquifers in both countries, extending the reliance on the River.

With the exception of Syria, the riparian states of the Jordan River Basin are among the poorest countries in the world in terms of water resources. Most experts consider countries with a per capita water consumption rate below 1,000 cubic meters per year to be water-poor. In the year 2000, the per capita water resource potentials in Israel, Jordan, and Palestine were 250 m3, 234 m3 and 115 m3, respectively, placing the countries in the bottom 20 percent of the world water poverty scale. Table 1 summarizes the projected population and per capita water availability for the year 2020. As can be seen in the Table, the water situation in the Middle East is expected to worsen considerably in the next twenty years.

A critical problem, recognised by all the basin governments, is the lack of a solid agreement between all the riparians with respect to water sharing and development of existing and new supplies. The nonexistence of a comprehensive water sharing strategy has encouraged unilateral development and water resources management plans. For instance, Syria’s uncoordinated construction of storage reservoirs on the Yarmouk has directly reduced the discharge of the river remaining for Jordan and Israel. Of the approximately 1400 MCM of water that used to empty into the Dead Sea in the 1950s, only 250-300 remains and is extremely saline, creating serious environmental problems. Furthermore, the lack of cooperation among the riparians in joint flood capturing projects is leading to the waste of huge quantities of water which could be beneficial to all riparians. For example, the lack of joint storage facilities on the Yarmouk River leads to an estimated 60-150 MCM/yr of winter floods flowing unused to the Dead Sea via the Lower Jordan.


Characteristics and History of Water-Related Conflicts

The last fifty years of water resources management in the Middle East have been characterized by unilateral development and international conflict. Political constraints are the most significant hindrance to the development of new joint water resources management strategies and the creation of sound international water agreements. While the idea of developing a water sharing strategy for the whole basin was recognized as early as 1913, when the Franjieh Plan was proposed, and 1956 when the Johnston Plan (2) was devised, not one single plan has been completely adhered to and complied with. Since the start of the Peace Process in the early 1990s, bilateral agreements and common principles have been signed between Israel and Jordan and Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and Syria and Jordan signed an agreement in 1987, but no multilateral plan or agreement has been negotiated, and even the bilateral ones have been put under pressure and frequently violated in times of natural or political crisis. This has led to a long history of conflicts among the riparians, some of which have been small-scale where one of the riparians rejected a proposed plan yet was still willing to propose compromises, but most have been more serious, which in several cases resulted in resorting to military action.

2 Eric Johnston, a special advisor to U.S. President Eisenhower, devised the plan. It called for the allocation of 55 percent of available water in the basin to Jordan, 36 percent to Israel, and 9 percent each to Syria and Lebanon. The plan was never signed by the countries involved, but has served as a general guideline for appropriations within the basin.


In 1951, the first unilateral water development projects began to take shape in a way that significantly affected the availability of water resources in neighboring states, leading to significant international conflict. In 1951, Jordan announced its plan to divert part of the Yarmouk River via the East Ghor Canal. In response, Israel began construction of its National Water Carrier (NWC) in 1953, resulting in military skirmishes between Israel and Syria. In 1964, the NWC opened and began diverting water from the Jordan River valley. This diversion led to the Arab Summit of 1964 where a plan was devised to begin diverting the headwaters of the Jordan River to Syria and Jordan. From 1965 to 1967 Israel attacked these construction projects in Syria, and along with other factors this conflict escalated into the Six Day War in 1967 when Israel completely destroyed the Syrian diversion project and took control of the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. This gave Israel control of the Jordan River’s headwaters and significant groundwater resources. The most recent directly water-related conflict occurred in 1969 when Israel attacked Jordan’s East Ghor Canal due to suspicions that Jordan was diverting excess amounts of water.

Inter-Arab conflicts have also often arisen, but have only ever been small-scale low-level conflicts. The terms of the 1987 agreement between Syria and Jordan defined Syria’s share of the Yarmouk and limited Syria to building 25 dams with a holding capacity of 156 MCM. To date, Syria has built 37 dams on the Yarmouk River with a total holding capacity of 211 MCM (i.e., 55 MCM in violation of the agreement). Syria’s continuous well drilling in the Yarmouk Basin negatively impacts the base flow in the river, reducing it by approximately 30 percent.

