Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Regional options for peacefull water management.

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Regional options for peacefull water management.

THERE ARE NUMEROUS strategies available to deal with a water crisis. Some are complementary; others mutually exclusive; and all are limited by economic, social, and political constraints. Previous chapters have focused mainly on options that are available for Israelis or Palestinians (but mainly the former) to undertake on their own. This chapter focuses on regional options. The first section offers a brief review of relevant international law and of suggestive Canadian experience with interjurisdictional agreements for water. We then briefly review the history of water-management plans in the Jordan River Basin, not only to indicate the extensive set of studies and negotiations that have occurred in the region (mainly before 1955), but also to provide a framework for the discussion on present and future negotiations as well. We then discuss possible ways for Israel and the Territories to augment their water availability through regional transfer of water or importing water over long distances (by tanker or by pipeline). We also discuss militarization (with or without annexation) to acquire additional supplies. Militarization, however, should not be viewed as an “option,” but an extremely undesirable result if all other approaches are

unsuccessful. The chapter concludes with a discussion on an alternative approach to water planning.

International Law of Shared Water Resources

In 1959, Israel adopted its first comprehensive water legislation, which declared that water resources were public property, subject to control by the state, and to be used by residents of the state for the purpose of development of the country (Teclaff 1967). This legislation included all water resources, both surface and subsurface, as well as drainage and sewage water. Although no individual or group could own water (or have exclusive right to its use), the legislation guaranteed that everyone had the right to receive water. Domestic use, agriculture, industry, handicraft and commerce, and public services were explicitly recognized as legitimate uses. All licencing of water use was done by the Water Commissioner, and all water management was to be administered by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Water Commissioner.

This legislation was adopted in the context of ongoing discussions of international law dealing with transboundary waters. International law in this area, however, has been largely ineffective. Any legal obligation has been based only on general principles (see Appendix 2), and, as Caponera (1985) notes, the real difficulties in water-resource management concern the political willingness of states to enter into formal cooperative arrangements regarding water resources.

Surface Water

Historically, conflict over the use of water resources has stemmed from the adoption of one of two principles of sovereignty over water by riparian states. In general, upstream states have preferred the principle of absolute territorial sovereignty, whereby a state has the exclusive right to use and dispose of international waters that flow through its territory. Alternatively, absolute territorial integrity, the preferred principle for downstream riparians, implies that downstream users are to be provided with a water supply that is unaltered in terms of volume and quality. The rule of law, however, dealing with the nonnavigable use of water resources has most recently been based on general principles and recommendations arising out of United Nations rulings or on past

principles used by states within water basins or systems. Although no general rule of international law exists, two principles are commonly accepted:

  • Common water resources are to be shared equitably among the states entitled to use them, with related principles of: limited sovereignty, duty to cooperate in development, and protection of common resources.
  • States are responsible for substantial transboundary injury originating in their respective territories (Teclaff 1967; Caponera 1985).

Historically, international relations on the use and development of water resources were based on navigation. Significant consumption for multiple uses in the last half century has resulted in numerous conflicts over international river basins and has stimulated a need for laws that adequately cover transboundary water use. Gleick (1992) has noted that in almost 50 countries the percentage of land that falls in international river basins is greater than 75%. In addition, 13 major rivers have five or more riparian states. This has resulted in major recent conflicts not just on the Jordan but also on the Danube, Indus, Ganges, Euphrates, Plata, and Nile Rivers.

In 1966, the International Law Association adopted the “Helsinki Rules,” which provided general guidelines for water resource use on the basis of watershed boundaries. More recent United Nations documents (see, for example, United Nations 1983) have adopted the use of a watercourse system to describe the water resources shared by many states not simply as a physical unit, but as a system that connects to other components and resources.

The key article of the Helsinki Rules of 1966 is Article IV, which states that “Each basin state is entitled within its territory to a reasonable and equitable share in the beneficial uses of the waters of an international drainage basin.” This principle was further described in an International Law Commission (ILC) report (ILC 1983):

An international watercourse system and its waters shall be developed, used, and shared by system States in a reasonable and equitable manner on the basis of good faith and good neighbourly relations with a view to attaining optimum utilization thereof consistent with adequate protection and control of the watercourse system and its components.

Determining what is “reasonable and equitable,” quite obviously, is the relevant question. What is reasonable depends on the natural features of a given watercourse, whereas equity depends on the social, economic, and political context. The Helsinki Rules of 1966 and the ILC report of 1983 detail the list of factors that should be considered in determining what is “reasonable and equitable” (Table 10). Although reasonableness and equity cannot, as Caponera (1985) notes, be considered rules of law, they do amount to a rejection of both historic principles: absolute territorial sovereignty and absolute territorial integrity.

The implication of these rules is that states bordering an international watercourse have the duty to cooperate to ensure the long-term future of these water resources. This duty includes protecting both the quantity as well as the quality of the water for other riparians. States must also account for any activities that adversely affect the interests or rights of other states. This duty was stated explicitly in a 1974 resolution of the United Nations General Assembly on the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States. It states:

In the exploitation of natural resources shared by two or more countries, each State must cooperate on the basis of a system of information and prior consultation in order to achieve optimum use of such resources without causing damage to the legitimate interest of others . . . all States have the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.

Underground Water

The distribution of fresh water on the Earth readily justifies the emphasis on groundwater concerns internationally; 77.2% of fresh water is found in ice, 22.4% in groundwater, 0.36% in surface water, and 0.04% in gas in the atmosphere. International law related to groundwater, however, is both more and less developed than that related to surface water. It is less developed in the sense that it came to be an issue much later in the history of international law for shared natural resources, but it is more developed in the sense that, partly because of that lag, there has been systematic thinking about a technically and legally adequate regime for international groundwater resources. Only since the Helsinki Rules of 1966, however, has groundwater been formally included within

Table 10. Principles of reasonableness and equity, according to the Helsinki Rules of 1966 and the International Law Commission (1983).

According to the Helsinki Rules:

  1. What is reasonable and equitable share . . . is to be determined in the light of all the relevant factors in each particular case.
  2. Relevant factors which are to be considered include, but are not limited to:
    1. the geography of the basin, including in particular the extent of the drainage area in the territory of each basin State;
    2. the hydrology of the basin, including in particular the contribution of water by each basin State;
    3. the climate affecting the basin;
    4. the past utilization of the waters of the basin, including in particular existing utilization;
    5. the economic and social needs of each basin State;
    6. the population dependent on the waters of the basin in each basin State;
    7. the comparative costs of alternative means of satisfying the social and economic needs of each basin State;
    8. the availability of other resources;
    9. the avoidance of unnecessary waste in the use of waters;
    10. the practicability of compensation as a means of adjusting conflicts among users; and
    11. the degree to which the needs of a basin State may be satisfied, without causing substantial injury to a co-basin State.

The ILC report of 1983:

  1. In determining whether the use by a system State of a watercourse system or its waters is exercised in a reasonable and equitable manner in accordance with article 7, all relevant factors shall be taken into account whether they are of a general nature or specific for the watercourse system concerned. Among such factors are:
    1. the geographic, hydrographic, hydrological and climatic factors together with other relevant circumstances pertaining to the watercourse system concerned;
    2. the special needs of the system State concerned for the use or uses in question in comparison with the needs of other system States including the stage of economic development of all system States concerned;
    3. the contribution by the system State concerned of waters to the system in comparison with that of other system States;
    4. development and conservation by the system States concerned with the watercourse system and its waters;
    5. the other uses of a watercourse system and its waters by the State concerned in comparison with the uses by other system States, including the efficiency of such uses;
    6. cooperation with other system States in projects or programmes to attain optimum utilization, protection and control of the watercourse system and its waters;
    7. the pollution by the system State in question of the watercourse system in general and as a consequence of the particular use, if any;
    8. other interference with or adverse effects, if any, of such use for the uses or interests of other States including but not restricted to, the adverse effects upon existing uses by such States of the watercourse system or its waters and the impact upon protection and control measures of other system States; and
    9. availability to the State concerned and to other system States of alternative water resources.

Source: Adapted from Caponera (1985).

the scope of legal discussions about international drainage basins (Hayton and Utton 1989).

In one way, it is strange that the development of international law for groundwater has lagged so badly. More than 60 times as much fresh water occurs underground as occurs in lakes and rivers (Pearse et al. 1985), and many industrial countries depend heavily upon groundwater — three-fourths of all the water used in Denmark and the Netherlands, and nine-tenths of that used in Belgium, is groundwater (Hayton and Utton 1989).

Like surface sources, groundwater rarely stays within a political boundary. The Disi Aquifer, for example, underlies Jordan and Saudi Arabia and contains an enormous quantity of nonrenewable fossil water. It is heavily pumped (1600 Mm3/year, with most going to Saudi Arabia), with the water currently being used for irrigation as the aquifer is not located near populated areas. Despite huge capital costs and high pumping costs, however, the water may eventually be piped to Amman, some 300 km from and 1 000 m above the wells. The Northeast African Aquifer underlies parts of Chad, Sudan, Libya, and Egypt, and is being affected by Libyan initiatives to build a 1 600-km canal from an oasis in the southern part of the country to the coast. In short, only the specific political aspects make the conflict over shared aquifers of Israel and the West Bank unique.

