Watersharing agreements

The Middle Eastern governments believe that a lack of water will constrain their opportunities for development and, thus, endanger domestic political stability as well as relations with their neighbours. This belief has meant that efforts have been under way since the early 1950s to achieve agreements over water, despite larger ongoing political tensions or conflicts (Brauch, 2003, p729).

Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty and Water-Sharing Agreement

Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1994 that contains a water-sharing provision that aims to achieve a 'comprehensive and lasting settlement of all the water problems' between the two countries through mutual recognition of their 'rightful allocations' to water from the Jordan River and the Yarmouk River (Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty, Article 6, 1994b). It also aims to achieve mutual cooperation in the development of existing and additional water resources. Specifically, it allocates:

• for Israel - 25 million cubic metres of water per year from the Yarmouk River (Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty, Annex II, 1994a);

• for Jordan - 40 million cubic metres of water per year from the Jordan River (Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty, Annex II, 1994a); and,

• for Jordan - Jordan and Israel cooperate to try to find an additional 50 million cubic metres of water per year of potable water for Jordan and develop a plan within one year (from the time of the treaty signing) to do so (Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty, Annex II, 1994a). This supply for Jordan has not yet been found.

This treaty is reputed to be 'one of the most creative water treaties on record' because it has Israel 'storing' water for later transfer to Jordan (Medzini and Wolf, 2004, pp193-204).

However, Israel and Jordan are already finding it difficult to meet their water-sharing obligations. Tensions occurred in 1999 when a severe drought caused Israel to indicate that it was unable to meet its water delivery schedule to Jordan and, therefore, to raise the possibility that it would not transfer the requisite water allocation. Jordan, in turn, threatened to take 'appropriate actions' against Israel (Berland, 2000). More recently Jordan has been unable to provide Israel with its share of the Yarmouk River, possibly due to over-extraction upstream by Syria. These incidents highlight significant weaknesses in the water agreement and illustrate the need for water-sharing agreements to be able to foresee and address extreme circumstances to help mitigate the potential for conflict (Fischhendler, 2007).

Undoubtedly, Israel and Jordan will find it even more difficult to meet future treaty obligations, with the various predicted climatic changes. In particular, decreased precipitation and more evapotranspiration (and/or more extreme weather events) mean that the average storage volume in surface reservoirs could decline by as much as 25 per cent by 2100 (Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection, 2000, p94).

The fact that there is a water-sharing agreement in place is an important factor in considering the two countries' abilities to peacefully allocate and share scarce water resources, in light of projected climate impacts, as well as population and demand growth projections, and could help to avoid potential conflict in the future. The fact that difficulties are already being faced in fulfilling commitments on both sides, however, raises some questions as to the agreement's sustainability, given these expected changes. Each country's relative ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change will also affect the treaty's sustainability.

More specifically, new demand-and-supply side water management policies are essential to help mitigate and adapt to climate change, continue to meet water-sharing obligations, reduce political tensions, and restore the Lower Jordan River. This is the case, particularly in Jordan, where rural communities and the agricultural sector are important to the support of the Hashemite Kingdom. The late King Hussein of Jordan said that 'water is the one issue that could drive the nations of this region to war' (National Environmental Trust, 2005, p19).

In other words, the overall treaty could be jeopardized due to increased political instability. In Jordan, 70 per cent of water resources are allocated to agriculture and, in Israel, 50 per cent of water resources typically are directed towards that sector. Yet, for both countries, agriculture's contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) is no more than 3 per cent. Demand-side policy changes are needed to encourage a less water-intensive form of crop production and fewer exports of such water-intensive crops from the water-poor Middle East to the relatively water-rich European nations and Gulf states. In addition, alternative investments must be made to diversify farmer incomes away from agriculture towards more economically and environmentally sustainable land uses, such as rural tourism.

The water-sharing agreement also does not contain a provision for including other riparian countries, notably Palestine, Syria or Lebanon (all of whom share the Jordan Basin), an omission that, in the future, might lead to additional controversies. Adding other riparian countries to the treaty would likely contribute to making the treaty more sustainable and to fostering broader regional cooperation. Thus, a multilateral water-sharing agreement will almost certainly be required in the future.

Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement

In 1995, Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) signed an interim peace agreement (Oslo II Accords) (Libiszewski, 1995, pp85-86).1 Because of the already existing political tensions and the need to share increasingly scarce water resources, Annex III, Article 40 of the Interim Status Agreement was designed to address water and sewage issues by recognizing Palestinian water rights. It allocates 28.6 million cubic metres of water per year to the Palestinians for domestic consumption and recognizes that the PA will need approximately 70 million to 80 million cubic metres of water per year in the future. The Palestinians requested far more (Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement, 1995). Water, therefore, was ultimately left as one of five major issues to be addressed in the final status negotiations because it remains so highly contentious.

Climate change impacts will likely exacerbate difficulties between Israel and Palestine, particularly since final water agreements are not yet in place. More extreme weather events will mean that rainwater will run more quickly over the surface of the land. Consequently, much less water will be absorbed into the groundwater of the shared Mountain Aquifer, which is the main source of drinking water for Palestinians in the West Bank as well as for many Israelis. Eighty per cent of the waters of the Mountain Aquifer are currently consumed by Israel.

Overexploitation is a real concern. If the groundwater resource is over-pumped beyond the 'safe yield', this could increase the salinity of the Mountain Aquifer and affect the recharge potential, which ultimately could lead to permanent damage. And, while the PA is currently restricted in extracting water from the Mountain Aquifer without prior Israeli approval, as water resources become increasingly scarce, the necessity and likelihood of doing so will increase.

Due to domestic and agricultural needs, the PA will be seeking larger amounts of water from the Mountain Aquifer and access for the first time to Jordan River waters. The Lower Jordan River has had all of its freshwater diverted by Israel, Syria and Jordan and little more than sewage today makes its way down the river to the Palestinian West Bank. Climate change is predicted to reduce precipitation in the Jordan Valley even further. Independent and joint actions by the two parties will be needed to address climate impacts and water needs. Israel, in particular, will have to make significant reforms in this regard (Tagar, 2007). At the same time, the PA and Israel remain at odds over the issue of water rights and the basis for allocations. The fact that there is an interim agreement in place and discussions over water resources were ongoing throughout the second Intifada, and since, could signal an opportunity for the two parties to eventually reach a longer-term water-sharing agreement.

As noted above, a multilateral arrangement that includes Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon would likely ensure a more sustainable agreement. Third parties, such as the US and/or the European Union, should facilitate such an accord.

Syria-Jordan and Yarmouk water agreements

Jordan and Syria also have a water allocation agreement.2 It has been renegotiated several times under circumstances detrimental to Jordan, such that the Jordanians feel that their interests have been compromised. Consequently, tensions are often high between Jordan and Syria over water allocations of the Yarmouk River and groundwater.

The fact that an agreement is in place is valuable. However, the extent of violations, and anticipated reduced water availability due to climate change, mean that such tensions can only be expected to grow and thereby call into question the agreement's sustainability.

Lack of water agreements and peace treaties: Syria, Lebanon and Israel

Currently, there are no formal agreements between Israel and Syria or between Israel and Lebanon. Both Lebanon and Syria currently have adequate water supplies (Tropp and Jagerskog, 2006). However, with projected climate impacts, including reductions in precipitation, altered rainfall distribution patterns, and increased evapotranspiration, as well as projected population growth, available water resources will decline and likely will be insufficient to meet projected demand.

For example, available water resources are expected to decline by 15 per cent for Lebanon by 2020 (Nurse, 2007). The Litani River is no longer expected to flow into the Mediterranean and reports have predicted that Lebanon will be unlikely to be able to meet local demand in the coming 10 to 15 years (Ray, 2004). With these projected changes, Lebanon will likely seek to extract more water out of the Wazzani, which is one of the tributaries of the Jordan River that is shared with Israel. This will probably lead to greater political instability between these two nations. Several years ago, Israel said that Lebanese attempts to divert water were a casus belli - that is, a cause of war (Deconinck, 2006). This 'incident' required third-party intervention to prevent a heightened conflict.

Syria and Israel share the resources of the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee. Syria, like the other riparian countries of the Jordan River, is already using about 95 per cent or more of its 'annual renewable freshwater supply' (Jutro et al, 1998). Syria is expected to experience water shortages by 2020 (Jutro et al, 1998).

With 30 per cent of the waters of the Sea of Galilee originating in the Golan Heights, the return of the Golan to Syria and the water and related physical security issues at stake are intricately linked. As climate change becomes a 'threat multiplier' by making scarce water resources more so, and by tending to lead towards increased tensions over resources in the region, the lack of formal water-sharing agreements now between these countries could make the possibility of achieving such agreements in the future much more difficult and could increase the risk of future tensions or conflicts.

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