As a result of the 1992 Oslo Peace Talks and the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace agreement, some of the Jordan River riparians have agreed to the “equitable utilization” of the River’s resources. Recent dialogue and peace treaties have lead to increased cooperation with regard to the development of future water resources projects. For instance, the 1994 and 1997 Israel-Jordan agreements led to Israel’s agreement to discuss the possibility of building a canal from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea to produce desalinated water with hydropower. It should be mentioned, however, that in their fervor to reach an accord, apparently both the Jordanians and the Israelis negotiated without coordinating their moves with the relevant ministries. Therefore, important issues remain open or vague and conflicts have recently arisen as a result. For example, in 1999, and due to drought, Israel decided to reduce the quantity of water piped to Jordan by 60 percent – a decision which elicited a sharp response from the Jordanian Government. Disputes of such nature are not unexpected in the future, however, the peace agreements have had the benefit of restricting such conflicts to political rather than military solutions. The fact that the joint water commission for Israel and the Palestinian Authority have continued to meet to discuss critical issues even during the current period of hostilities illustrates the progress that has already been made.


Problems to be Addressed

Reviewing what has been presented so far, the region’s problem is twofold; scarcity in water resources, and the absence of a comprehensive multilateral approach to water resources management. Those two factors combined have led to the long history of conflict in the region, as presented above. Developing solutions to these factors will to a large extent eliminate one major cause of tension in the region.


Fresh water distribution

Project Objectives

The broad objective of the proposed project is to prevent future water related conflicts from occurring in the region. Being ambitious and complicated, this objective will be achieved through a set of smaller objectives, including, but not limited to:

    I. Increasing public awareness of the regional level as to the extent of the problem, its potential implications, and recommended courses of action;
    II. Encouraging a multi-national sense of responsibility among the peoples of the region in combating the water scarcity problem:
    III. Developing joint strategies for the creation of new non-traditional water resources;
    IV. Creating a joint regional water resources data base to be monitored and maintained by all the riparians; and
    V. Initiating joint water related pilot educational projects.

Developing strategies to achieve the above objectives will stem from the basic principles of international water law, such as basin states’ entitlement to equitable shares of water, avoidance of actions that may damage the property of another state, and the sharing of basic water resource data among the riparians. Additional principles include joint management and protection of shared water resources, and resolving disputes without resorting to force. As can be seen from the aforementioned principles, the main theme of international water use revolves around basin states’ cooperation and communication. The Jordan River Basin riparians have so far failed to abide by these general principles and have thus contributed greatly to the difficulty of solving today's water crisis. Therefore, cooperation and communication will be the two vital elements for the success of this project. Cooperation and communication initiatives should start at the lowest levels among the citizens and peoples of the region from all disciplines, and thereby lead to enhanced cooperation between the respective governments.

As an international NGO with involvement and technical expertise in a variety of disciplines, Green Cross International can provide the umbrella necessary for the achievement of the aforementioned objectives. Its task will be facilitated through coordination and joint work with local and regional experts in the fields of water and international basin conflict prevention to ensure the success of the proposed project.


Expected Outputs

1. A complete assessment of the current level of public awareness related to water scarcity in the region, the best strategies for combating the problem, and the extent of riparian cooperation in terms of water resources management and conflict prevention strategies. A subsequent outcome will be detailed strategies and approaches to increasing public awareness and the sense of responsibility towards combating the water scarcity issue in the region and the importance of regional cooperation. The theme of such strategies will center around the incorporation of the water issue into the cultural beliefs of the region, thus creating a “Culture of Water” concept. Once achieved, this will orient and involve the peoples of the region in playing major roles in pressuring their respective governments for increased cooperation with the other riparians to arrive at water stability and security.

2. Strategies for developing new sources of water. Such sources will be mostly non-traditional (e.g. desalination, harvesting and wastewater reuse). All strategies will be devised through joint efforts of experts from the different riparians, and will include identification of projects, technical evaluations, and preliminary feasibility assessments of such projects.

3. A joint regional water resources database to be monitored and maintained by all the riparians. This will serve the purpose of updating the previous studies in the region and incorporating all physical and hydrological aspects of the study area. Also, the database will act as a non-biased source of information providing clear, accurate, and consistent data pertaining to the Jordan River Basin in terms of available water, history of water demand in the area, projected water demand, water management practices, and other related issues. The database will be bias free through cooperation, joint work and consent of experts from all the riparian states.

4. Preliminary plans for water related pilot educational projects, including water management educational programs, water/agricultural technology centers and basin management decision support systems.



The activities of the study team will based on the input and recommendations of experts and representatives from all the riparian states in the Jordan River Basin. This will be occasionally hard to achieve due to the unstable political situation in the region, but all efforts will be made to secure this involvement.

Assessment of The Current Level of Public Awareness on The Situation of The Basin
A detailed study of the history of conflicts in the region, and their interdependence with water as a scarce resource, will be conducted. Due to the tense political history of the area, the various conflicts between the riparian states have been reported from different contexts and perspectives. Therefore, the study team will assess conflict history by tracing the natures and the political scope of previous conflicts among the riparian states. In addition, the study team will investigate the inter relationships between “water conflicts” and all other conflicts between the riparian states in the study area.