The general principles of management for states sharing groundwater resources are similar to those related to surface water. As expressed by Barberis (1991, p. 167), they are “the obligation not to cause appreciable harm to shared resources, the duty of equitable and reasonable use, the obligation of prior notification, and the duty to negotiate.”

Barberis also points out that, even in the absence of accepted law for groundwater, there is more than a 100-year history of the successful application of these principles. Optimum management, however, can become highly complex when it is not just a question of transboundary groundwater but also of interactions between groundwater and surface water or of political boundaries between the location of the aquifer outflow and its recharge area, which is exactly the case for the Mountain Aquifer in Israel and the West Bank.

The most significant new development in the international law of aquifers is a draft treaty developed over a period of 8 years by an international group of specialists (Hayton and Utton 1989). The Bellagio Draft Treaty focuses on mutual agreement among those entities that share the aquifer, and it is remarkably comprehensive. Besides the obvious areas of withdrawal and recharge, it also includes articles dealing with contamination, depletion, and transboundary transfers. Special provisions are made for drought conditions, including equitable sharing of any hardships; for public participation; and for a series of dispute-resolution techniques up to and including formal arbitration or submission to the International Court of Justice.

Might such a treaty work for Israelis and Palestinians? Certainly they each have more to gain (Palestinians in the near term; Israelis in the long) by coming to an agreement than by taking unilateral action. Moreover, the treaty is designed expressly to minimize interference with national actions. It is worth quoting at length from Hayton and Utton’s description of the approach taken in the Bellagio Draft Treaty (Hayton and Utton 1989, pp. 664–665):

In order to minimize the intrusion into the sovereign sensitivities of independent countries, three concepts are used:

  1. rather than comprehensive administration along the entire border, control is to be asserted only in zones considered to be critical because withdrawals are exceeding recharge or contamination is threatening groundwater quality;
  2. actual enforcement would be left to the internal administrative agencies of each country with oversight and facilitating responsibility lodged in an international agency; and
  3. the “black letter” provisions delegate only a limited amount of substantive discretion to the joint agency, but, above all, they instruct the Commission to take the initiative, subject to Governments’ approval, in preparing for and confronting the full range of problems involving the Parties’ trans-boundary groundwaters.

This approach seems reasonably likely to satisfy those who will sooner or later be faced with negotiating an agreement on sharing the aquifers that underlie Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Relevant International and Canadian Experiences

There have been numerous experiences internationally with the application of water law and the development of institutional frameworks

and formal cooperative arrangements regarding transboundary water resources. Four of these are discussed below, primarily to provide an overview of the range of agreements that have been implemented. Two of these involve Canada, and one is solely within the country (the Prairie Provinces Water Board). Because the Canadian provinces have ownership over resources within their boundaries, the interjurisdictional water issue in Canada is much like that of an international river basin. These examples represent the types of institutional arrangements that may be appropriate in the Middle East.

International Joint Commission (IJC) — The International Joint Commission is a permanent, impartial tribunal consisting of six members, three from the United States and three from Canada. It was established as an institutional mechanism under the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty between the two countries, which set out to bring about rational water management of the transboundary waters. The IJC has three basic functions. First, it sits as a regulatory body that manages the levels and flows of boundary and transboundary waters. Second, it is a commission of inquiry to monitor, investigate, and report on problems along the common frontier between the United States and Canada. Third, it serves as a court of arbitration, providing principles for the equitable use of boundary waters. The role of the IJC is similar to the UN Security Council and GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) in that it arbitrates disputes between the two countries and has the power to prescribe conditions and provide protection from indemnity for injuries arising from the action of one of the two parties on the other. The Commission, however, has no policing powers and hence cannot actively enforce its decisions and must draw on other institutional means for enforcement.

The Prairie Provinces Water Board (PPWB) — The Prairie Provinces Water Board is the administering agency for a cooperative surface water apportionment agreement among three provinces (Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan) and the federal government in Canada. This agreement represents the only interjurisdictional apportionment agreement in Canada, and it serves as a useful model of the type of agreement that could be signed in the Jordan River Basin. The agreement specifies the

“reasonable and equitable” apportionment of river waters by allotting provinces 50% of the natural flow arising in or flowing through an upstream province, thereby balancing the concepts of territorial sovereignty and territorial integrity. All water diversions and consumptive uses come under the agreement. Prior notification of changes to the water regime is required, and a dispute resolution mechanism is defined. The weaknesses of the agreement are twofold: it allows provinces to unilaterally pass legislation that would exempt that province, and actions are only taken with the agreement of all parties. Its strength, however, is that it establishes a regional authority composed of senior managers from each jurisdiction with the ability to resolve interjurisdictional disputes, but that leaves provinces free to manage their own water.

The Mekong Committee — The Mekong Committee was established in 1957 under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Committee for the Far East and Asia as an independent body to formulate a comprehensive plan for the development of the Lower Mekong. The Committee is made up of the four riparian countries (Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand), and it is assisted by 21 other nations and 12 international agencies. The primary goal of the Committee is to promote the “comprehensive development of water resources and related resources of the lower Mekong basin.” Despite the difficult political situation in the region over the last two decades, the Committee has acted to develop an integrated planning approach to the Mekong, and recently has concentrated on hydroelectric development. The effectiveness of the Committee has been largely undermined by political problems and distrust, and it has been criticized for not responding to democratic and environmental criticism. Nevertheless, it appears that the Committee will play an important role in river basin planning over the next few decades.

The Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) — After Bangladesh’s independence in 1972, a 25-year “friendship treaty” was signed with India. One of the articles in the treaty incorporated water issues, such as river basin development, flood control, and hydroelectric power generation. Soon after, a Joint Rivers Commission was established to promote

development of the Ganges/Brahmaputra basin. The mandate of the JRC was limited to project development and excluded the question of water sharing or policy development. Although it represented the first formal forum in which bilateral technical discussions over water were held, the political nature of the Commission, disagreement over shared information, and the dispute over water sharing have limited the utility of the JRC in resolving transboundary water conflicts in the region.

Management Plans in the Jordan River Basin: An Historical Perspective

It is clear from the previous discussion that the politics of water practiced today in the Jordan River Basin has its roots in negotiations dating back to the early 1900s (if not before). Although some of the early attempts at assessing the availability of water (and the number of people that could be supported by this water) are mentioned briefly in an earlier chapter, the purpose of this section is to provide an historical perspective on the development of management plans and attempts to reach agreements over water resources in the Jordan Basin. The discussion begins with the Palestine Mandate of 1922, which established Palestine as a distinct political unit (the original Mandate of 1920 had included Transjordan, but the two were separated in 1922 despite strong Zionist objections; Khouri 1985). This historical perspective also provides context for many of the contemporary proposals for water allocation and joint water management that have been — and are being — discussed in the multilateral talks.

The 1920s

The British–Palestine Mandate of 1922 was significant in that it marked the official international recognition of the historical connection of the Jewish people with the land of Palestine. The cornerstone for the Mandate between Britain and the League of Nations had been laid 5 years previously, in a letter from British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to a private British subject (later known as the “Balfour Declaration”). Indeed, the groundwork had been laid long before this, because there had been ongoing pressure on Britain for a Jewish

homeland since the first meeting of the World Zionist Organization in 1897. The letter referred to a national home for the Jewish people to be established in Palestine (Khouri 1985). The British Mandate incorporated the Balfour Declaration in its entirety. It also spawned the development of a Jewish agency to assist with the administration of Palestine and, in the minds of many Zionists, implicitly provided for an independent Jewish state (although this was not part of the Mandate). Soon after, a number of national development agencies and projects were created, including the Jewish-owned Palestine Electricity Corporation, which was founded by Pinhas Rutenberg. In 1926, the Corporation was granted a 70-year concession to the waters of the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers for the purpose of generating electricity, and subsequently a dam was built at the confluence of the two rivers. It was through this concession, which was formalized by the British High Commissioner, that Arab farmers were denied the right to use the waters upstream of the junction of the two rivers for any purpose without the express permission of the Electricity Corporation. This permission was never granted (Doherty 1965; Hosh and Isaac 1992). Although the dam was destroyed in the 1948 war, Wolf (1995) notes that Israel continually used the “Rutenberg” concession in later years to argue for a greater share of Yarmouk River waters.

The 1930s

Questions about the absorptive capacity of Palestine arose during the 1930s as Jewish immigration and settlement in the region and, concurrently, Arab opposition, increased. As noted in Chapter 6, the British government responded to this growth and opposition by assigning Sir John Hope-Simpson to assess the potential of the land to accommodate an increased population in Palestine. He concluded that, given reasonable growth in Arab agriculture, the remaining lands were “insufficient to maintain a decent standard of life for the country’s Arab rural population” (Esco Foundation 1947, as quoted in Wolf 1995). This report was followed by a formal policy document known as the Passfield White Paper, which agreed with Hope-Simpson that there was little land available for Jewish immigrants. These documents were severely criticized by the Zionist community, primarily because they failed to

take into account the regional hydrology or the potential for intraregional transfer of water. Hence, the issue of the true absorptive capacity of Palestine was not adequately addressed. In 1931, in response to the criticisms of the Zionists and, in particular, Chaim Weizmann (who claimed that “we shall be able to put at least 50,000 additional families on the land, without the least injustice to its present occupants” (as quoted in Wolf 1995)), British Prime Minister MacDonald reiterated the British Mandate’s obligation to encourage Jewish immigration and settlement on the land of Palestine. In effect, this amounted to a dismissal of the conclusions and recommendations of both the Hope-Simpson Report and the Passfield White Paper.

The first regional water supply project in Palestine was implemented in 1935–36 by Mekorot,9 the newly established national water company under the guidance of S. Blass. The plan involved supplying water from three sources, Kfar Chasidim, Ousa, and the falls of the Carmel near Yagur, to provide 4 Mm3 of water to the western Galilee (Fishelson 1989). This project was followed by the assignment of M. Ionides by the British to be Director of Development for the East Jordan Government for the express purpose of assessing the water resource and irrigation potentials of the Jordan River Basin (Hosh and Isaac 1992). The Ionides Plan contained three primary recommendations (Doherty 1965; Naff and Matson 1984; Hosh and Isaac 1992):

  • That Yarmouk River floodwaters be diverted along the East Bank of the Jordan River and stored in Lake Tiberias (Kinneret);
  • That these stored waters, along with a small quantity of Yarmouk River water, be diverted through a new canal (the East Ghor Canal) to provide irrigation for lands east of the Jordan River; and
  • That irrigation water of the Jordan River be used primarily within the Jordan River Basin.

Consistent with the Hope–Simpson Plan, the assessment by Ionides also concluded that there would be insufficient water to sustain a Jewish state. Although the Ionides Plan was never implemented in its entirety (because the Palestine Electricity Corporation still had authority over the waters of the Jordan and the Yarmouk), it did serve as a

9“Mekorot” comes from the Hebrew word for sources or springs.

basis for Jordan’s future water development planning, and provided important input to the UN Partition Plan of Palestine (Doherty 1965; Hosh and Isaac 1992).

The 1940s

The issue of the absorptive capacity of Palestine and, accordingly, of Jewish immigration, had still not been adequately resolved by 1940. Although it is not clear precisely why, a director of the US Soil Conservation Service, Walter Clay Lowdermilk, was sent to the region in 1938 to examine the issue of land conservation. On the one hand, Fishelson (1989) notes that the Americans commissioned Lowdermilk to undertake a detailed study of the region because they thought this research would aid US efforts with respect to land conservation, but this seems a dubious justification. Wolf (1995), on the other hand, implies that the British sought US help after both Arabs and Jews expressed increasing opposition to the resolution of this issue by the British. Others have suggested that Zionists, unhappy with previous plans, pressured the United States directly to commission a separate study.

Regardless of the reason, it is clear that Lowdermilk felt that, with appropriate water management, the water available in the Jordan River basin could sustain a much larger population than existed at that time. Included in his initial idea was the formation of a regional water authority based on the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in the United States. In 1944, he published his comprehensive plan for the region, entitled Palestine: Land of Promise. The plan proposed that, by exploiting unused water resources adjacent to Palestine, particularly the Litani and Yarmouk rivers, water could be diverted for irrigation throughout the Jordan Valley and south to the Negev. In his own words (Lowdermilk 1944, p. 122):

Further study of the possibilities of what I shall call the Jordan Valley Authority or JVA has convinced me that the full utilization of the Jordan Valley . . . will in time provide farms, industry and security for at least four million Jewish refugees from Europe, in addition to the 1,800,000 Arabs and Jews already in Palestine.

At this time, S. Blass and Mekorot also prepared a comprehensive plan for resolving the water resource problems of Palestine (Mekorot

1944). The plan developed a “national” water resource project that focused on irrigation and hydroelectric development, and incorporated both surface water (from the Yarmouk, the Yarkon, and the Jordan, as well as springs and floodwaters) and groundwater (Fishelson 1989). Blass estimated that a population of 8 million could be served by this plan, which included major water diversions from the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers, and a canal from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea, which would prevent the drying up of the Dead Sea and, in addition, allow for hydroelectric power generation (Blass seems to have been the first person to propose a Med–Dead Canal). Also included in this plan was a recommendation that the Mandate border be redrawn to include the headwaters of the Hasbani, Dan, and Banias rivers, eastward to include territory for a conduit along the shores of Lake Hula, and upstream on the Yarmouk to allow for a set of impoundments along the river (Mekorot 1944; also noted in Fishelson 1989 and Wolf 1995). Although the report also recommended the diversion of Litani River waters into the Jordan River, Wolf (1995) notes that Lebanese territory was not included in the recommended adjustments to the Mandate borders, and it was assumed that agreement would be reached with the Lebanese before undertaking any such diversion.

There was strong Zionist support for both the Lowdermilk and Mekorot plans, and the World Zionist Organization then asked James B. Hays, an engineer who had worked on the Tennessee Valley Authority in the United States, to draw up development plans based on Lowdermilk’s ideas. Hays agreed with Lowdermilk’s estimates of the absorptive capacity of Palestine (Khouri 1985) and published his plan in a book entitled T.V.A. on the Jordan (Hays 1948). The development plan contained seven elements:

  • Development of groundwater resources;
  • Development of the Upper Jordan River’s summer flow for irrigation of nearby lands (including diversion of the Hasbani River for irrigation, and assumed Lebanese agreement);
  • Diversion of Yarmouk River waters into the Sea of Galilee and their storage there;
  • The Mediterranean Sea–Dead Sea Canal that had been proposed by Blass;
  • Recovery of the Jordan River’s winter flow for irrigation of the coastal plain;
  • Reclamation of the Hula swamps. The Hula Valley was a marshy area that was flooded by winter flow from the Jordan River; the plan was to construct a series of drainage canals to control both floodwaters and groundwater levels and convert the marsh into fertile irrigation land; and
  • The use of floodwaters for irrigation in the Negev.

Although disagreement remained as to the number of people the region could absorb and the types of water projects needed to provide for population growth from natural increases and from immigration, the UN Partition Plan of 1947, the animosities that had developed between the Arabs and Jews, and the subsequent 1948 Palestine War set the stage for inevitable conflicts over water for the next few decades. In hindsight, it appears that the 1948 borders could have been drawn by an evil water-god, intent on provoking conflict among riparians. The Jordan River and its tributaries — so crucial to the economic development of three states and a population of now dispossessed Palestinians — formed the border between, flowed adjacent to (the Syrian border was only 10 m from Lake Kinneret), or wound in and out of four riparian states. It is of little surprise that, with the exception of intense negotiations in the early 1950s conducted in the context of armed conflict in the region, the development of water resources in the Jordan Valley after 1948 was unilateral, and largely dictated by the new State of Israel, with its growing military and political power, and its superior access to both capital and technology.

The 1950s

The first formal plan for water management from Jordan in the post-independence period was the MacDonald Report in 1951 (Wishart 1990). The MacDonald Report outlined the conflicts between Jordan and Israel, particularly with regard to interbasin transfers of water, and proposed that all developed water remain in the Jordan Valley. The proposal also included the Hays component of diverting the Yarmouk into Lake Kinneret. As Hosh and Isaac (1992) note, however, the

Arabs were concerned over sharing a reservoir with Israel, even though it was a much cheaper alternative (Kally 1993), and favoured a plan proposed by M. Bunger, an American engineer working in Amman, which involved the construction of a high dam on the Yarmouk River that would provide water storage and hydroelectric capacity. The dam was to be built at Maqarin, and be a joint project between Jordan and Syria. Although it did not involve the joint storage of water in Lake Kinneret, which the alternative storage site on the Yarmouk made unnecessary, it did provide for irrigation water for the eastern Jordan Valley and parts of Syria, which would help increase productivity and release the pressure placed on Jordan by Palestinian refugees. The dam would also use the winter flow from the Yarmouk to generate electricity for both Syria and Jordan (with 75% going to Syria) (Doherty 1965; Wishart 1990). Despite Israel’s objections that the original Rutenberg Concession gave it exclusive rights to the Yarmouk River (Hosh and Isaac 1992), construction of the dam began in 1953. Because it would allow for the permanent resettlement of Palestinian refugees, the proposed project was supported by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Israel, however, raised strong objections to the unilateral development of the Yarmouk, and pressured the United States to withdraw funding for the plan (which, according to Hosh and Isaac (1992), “surprised” the Jordanian government).

Accepting that a unified plan might diffuse some of the developing conflicts between riparians on the Jordan, UNRWA asked the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to develop such a plan. In 1952, the TVA requested Charles T. Main, Inc. to produce a “unified plan,” which would combine all the work previously conducted by the parties into one combined plan. In his letter of transmittal of the plan to UNRWA, the Chair of the Board of TVA stated that the Main Plan “does not consider political factors or attempt to set this system into the national boundaries now prevailing” and that “the present location of national boundaries suggests that the optimum development and utilization of the water resources of the Jordan–Yarmouk watershed could only be achieved by cooperation among the states concerned” (as quoted in Doherty 1965). The Main Plan was based on irrigation by restricted-gravity flow within the watershed only, borrowing the basic principle

from the earlier Ionides and MacDonald proposals (Doherty 1965). Similar to other plans, the Main Plan included the drainage of the Hula marshes, storage of Yarmouk River water in Lake Kinneret, a Med–Dead Canal proposal, and dams on the Hasbani and Yarmouk rivers for irrigation and power (Doherty 1965). The Main Plan would form the basis for the proposals later submitted to Israel and the Arab states by an envoy of US President Eisenhower.