Once the detailed history of water conflicts is documented, the study team will attempt to measure the levels of public awareness of it. Increasing awareness with respect to this issue is expected to promote the call for cooperation between the riparians. The levels of public awareness can be measured through extensive focus groups, survey questionnaires, lectures, and presentations conducted in all the riparians. Numerous studies in social sciences have indicated that increasing public awareness of a certain issue leads to a heightened sense of responsibility towards it, and therefore promotes public involvement and efforts towards combating the problem. Having identified the areas with lower levels of awareness, the study team can propose specifically targeted strategies and methodologies to increase public knowledge and interest.

Strategies for Developing New Water Resources
The study team will also focus on measures to prevent potential future conflicts. The continuous population growth in the riparian states translates into increasing water demand in the various sectors. In addition, the continuous decline of water quality in the area constitutes a threat to the stability of the region. Therefore, solutions should be identified and proposed to prevent any potential conflict. Such solutions will be in the form of new sources of water. Research will be conducted to explore the different options, the political, technical and environmental soundness of these options, and their economic feasibility. The study team will identify projects with the potential for serving all the riparians rather than individual states. If implemented, such projects will enforce the spirit of cooperation between the riparians and will act as conflict preventative measures. Projects to be considered will include, the Gaza desalination facility, the Red-Dead Project, and the joint Jordanian-Israeli Desalination facility. Other potential projects will also be evaluated such as grey water recycling and expanding wastewater re-use.

Fresh water pipes in Palestinian territories

Establishment of Joint Water Resources Data Base
The work involved in this activity will include extensive data gathering by the study team and its partners from the various riparians. The work will include accumulating and comparing existing data from the various riparians pertaining to the Jordan River Basin. As a result, a comprehensive database will be designed and developed. The study team will then define the best management practices for maintaining and updating the database. The study team will also identify the most suitable entities to be responsible for managing the database and the most appropriate strategies for utilizing it for the benefit of all the riparians.

Water Related Pilot Educational Projects
The main purpose of these project will be to encourage cooperation and joint work among the riparians. In addition, such projects will assist the riparians in combating the main cause of conflict: water scarcity. The study team will evaluate and plan the establishment of these projects mostly in the form of joint water/agricultural educational facilities. Issues to be addressed include education, water-harvesting techniques, efficient use of water, farm management, increasing conveyance efficiency, and water-related research. The study team will identify suitable locations for these pilot projects; define management strategies, services, and feasibility of the proposed institutions. At the end of the project, the study team will have prepared the preliminary plans and recommendations for several joint educational projects which will revolve around promoting measures of common benefit to all basin users.

Experts Workshops
Considering the multi-disciplinary nature of the project, it will be necessary for the study team to join forces with experts from different areas and with various technical backgrounds. Once potential partners are identified, workshops will be held to present the participants with results so far accumulated. Based on those presentations, dialogue workshops will serve as grounds to analyze potential(s) for water management conflicts, and identify the best management practices for greater cooperation among the riparian states.

Public Hearings
This task may be implemented in the form of workshops, and/or presentations to the governing/legislative bodies in the riparian states. Meetings will revolve around the outcome of the experts’ workshops and the study team’s findings. In addition to governing/legislative bodies, the study team will solicit input and feedback from private investors and other civil society stakeholder groups. The study team will focus on diversifying those groups in order to gain a comprehensive reaction to materials so far developed, and to view the issues from different contexts. Such hearings are anticipated to result in a set of conclusions and recommendation pertaining to integrated water management in the Jordan River Basin which will be presented to the authorities of the respective riparian states. An additional workshop concentrating on the particularly severe water problems faced in Palestinian areas has been proposed.



As mentioned earlier, the most vital factor for the success of the proposed project is cooperation and joint collaboration among the various riparians. Therefore, the study team will recruit experts from all the riparian nations. The technical expertise will be in the areas of water resources, environmental engineering, international law, political and social science, and agriculture. Potential partnering entities include universities, experts from the various farmers associations in the region, research centers (e.g. The Peres Center for Peace and The Queen Rania Center for water Studies), Government bodies and other organisations active in the region. The extent of cooperation among the various riparians will be significantly affected by the political situation in the region. However, the study team will go to the extremes to ensure the continuity of cooperation and joint work. Being mostly Jordanian, the study team has greater flexibility to act as a liaison between the other groups.



Throughout the life of the project, the study team will identify the most critical issues to be followed-up, and the most suitable entities for doing so. In addition, it is proposed that an international panel be formed to monitor the progress of the outcomes of the project. This panel will include experts from all the riparians and will meet on a regular basis to discuss progress, identify drawbacks, and define necessary courses of action. The panel will report to the various governmental and non-governmental entities involved in the project, and will provide reports to Green Cross International on a regular basis.


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