Despite the evident need for a regional water plan, Israel was proceeding with unilateral development of the Jordan in 1953, beginning construction on its National Water Carrier at a site in the demilitarized zone north of Lake Kinneret. Syria responded by sending troops to the border (Davis et al. 1980) and, according to Cooley (1984), Syrian artillery units opened fire on the construction site. Syria also protested to the United Nations, resulting in a Security Council order that work in the demilitarized zone be halted. The intake site for the National Water Carrier was subsequently moved to the shores of Lake Kinneret, which, as Wolf (1995) notes, was a “doubly costly” move, for Israel. First, the salinity of Lake Kinneret was much higher than the Upper Jordan; this forced Israel to divert saline springs away from Lake Kinneret and into the Lower Jordan, which has caused other problems. Second, the water now had to be pumped up 250 m from the intake location before heading southward. Clearly, on the one hand, “The Jordan waters question had now become a serious threat to peace in the Middle East” (Smith 1966). On the other hand, Israel chose to accept the high technological costs of locating the intake site for the National Water Carrier at Lake Kinneret and avoid a conflict. (Included in these additional “costs” was the cost of electricity for pumping, which, at the time, meant more imported oil.) This is an excellent example of a situation in which, in the face of the disproportionate costs of a war, an alternative solution to a conflict over water was found.

Although tensions had been temporarily diffused by the Israeli decision to move the intake site for the National Water Carrier, the pressing need for a regional solution to problems involving Jordan River waters and increasing pressures from Congress to resolve the issue of Palestinian refugees resulted, in late 1953, in the appointment by President Eisenhower of Eric Johnston as a special ambassador to lead a

mission focusing on unified water development of the Jordan River Basin.

Johnston presented the technical features of the Main Plan (later called the “Johnston” or “Unified” Plan) to Israel and the Arab states as a set of proposals that would set the stage for future discussions of unified development of the Jordan. There were five key issues at stake in the subsequent negotiations:

  • Mutually favourable water quotas;
  • Use of Lake Kinneret as a storage facility;
  • Use of Jordan River waters in other watersheds, mainly the Negev;
  • Inclusion of the Litani River as part of the Jordan system; and
  • The nature of international supervision of any unified project.

The Johnston Plan contained three major components: storage, distribution, and allocation. Water storage included components from both earlier proposals for diverting Yarmouk River water and consisted of the construction of two primary facilities: a dam near Maqarin for irrigation and power generation, and a diversion structure and canal to store Yarmouk River floodwater in Lake Kinneret (also approximately 300 Mm3/year). The distribution system focused primarily on providing water to Jordan’s East Ghor Canal, which would then supply most of the surface water to the country. Water allocations were based on the principle that Arab states should receive enough water to meet their irrigation needs with the remaining water divided between Jordan (the Yarmouk) and Israel (the Jordan).

Not surprisingly, the Main/Johnston Plan was not acceptable to either Israel or to the Arab states. Israel argued that a unified regional plan should include all water sources of the region, including the Litani, and considered the allocations it was to receive under the plan insufficient. The Arab states remained concerned about the storage of Yarmouk River water in Lake Kinneret as well as the high allocation given to Israel. Accordingly, both groups prepared alternative proposals (Doherty 1965). The Israeli proposal, known as the Cotton Plan, was prepared by an American engineer, Joseph Cotton. Included in the plan was a provision for 50% of the water of the Litani River to be used for power production, and an allocation to Israel of 55% of Litani and

Jordan waters (compared with 33% under the Main Plan). The Cotton Plan also allowed for the use of Jordan River water outside the watershed (for irrigation in the Negev).

The Arab proposal (by the Arab Technical Committee under the guidance of Mohammed Ahmad Salim) was consistent with the Main Plan in that it required that all waters be used within the watershed, but it reduced Israel’s share to 20% (and did not include the Litani River). It is important to note that all of the parties recognized the need for regional cooperation for efficient utilization of water resources; the primary disagreements were on water allocations and the transfer of water outside the watershed (Table 11).

Using the two counterproposals, along with a recently completed hydrographic survey commissioned by the Jordanian government, Eric Johnston submitted a revised set of proposals to the riparians in 1955. The “Unified” Plan allowed for interbasin transfer within the context of the allocations to each country and incorporated many of the engineering features of the Main Plan. Disagreements remained, however, over allocations and international supervision. (The Arabs were in favour of direct supervision by an international body, whereas Israel preferred supervision by a small body of engineers from the region.) In late 1955, Johnston reported that “they [the riparians] have made it clear . . . that the technical and engineering aspects of the plan . . . are now satisfactory to

Table 11. Allocations of the Jordan River under the Johnston Plan (and counterproposals by the Arabs and Israelis).


Source: Isaac and Hosh (1992).

them” and that the negotiations had reached the “one inch line” (as cited in Garbell 1965). The Plan, however, was never implemented, largely because of Arab distrust of Israel, but also partially because of Israel’s opposition to UN involvement (as an infringement on the country’s sovereignty; Khouri 1985).

Wishart (1990) presents a detailed explanation of the Johnston negotiations and the eventual breakdown, and concludes that the Arab states had little to lose by not entering into the agreement; indeed, many of the projects outlined in the Johnston Plan were subsequently undertaken unilaterally by the riparian states. As well, formal acceptance of the plan by all of the riparians would have amounted to implicit recognition of the sovereignty of Israel, something the Arab states were unwilling to grant at the time. Nevertheless, all of the riparians unofficially accepted the Johnston Plan, with the exception of Syria, which did not reject it, but simply failed to accept it. It is also worth noting that there was no explicit allocation in the Johnston Plan for the Palestinians; their water was included in the Jordanian share. It is doubtful whether either Israel or Syria would now accept the Johnston Plan because both have installed and operate their own water infrastructure, which gives each more water than the allotments under the Johnston Plan.

Recent Years

Since 1955, there has been little discussion about shared water agreements. Countries in the region have continued to develop their water resources, commonly at the expense of other countries. In addition, groundwater, which was not covered in the Johnston negotiations, has now become an important issue, particularly for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Subsequent to the dissolution of the Johnston Plan, Israel constructed the National Water Carrier, and Jordan further developed the East Ghor Canal off the Yarmouk River for irrigation. Plans for the major, multipurpose (irrigation, drinking water, hydropower) Unity Dam on the Yarmouk River were revived by Jordan and Syria in the early 1970s. Israel’s territorial gains from the 1967 War had provided it with a stronger riparian position on the Yarmouk and, because impoundment of Yarmouk flows would affect downstream

availability of water, Israel now had to be consulted and agree to the proposal. Before agreement between Israel and Jordan could be reached, problems arose between Syria and Jordan, resulting in the postponement of the Unity Dam project at Maqarin in 1980.

Allocation by Calculation

Allocation of Water by Formula

The issue of water allocations and water “rights” still plays a central role in both the arguments/discussions surrounding regional cooperation over water and in the perceptions of the riparians and the Palestinians. As a result, there has been much written in recent years about the application of surface water and groundwater law in international river basins in the region, as well as the development of different allocation schemes based on the interpretation of these “laws” or using other criteria. Some of these schemes involve the use of mathematical formulae.

Zarour and Isaac (1992), for example, have recently proposed a “pragmatic, applicable and dispassionate formula” for the allocation of water rights. Beginning from the principles of limited territorial sovereignty in water use, and of the drainage basin, including both surface and underground water, as the relevant unit of analysis (based on the Helsinki Rules of 1966), they develop an equation that grants rights on the basis of equal weighting of contributions to supply and the sum of human withdrawals and natural losses. The allocation scheme is presented in the following equation:


where S(i) is the size of the right/obligation of state i (percent); B(i) is the area of the basin/storage volume within or under the territory of state i; B(T) is the total area/storage volume of the basin; I(i) is the natural input to the basin originating within the territories of state i; I(T)is the total input to basin T; L(i) is the natural loss from the basin’s waters occurring within the territories of state i; and L(T) is the total natural loss of water occurring throughout the basin.

Although the lack of available data hindered the authors’ application of the allocation scheme to the Jordan Basin, it is obvious that the model focuses mainly on the natural boundaries of surface and subsurface basins and ignores the social and economic aspects included in the Helsinki Rules.

In a different approach to setting allocations by formula, Moore (1992) starts from the perspective that both the surface water and the aquifers shared by Israelis and Palestinians are common property resources, and that, therefore, it is futile to search for an ideal allocation that is inherently “equitable and reasonable.” Instead, he offers four possible perspectives on equity, adopted from the Helsinki Rules: existing water utilization, recharge area, natural flow, and population. He then suggests that the “optimal allocation regime” (elsewhere termed the “least worst regime”) can be determined mathematically by minimizing the summation of the “error distances” from a notional line connecting points of 100% allocation to Palestinians and 100% allocation to Israelis.

Moore (1993) later extended the approach to allow for six possible definitions of equity and, in the case of surface water, for Syrian, Jordanian, and Lebanese as well as Israeli and Palestinian allocations. In the case of aquifers, storage capacity was added and population was replaced by projections of agricultural, industrial, and domestic needs. In the case of surface water, catchment area replaces recharge area and average annual discharge replaces storage area; otherwise, the two formulae are identical. Results for aquifers ranged, depending on weighting, from a 60–40 to an 80–20 split in favour of the Israelis. Results for the combined Jordan–Yarmouk rivers were very different, with Israel getting about 30% (about what it would have received under the Johnston Plan), Jordan 22%, and the Palestinians little more than 2% (but more than twice what they are getting now).

Although intriguing, such formulae seem too rigid to satisfy the many concerns other than geography and economic power (some might say “greed”). As well, what Elmusa (1993a) calls their “neatness and simplification of the web of factors” can go too far in just that direction. Apart from the physical characteristics of the basin or aquifer, none of the variables is truly objective. The emphasis on “need” in Moore’s

formulae is particularly questionable. The very fact that results differ so sharply between the Zarour–Isaac and the Moore formulae suggests that objectivity may be in the eye of the modeler.

The approaches suggested in the foregoing show that the definition of equity is anything but obvious, but they do show that methods exist that can provide negotiators with suggestive schemes for sharing available, common property water. Moreover, if they are taken as indicative rather than definitive approaches, the mathematical methods might have additional value. For example, various formulae could be applied with a range of weights and the derived results compared to see whether they might be acceptable to the relevant parties. If a resolution with some degree of convergence is identified, the formula could be investigated further. In effect, our suggestion is to go from result to formula rather than from formula to result.

Commercial Transactions for the Sale of Water

A number of authors have suggested that the evident surplus of water on the West Bank could, after independence is achieved, become not only a resource for internal development but also one that could be sold for hard currency. Heller and Nusseibah (1991, p. 112) recognize this potential but are cautious in their suggestions:

It is conceivable that the primary benefits that [the new Palestinian] state will derive from the river waters will be indirect, for example, through an agreement with Israel to make use of its National Water Carrier or to purchase at reduced rates certain water-intensive agricultural produce from Israel.

Somewhat in contrast, Zarour and Isaac (1992, p. 23) suggest full acceptance of water as a market commodity, with potentially significant benefits for a future Palestine:

An international open water market in the Middle East would be a good promoter of international cooperation in the area. Countries with water surpluses would be willing to trade water with shortfall countries, in an arrangement fairly valuing water like any other commodity . . . . One potential application of this would be that the anticipated Palestinian entity could trade water rights with rights to access and use Israeli costs.

Canadians may have some reservations about the final sentence, given the way Americans have sometimes cast longing glances at water

to the north, but the same perspective should give them grounds for recognizing why Palestinians at all levels feel that water is such a critical resource for their future. Just as with Canadians, the issue for Palestinians is not whether there will be enough water for drinking and sanitation but whether water will be available in large enough quantities and at low enough costs and in appropriate locations to allow for sustainable economic development.

Zarour and Isaac (1991) suggested a variation on the proposal for an open market for water. They proposed using the water surplus found in the West Bank to supply the Gaza Strip, which has a water deficit. No mention is made of financial aspects, but it would surely be cheaper and technically more efficient to work out a trade under which the West Bank would supply Israel and Israel, in turn, would supply Gaza. This is exactly the sort of approach that Zeitouni and her colleagues had in mind. Using a mathematical analysis, they simulated the results of two alternatives for auctioning rights to water futures, both of which use market mechanisms to achieve welfare-maximizing results (Zeitouni et al. 1991, p. 2):

The two proposed economic incentive mechanisms are: (a) a market for percentage rights, where potential water consumers bid for a share of an uncertain quantity of water, and (b) a market for priority rights in which potential consumers bid for a slot in a queue, and once assured a position, are in a position to use as much water as they need and is left by bidders further up the line.

The method is as applicable among consumers within a nation as it is between national entities. Although the authors find that either method improves the welfare (in an economic sense) of all parties, better results are achieved with the percentage-rights method. They note, however, that the market for priority rights might be favoured, particularly in an international situation, as more wealth is transferred to the sellers of water, which is likely to be the Palestinians.

A type of futures market for water is apparently operating successfully in Australia, where capacity in a common storage reservoir can be privatized (Dudley and Musgrave 1993). Assuming there is confidence in the managing authority, capacity sharing both minimizes the interdependence of different users (allowing each to follow its own optimizing behaviour) and reduces their costs to achieve any given level of

certainty and risk avoidance. The system is not without problems (for example, upstream participants are not allowed to reduce inflows from the catchment area, at least not without compensation to downstream participants), but it is worthy of consideration if any of the various options for using Lake Kinneret for joint storage of either Litani or Yarmouk water become feasible. A similar scheme was advocated by Salim Maksud, Director of the Litani River Administration, when he suggested selling water from the Litani to Israelis and Palestinians (see Gruen 1994). It would also be appropriate for optimizing a design to capture and use high winter flows in the Yarmouk River.

Calculating the Social Value of Water

Economic valuation as a way of improving the social allocation of water, and of approaching the issue of water rights, is at the heart of a water model for the region developed at the Institute for Social and Economic Policy in the Middle East, which is located at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. The Institute created the Harvard Middle East Water Project to investigate and propose “a rational economic method for analyzing water issues that may help the parties to perceive the conflict and approaches to its resolution in a new way” (Fisher 1994a). Although only a first-generation model is available, and no formal reports have been published, the work has been under way at Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in collaboration with research teams of Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestinians for nearly 2 years. (The existing model includes three “countries”: Israel, Jordan, and Palestine; Syria and Lebanon could be included in a later version.) Everyone agrees that further work is needed on the model, but the current version and initial results are attracting the attention of both researchers and policymakers (if, indeed, in this region there is any distinction between the two). The timing for this approach appears right and, if so, the hopes expressed in Fisher’s quotation may, in fact, be realized.

The approach that underlies the Harvard water model is summarized in the accompanying text box. Everything begins from the unquestioned fact that water is scarce, which, to an economist, implies that the water has a monetary value. More formally, economists say that the

The Harvard Middle East Water Project

  1. Water is a scarce resource. Scarce resources have value. In the case of water, however, that value is not merely the price that water would obtain in a free market. National aims, including agricultural, employment, and social policy, are involved in the value of water.
  2. The Project seeks to calculate the current value of water in the region and for each of several years in the future. It first examines the costs of supplying water at different points and of transporting it. Next, it estimates private demand curves for water — demand from households, industry, and agriculture. Finally, it incorporates national water policy expressed as additional demand for water at different prices. Equilibrium prices for water are calculated — prices that equate supply and demand.
  3. With the full value of water calculated, the value of the property rights at issue can be assessed. Because water cannot be worth more than the cost of replacing it, an upper bound for that value can easily be obtained. It appears that the value involved in different suggested solutions to the property rights dispute between Israel and the Palestinians is less than roughly $200 million per year — and probably considerably less. This means that the property rights dispute is one over a sum sufficiently small that nations can negotiate about it. By monetizing the dispute, the Project expects to lead to its solution.
  4. Suppose that water is priced at its value (including its social value, incorporating national aims as well as private demands). Owners of water who use the water themselves do not, in fact, get the water at no cost. Such owners give up the money that they could make by selling the water to others. Hence, such owners (like anyone who uses the water) are really buying the water.
  5. The right of ownership, therefore, is a property right entitling the owner to the monetary value of the water. That is true regardless of who uses the water.
  6. As a result, the question of property rights — of who owns the water — and the question of how the water should be optimally managed and used are analytically separate questions. Both questions are of great importance and both must be answered in any agreement, but one can think about them separately.
  7. The Project envisages a water authority jointly operated by Israel, Jordan, and Palestine. That authority will transfer water from one country to another at prices reflecting the full social value of water as determined by each side.
  8. It is important to realize that when a country determines for itself how much water it demands at a particular price — including the demand coming from considerations of national policy — then it should be willing to sell additional water to a neighbour at that price or any higher price. If it does so, it can use the money obtained for greater social benefit than (according to its own policies) would be obtained from the water itself. In effect, the selling country has already said what additional water is worth to it. At that price, it must be indifferent between using and selling such additional water. If it wishes not to sell, then it has placed too low a value on the water, and the price should be adjusted upward.

Source: Fisher (1994a); emphasis as in original.

water has an opportunity cost (which is based on the next-best use of the water). Individuals who own some water can sell it and realize a return, or they can use it themselves (or just leave it in place), in which case they forego the amount they could have earned by selling it. In the latter case, they are, in effect, buying the water from themselves even though no financial transaction takes place. Exactly the same is true for a country; it can sell the water, use the water, or just leave it in place — but no matter which option it chooses, either it receives a return (the first option) or it accepts an opportunity cost for not selling (the latter two options). This sort of approach stems from a general proposition in economics that the question of ownership (in this case, of water) is analytically distinct from the question of optimal (water) use. Neither can be neglected, but, as indicated in the box, for purposes of analysis, the determination of efficient patterns of extraction and use can be defined independently of how ownership shares are divided.

In the simplest free-market approach, the definition of private costs and private returns would be the end of the matter. Almost no one argues, however, for pure markets for water in the Middle East (or anywhere else, for that matter). For one thing, many people believe that everyone is inherently entitled to some volume of potable water; however, the total volumes implied by such entitlements are small. More importantly, national policies with various goals (such as to promote agriculture or to protect employment or even to deny surplus water to

another nation) must also be considered, and they typically involve large volumes. So too are the unpriced (and often unrecognized) ecological services provided by water in place — as wetland for animals or for purification of effluents or for stabilization of river flows — as well as some partially priced services, as for recreation and fishing. The current version of the Harvard water model makes explicit provision for what it calls national policy demands for water as well as for individual demands, but, in its current version at least, it does not incorporate ecological demands (which means that, to some extent, the water is undervalued).

More specifically, the Harvard water model calculates the social value of water based on real costs (extraction, transport, and disposal) and on the sum of private demands (households, industry, and agriculture) in the region plus national water policy (expressed as demands for additional water at various prices). The resulting figure is the social value of water at the border and, given this value, water can be transferred from one country to another at that price or a higher price. Almost by definition, both parties gain: the buying country gets water at a price that it sees as worthwhile, and the selling country has already defined that, above that price, it would rather have the money than retain the water. Each would be better off after the transaction than before, which is the object of the exercise. Better yet, the system tends toward equilibrium, which is to say that the market clears at prices that bring supply and demand together. Of course, some form of water office operated jointly by Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian officials would be needed to administer the transfers, but no policy decisions would be involved.

Although the Harvard water model is admittedly an abstract view of likely markets for water in the region, it does show that water sales across borders would improve economic prospects for all three peoples. In a sentence, what the model does is convert property rights to monetary claims and, at the same time, it provides the information needed to evaluate the profitability of alternative investments in new water-supply systems, imports, or even conservation. Abstract though it may be, the potential for moving toward more rational use of water has a lot of appeal within the region. Not only are the results reasonable, but this

approach demands perhaps the minimum of changes in internal water policies (although markets for water between countries are created, nothing requires that internal markets be free), requires the fewest policy decisions, and fits most easily with proposals for joint management of shared waters. Perhaps most importantly, the model seems broadly acceptable to all three of the national groups most concerned.

The Harvard water model may also provide information of direct use in the negotiations. The very fact that property rights can be redefined as monetary claims tends to make discussion more objective. (Admittedly, no price is truly objective as each reflects social and cultural as well as purely economic forces. Prices are, however, better than slogans and appeals to history.) More importantly, the somewhat counterintuitive result of the approach is that the total value of those monetary claims is not particularly large. As argued by Fisher (1994b), the total value of the water cannot be worth more than the cost of replacing it by desalination. Given that there is some 600 Mm3 of water in dispute, replacement costs are roughly $600 million per year. This creates a stream of annual values that, at typical interest rates, yields a present value throughout time of $5–10 billion. This figure, however, is certainly too high, for it assumes that desalination is the cheapest alternative source, that the equilibrium prices for water are as high as desalination costs, and that one side or the other gets all of the disputed water. Relaxation of these assumptions yields annual costs closer to $200 million (Fisher 1994a) and a present value of $2–4 billion. Those are not enormous sums in international negotiations. Water may be critical to life, but, for most of its uses, it is simply false to consider it “priceless,” and recognizing that fact makes negotiation feasible; recognizing further that the price, hence the total value, is relatively low, should make it desirable.

In summary, it appears that some form of controlled rather than fully open market for water could play a role both in balancing water supply and demand across borders and in supporting the economy of an underdeveloped Palestinian entity. Given the limited availability and high cost of reservoirs in the region, the possibility of a market for storage capacity is particularly appealing. Certainly, inadequate water storage rather than absolute water scarcity is the key issue for most of

the region north of Gaza and the Negev. As well, the availability of a market and the trading of water supplies or even water futures would open up a potential source of income for what might otherwise be a constrained Palestinian economy.

International Transfers of Water

Importation of Water by Sea

Importation of water is under active consideration in the Middle East. Apart from short-term and small-scale deliveries by tanker trucks, the two options most relevant to Israel involve transportation by pipeline from Turkey or Egypt, and by ship or barge from one of a number of countries (but most likely Turkey). This section will review the prospects for importing water by sea as a long-term option. The next section will review the prospects for international pipelines.

Had the long drought continued into 1992, Israel was planning to import water from Turkey using converted oil tankers to meet its short-term needs for domestic and municipal water. Turkey is the one country in the region with an unqualified surplus of fresh water, and rivers such as the Manavgat (which flows at an average rate of 140 m3/s, or about 4 000 Mm3/year) appear to be large enough to supply, and deep enough offshore to provide anchorage for, ocean-going vessels. Some analysts have also suggested Lebanon as a source of water for export, but any surplus there will soon be absorbed by a growing population and economic development (Amery and Kubursi 1992). Loading facilities are not negligible in either scale or cost, but neither is there anything unique about the design (mainly tunnels and piping) that, assuming a Manavgat source, would link a dam 12 km upstream on the river to an offshore loading terminal.

Two main options have been considered: converting oil tankers to carry water or loading the water into large bags that would be towed by tugboats. The latter go by the name of “medusa bags” (not in reference to the character of Greek mythology, but because they move in the water like jellyfish of the same name, allowing waves to pass through them rather than being tossed about).

Estimates of the cost of operating a tanker delivery system range by a factor of about three: from $0.35 to $1.10/m3. Per cubic metre of water delivered, supertankers can operate for much less than smaller tankers, but conversion costs and the cost of loading facilities (mainly because of their deep draft) are much higher. At the lowest end of the cost estimates, which most analysts question, the tanker option would be of marginal interest.

Potentially more feasible are medusa bags, which were developed using Canadian technology (Cran 1992). The bags, each of which carries about 1.5 Mm3, are made of thick nylon coated with vinyl and reinforced with nylon straps. According to a study by Tahal Consulting Engineers Ltd. (1989), costs for a complete system (bags, tugs, and loading and unloading facilities, and even a 5% royalty) with a capacity of 250 Mm3/year would be $0.17–0.23/m3, depending mainly upon interest rates and the capacity factor (the proportion of time each bag is carrying water as opposed to waiting at the terminal or undergoing maintenance). Initial capital was estimated at about $280 million for a six-bag/six-tug system. If these figures prove to be correct, Tahal concluded that medusa bags would be competitive with some conventional sources of fresh water and very much so with most alternative sources. Tahal warns, however, that its initial cost estimates are subject to technical uncertainties that require large-scale or prototype tests for resolution. Final costs could be significantly higher.

Much the same conclusion of optimistic prospects, but significant uncertainties for bag technology, has apparently been reached by the state of Alaska, which is exploring possible exports of water to southern California and Mexico. The state is sufficiently convinced by the figures to begin “encouraging investment groups actively pursuing water imports from Alaska to develop a full-size bag and begin trials immediately” (quoted in Savage 1994).

Neither the Tahal study nor the review of the Alaskan study mentions environmental impacts. Apart from the storage dam at the source, however, and impacts that might occur during the construction phase, they should be minor. The draft required by bags large enough to move sizable quantities of water means that they will need deep-water ports or remain well offshore. In summary, of all the alternatives for importing

water, medusa bags seem to be the most deserving of funding for prototype design and operation.

Even assuming that importation of water in medusa bags is economically attractive for Israel or other coastal nations in the region, transportation of water by sea, regardless of the means of conveyance, faces serious political barriers in the Middle East. Turkey was apparently so embarrassed by a 1990 article in the Wall Street Journal discussing possible water sales to Israel that it broke off negotiations. Adverse Arab reactions could be reduced if the imports to Israel were balanced with a release by Israel of equal volumes of, for example, Jordan River water for use in the Occupied Palestinian Territories or in Jordan. In this way, the imports would become part of a regional solution.

Water tankers, barges, and bags are extremely vulnerable from a military point of view. Two options have been suggested to reduce the risk of hostile action. First, if the imports are explicitly coupled with releases of water to Arab states, as suggested earlier, an agreement could be signed such that any shortfalls resulting from hostile action would be shared among all the parties. Second, instead of using the water to feed directly into distribution systems, it could be used to recharge the Coastal Aquifer. In effect, the imported water would be treated as “capital” for future consumption rather than as “income” for immediate consumption. To this extent, it would mimic the Gur pipeline proposal and also eliminate the fear that any city would go thirsty because a ship had been lost. Indeed, use of imported water for recharge should reduce costs because it would eliminate the need for storage facilities.

Importation of Water by Pipeline

Importation of water by pipeline as a long-term solution to Israel’s water problems is also under consideration. Egypt and Turkey have both been mentioned as possible input sources for the pipeline. Despite some initial enthusiasm in Israel and Egypt for a pipeline to transfer Nile River water to Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, interest has cooled considerably. Egypt predicts less of a surplus in the Nile than originally thought, and diversions of this scale would require agreement among all nine of the nations that share the Nile River basin. Quite in contrast to its reserve about water exports, Egypt has declared its openness to a natural

gas pipeline to Israel, which indicates that the issue is the nature of the resource, not Middle East politics (Mideast Mirror, 11 February 1994). Still, there remains lingering interest in the Nile option to supply the Gaza Strip, partly because a pipeline already exists in the northern Sinai as far as El-Arish, little more than 50 km from the border with Gaza, and partly because costs seem likely to be lower than desalination. Indeed, Kally (1993) argues that it is by far the best option for supplying water to the Gaza Strip, and not a bad option for the Negev. Although the politics of the two destinations differ enormously, Kally argues that they should still be considered (they are not alternatives). His calculations show that, because the costs of providing Egyptian water to the Gaza Strip and the Negev are so much below those of pumping through the National Water Carrier, a trade-off could be worked out by which the water Israel would have supplied to those regions would instead be directed to the West Bank.

Active interest in pipelines has more recently come from Turkey, which would like to play a major role in the future as water broker for the region. Approximately 98% of the Euphrates River has its source in Turkey (Kolars 1990). The river flows from central Turkey through Syria and then Iraq before emptying into the Persian Gulf, and it probably holds the greatest potential for supplying water to those parts of the region suffering from a water deficit. All depends, however, upon Turkey’s “water plan,” which is based on its Southeast Anatolia Project and includes a number of major dams, some already built and some under construction or still in the planning stage.

For Israel, the relevant part of the plan is a Turkish proposal to build two pipelines (generally referred to in the singular as the “Peace Pipeline”) to take water from two rivers, the Seyhan and the Ceyhan, both of which empty into the Mediterranean Sea, southward to the Arab states and maybe Israel (Figure 13). Kolars (1990) states that these two rivers do not have enough water but that the Goksu River does and only requires that the pipeline be 80 km longer. In the Turkish plan, the western line would extend 2 800 km and pump 3.5 Mm3 of water per day (1 300 Mm3/year) to Syria, Jordan, and western Saudi Arabia; this line could include an extension into Israel. The eastern line would cover 4 000 km en route to the Persian Gulf through Kuwait, eastern


Figure 13. Turkey’s proposed Peace Pipeline.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman. The two pipelines together would cost $21 billion. A more modest “minipipeline” has also been proposed (though not by Turkish officials) to supply water to Syria, Jordan, and the West Bank. It would have a capacity of about 2 Mm3/day (730 Mm3/year) and cost perhaps $5 billion.

The success of any of these projects is dependent, first, on resolving the present dispute over Turkey’s control of the Euphrates River, which has often had negative impacts downstream (Kolars 1990). For example, during the filling of the reservoir behind the Ataturk Dam in 1990, Turkey cut off the Euphrates River for 30 days, which forced Syria and Iraq to ration water and limit the use of electricity. The pipeline

projects are also dependent on strong political support within Turkey. Finally, even if political problems could be resolved, the projects would still require financing. In any of its versions, the Peace Pipeline would be a megaproject, and no country or international bank has indicated much interest in providing the funds. Plans for the Peace Pipeline, therefore, are currently on hold.

Despite the current lack of interest, pipeline proposals continue to surface (Gruen 1994). Recently, Alaska looked at the pipeline option to export water, but concluded that it was not feasible (Savage 1994). Although costs are high, they may, nevertheless, be acceptable under some circumstances and in comparison with other alternative sources, particularly for landlocked countries. Cost figures in the Middle East generally range upward from about $0.40/m3, not much above present costs, exclusive of any payment for the water itself.

Security of supply is an important issue among countries that have seldom known peace. The possibility that Israel, or any country, would relinquish part of its sovereignty to Turkey, which would control the flow of water in the pipeline (as would, to a reduced extent, every nation higher on the pipeline) is remote, at least without the establishment of an international authority to operate and monitor the pipeline. Options to reduce the vulnerability associated with importing water by pipeline are similar to those associated with importing water by sea.

Finally, the environmental impacts of interbasin water transfers in the Middle East remain to be determined. Likely minor in the case of tankers or medusa bags, they could be sizable at both ends of a pipeline. Little of the considerable discussion on the potential for pipeline projects has addressed the issue of environmental effects.

A Final Note on Interbasin Megaprojects

This section reviews the range of possible regional megaprojects that, apart from desalination projects (reviewed in Chapter 3), represent the only alternatives for significantly increasing the supplies of water to the region. Although we remain somewhat skeptical of all of them, except possibly medusa bags, none can be dismissed as either technically infeasible or so expensive as to be economically irrelevant.

During the next few years, all of the interbasin megaprojects face two overriding limitations. First, they are only second-best choices. Each of the regional parties has technically proven and cost-effective options that remain to be fully exploited. Chief among these are greater efficiency and conservation on the demand side plus low-tech methods such as rainwater harvesting on the supply side. Not far behind are full recycling of wastewater and greater use of saline water for irrigation. Second, all of the projects have significant economies of scale, and the lower cost estimates all depend upon supplying large volumes of water. The only end-use that could absorb such large volumes is irrigation, but few irrigated crops anywhere in the region have a marginal value that makes it worth paying the cost of conventional sources, much less those of an even more expensive pipeline or port facilities.

The foregoing considerations can be turned to advantage, however. Each of the megaproject options deserves consideration, but a decision on adoption need not be made in the near future. Time, therefore, is available for a careful assessment and comparison among the options on a range of criteria: technical, economic, social, environmental, and political. It is also unlikely that more than one of these options can be built at any given time. Several groups, including the World Bank and Freedom House (an economic thinktank in New York City), have reached the same conclusion. What remains is to find the collection of people with the appropriate balance of disciplines, temperaments, and national origins needed to analyze them, and a donor with enough money and enough patience to wait for results. Indeed, results could be so complex and so disparate among criteria as to require still another organization with strong negotiating and mediating skills to create the process for producing the final report.

Militarization and Annexation as a Solution

In the absence of any concerted effort and action on one or more of the foregoing alternatives, there remains the huge possibility that Israel would use military force to supplement its existing water supplies. As discussed previously, water has been a military issue in the past, and it can readily be argued that this will also be the case in the near future. Thus, national Resistance is key.....

King Hussein of Jordan has been quoted as saying that he could conceive of few reasons to go to war with Israel, but water is one of them (Naff 1990). Over the years, many people have argued, mainly from a journalistic perspective, that a war over water in the region is more or less likely. Recently, an entire book was devoted to the history of conflict over water and the potential for water wars in the Middle East (Bulloch and Darwish 1993).

Not everyone agrees that war is inevitable in the absence of international agreement. Water scarcity is certainly a constraint on development, but this does not lead logically or inevitably to war as a way of removing the constraint. Those who anticipate a war neglect the wide range of options ordinary people have devised to overcome or get around water scarcity. Wishart (1989) reviews many of the earlier articles imputing a “hydraulic imperative” to Israel and finds the arguments either economically or politically dubious. Among other things, he points to the transfer or adaptation of more efficient technologies, such as drip irrigation, as a much better alternative and one that, in his words, has low “transaction costs” compared with either war or multilateral negotiations.

Although water is likely to remain a source of conflict in the region, we share the view that water wars are unlikely. As we have argued in the foregoing, relatively minor reallocations of water away from agriculture can relieve the pressure so much more cheaply and with so much less risk. Such reallocation not only allows for some water to revert to the Palestinians but also shifts water to sectors that can be expected to pay their own way and that do not have the same emotive appeal as “making the desert bloom.” Using a different approach, this is exactly the conclusion that researchers in the Harvard Middle East Water Project have reached. To repeat, according to their calculations, the total value of water in dispute between Israelis and Palestinians probably lies close to $200 million per year and cannot in any case exceed $600 million. As they say, “These are sums over which nations can negotiate” (Fisher 1994b, p. 8). Indeed, the annual cost for loss of water is well under the daily cost of modern warfare.

If water wars in the Jordan Valley are unlikely, one wonders whether they will occur anywhere. Despite the provocative title of their

book, Water Wars, Bulloch and Darwish (1993) make a good case for water as a continuing source of conflict in the Middle East but not such a good case for the conflict escalating to open warfare. Beaumont (1994) reviews the potential for water wars in a number of hot spots around the world, and concludes that they are unlikely. Everywhere he finds that, just as in the Jordan Valley, there are simply better alternatives available to national governments. This is not to argue that those other alternatives are politically easy or free of conflict. In a study of environmental change and acute conflict, Homer-Dixon et al. (1993, p. 45) best summarized what appears to be the consensus: “Water shortages will aggravate tensions and unrest within societies in the Jordan River Basin,” but warfare among riparians is unlikely. They go on to quote Thomas Naff in suggesting that “internal civil disorder, changes in regimes, political radicalization and instability” are the more likely consequences of water shortages.

In summary, fighting over water simply does not make sense. As Tamir (1988; as cited in Wolf 1995) noted: “Why go to war over water? For the price of a week’s fighting, you could build five desalination plants. No loss of life, no international pressure, and a reliable supply you don’t have to defend in hostile territory.” Despite this simple economic logic, water security remains a very important issue throughout the region. Accordingly, it is one component of the larger issue of “livelihood security” for Israelis and residents of the Territories, and is often difficult to isolate from other elements of “security.” Therefore, although the use of force to acquire additional water supplies makes no “economic sense,” one cannot completely rule out this possibility.

Planning for a Different Future

There are many analogies between the post-1973 experience with energy and what is now occurring with water: both water and energy have been priced below true costs. In both cases, environmental damages occur at the production and end-use stages; both are governed by institutions geared to augment supply rather than to manage demand; and both are so widely used that many people doubt that conservation can be an effective option.

The conventional approach to supply–demand problems with either energy or water focuses on ensuring that adequate supplies exist to meet present and future energy (water) “requirements,” typically expressed graphically as curves of consumption that rise with time. This perspective (with its roots in the old dogma of the insatiability of human wants — now questioned by both ecologists and economists) leads to a supply orientation in which demand is treated as virtually exogenous to policy, a “given” that must be satisfied by ever-greater development of new sources of supply. Conservation may be considered but, generally, as a way to buy the time necessary to bring new supplies on line.

The alternative approach to the analysis of energy, dubbed the “soft energy path,” challenges conventional wisdom at each of these points (Lovins 1977). Space does not permit even a cursory review of soft energy analysis, but at its core are three principles: focus on demand and, more specifically, on the services provided by energy, not on the commodity itself; emphasis on the quality of energy as well as on the quantity; and attention to the future rather than the present. Each has its analogy with water.

Demand First

The most distinctive policy implication of soft-path analysis is its emphasis on correcting apparent supply–demand imbalances from the demand side, quite the opposite of traditional energy or water policy. This approach is based on recognition that energy (water) use is only a means to an end, not the end in itself, and that the purpose of energy (water) consumption is to satisfy particular end-uses or services, such as growing a certain amount of protein or cooling a certain amount of material. The question then becomes how each end-use or service can be most efficiently satisfied.

The soft path stands the conventional approach on its head. Analysis always starts with end-uses, not sources of supply, and this reversal forces a bottom-up rather than top-down view. From this perspective, conservation and efficiency are not merely interim necessities, but the primary component of rational resource planning, the first place on which to focus attention. Each end-use is broken down (in as much

detail as data permit) so that more and more efficient approaches to satisfying the service can be identified. As Lovins (1977) remarks: “In the soft path, how much energy we use to accomplish our social goals is considered a measure not of our success but of our failure.” Once beyond the 40 or so litres of water per person-day needed for drinking, cooking, and sanitation, exactly the same is, or should be, true of water.

The analogy, however, between energy and water is not perfect. Among other things, water lacks the direct linkage to thermodynamics that permits energy efficiency to be defined precisely; except for hydropower, energy supply does not vary from year to year; direct use of water is more important than indirect use (unless irrigation water is ascribed to food); and water use is more highly concentrated by sector than energy. Whereas the common energy sources appear in an enormous variety of natural forms (among them coal, oil, wood, and sunlight), water is available in but a single form with three phases (liquid, ice, and vapour). Piped water is even less analogous to oil, mainly because of the difference in unit value; well under a dollar per cubic metre for pure water and well over $100 for crude oil, which explains why it is economically feasible to transport oil, but not water, over great distances. Nevertheless, the analyses already done and referred to in Chapter 4 suggest enormous opportunities to maintain standards of living, and very possibly raise the quality of life, while lowering the consumption of water. For both water and energy, the amounts actually needed to support life, indeed to support a high quality of life, represent but a small fraction of total consumption. Beaumont (1994) points out that it would take less than 700 Mm3/year to provide every Israeli with as much water as urban dwellers in the West consume even without increases in efficiency. The lesson for both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is that the largest, safest, and cheapest “source of supply” for water is likely to be found through conservation and reallocation of existing uses.

Quality is as Important as Quantity

The second distinctive characteristic of soft-path analysis is its emphasis on quality as well as quantity: in the case of energy, on the usefulness of each unit of energy as well as the amount of energy, as measured by

litres or tonnes or kilowatt-hours (or joules); in the case of water, on the usefulness of each unit of water as well as the amount of water, as measured by litres or cubic metres.

In the most precise sense, the meaning of quality is clearer in the case of energy than of water. The quality of energy defines the ability to do work, which can be expressed in thermodynamic units. In this sense, there is no direct analogy to water, unless one defines water quality in terms of the amount of energy needed to restore it to a higher quality. We can, for example, increase the quality of water, no matter how degraded, by distillation, but only by expending both dollars and energy. Measuring the former would give an economic indication of the loss of quality, whereas measuring the latter would yield a thermodynamic one. This concept has yet to be tested extensively to see whether it has either heuristic or practical value. Other characteristics, however, of the various forms of energy, such as compactness and cleanliness in use, are also of importance to us and are worth paying for. For example, oil and coal are valued differently depending upon the amount and nature of impurities they contain; the camper or someone with a fireplace is well aware that some forms of wood burn longer or hotter than others. In this sense, there is a clear analogy between energy and water. Water too is valued differently depending upon the nature and characteristics of impurities, such as salts, bacteria, and heavy metals.10

Quality considerations may be less obvious with water than with energy, but their relevance is the same. The higher the quality of the water or the energy, the more end-uses it can satisfy, and for many purposes it is more important to preserve the quality of energy (water) than to preserve its quantity. High-temperature heat can be used to boil water to turn a generator and produce electricity or it can be used to warm a room, but low-temperature heat can be used only for heating the room; high-quality water can be used for drinking or it can be used to irrigate fields, but low-quality water can be used only to irrigate fields. For certain industries (food processing, for example), one needs

10The value of water also varies depending upon its temperature, but this is essentially a question of adding energy to the water, and is not really a quality of the water itself.

high-quality water with strict limitations on the content of impurities; for industrial cooling and for irrigation, one can accept much lower quality water. In a very real sense, the first law of conservation of matter assures us that the quantity of any resource, water included, will remain the same over time, but the second law assures us that, as we use any resource, its quality will inevitably diminish. Our task is to ensure that the loss of quality is as slow as possible and that we do as much with the resources as possible while their quality is diminishing. In practical terms, this has two implications:

  • One should use water of a quality appropriate to the end-use being served.
  • One should use water over and over again as it degrades in quality by “cascading” from higher quality to lower quality uses.

The notion of quality as a characteristic of energy was never widely recognized outside physics classes before the energy crisis, and it is still not widely used. For many reasons, but mainly because water quality is directly linked to human health, quality considerations have been implicitly recognized for centuries and, at least on an ad hoc basis, cascading has been practiced. Water of different qualities is already used for different purposes and, as we have seen, water is recycled widely in some areas of the world and notably in the Middle East. What is now needed is an extension of the concept so that the need to conserve water quality becomes more explicitly recognized in planning and so that cascading is designed into watershed management as a specific objective rather than as happenstance.

Backcasting Instead of Forecasting

Water is so closely connected with life itself, and with our common history in agriculture, that one tends to forget that it also has economic and ecological dimensions. Thus, we should be suspicious of projections that show increasing deficits between water use and water flows — deficits that cannot possibly be sustained. It would be more useful to recast the analysis in terms of scenarios and experiment with “backcasting” to determine where the system can give and the feasibility and impacts of alternative policies and reactions (Robinson 1988, 1990).

This too is part of the experience from soft-energy analysis and a part whose virtues have been demonstrated. Traditional forecasting always showed the need for greater supplies, whereas backcasting indicated the option to maintain or cut consumption. Actual energy-use patterns have turned out to be much closer to those suggested by the soft path than by traditional analysis.

There are at least three other ways in which backcasting of soft-water paths could work to reduce conflict in the Middle East. First, because it is concerned not with what futures are likely to happen but with how desirable futures can be obtained, backcasting is an explicitly normative exercise. It has none of the pretensions to objectivity sometimes alleged by forecasting. This makes it an ideal partner for political science in a search for regional cooperation and accommodation. All sides see close linkages between water availability and national political and economic security. It is, therefore, only through the exploration of alternative futures, not simply a projection of the present into the future, that ways will be found to minimize the potential for continuing conflict.

Second, apparent conflicts between economics and environment that arise so commonly when viewed from the supply side are typically attenuated, if not totally eliminated, when viewed from the demand side. With only scattered exceptions, the same policies that promote more efficient use and greater conservation also support environmental protection. For example, efficient irrigation systems reduce the risk of soil salinization, and low-flow household appliances cut wastewater flows into sewers. As environmental values become more and more important, along with concerns about the quality of water, backcasts will show degrees of flexibility in policy that are typically obscured by forecasts.

Third, backcasting can test the resilience of alternative scenarios to the extreme weather patterns that are typical of climatic patterns in the Middle East. The impacts of weather patterns on water supply are much greater than on energy supply (where they affect mainly the volume of hydroelectricity that can be generated). Backcasting water end-use scenarios can, with relative ease, incorporate loops to show the impacts of sharply different levels of water availability on the economy.

The potential of a “soft-water path” has never been evaluated for the Middle East. This is hardly surprising. Only a few communities around the world, and no nations of which we are aware, have given the alternative approach serious consideration. Perhaps, for just the reasons cited by Naff in the quotation that began this chapter, Israelis or Palestinians will be the first to do so...?