The Essentials of Sustainable Water Resource Management in Israel and Palestine

Article excerpt

INRODUCTION

THE CURRENT PEACE PROCESS offers a special opportunity for all the nations in the Middle East to abandon the existing status of belligerency, confrontation, non-cooperation, and polarization. The ultimate objective is to arrive at a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the whole region under which all the peoples of the area can together develop the area and promote progress and prosperity. Water is a major issue that can catalyze the peace process or inhibit it. After more than five years of meetings and negotiations, the gap in the positions among regional parities is still as wide as ever. The region's hydrologists and politicians are still talking on different wavelengths. This article will focus on the Israeli-Palestinian water disputes in the groundwater aquifers and Jordan River. We realize that water is a particularly sensitive and critical issue for all parties to the conflicts. But we also believe that finding a common understanding of water issues in the Middle East would go far to enhance the possibilities of achieving stability in the region. Conversely, failure to reach these common grounds will, most definitely, obstruct any efforts to attain this goal. There is no alternative to an honest and forthright discussion of the water issues and to exposing the current unsustainable reality of mismanagement, inequities, and the outright denial of the Palestinian's inalienable right to their resources.

WATER RESOURCES IN PALESTINE

Water does not recognize political boundaries and, as such, it is difficult to delineate Israeli and Palestinian surface and ground water resources. Nevertheless, we outline here the water resources in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as those in Israel.

Surface Water

Surface water is that which flows permanently in the form of rivers and wadis or that which is held in seasonal reservoirs. The Jordan River is the only permanent river which can be used as a source of surface water in Palestine. The Jordan River is 360 kms long with a surface catchment area of which 18,300 [km.sup.2] lie upstream of the Lake Tiberias outlet. The average annual flow of this river is about 1311 MCM (Haddad, 1997). The Jordan River initiates from three main springs: The Hasbani in Lebanon, the Dan in occupied Palestine, and the Banias in the Syrian Golan Heights to form the Upper Jordan river basin. The water of this basin flows southward through Lake Hula towards Lake Tiberias. In the absence of irrigation extraction, the Jordan River system would be capable of delivering an average annual flow of 1,850 MCM to the Dead Sea. The riparians of the Jordan River are Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Jordan. Only three percent of the Jordan River's basin fall within Israel's pre-1967 boundaries.

Average precipitation for Upper Jordan and Lake Tiberias averages 1,600 mm and 800 mm respectively. The lower basin, around the Dead Sea has a desert climate characterized by scarce rainfall. The Jordan River is progressively more saline and less usable towards the Dead Sea. The Jordan River system satisfies about 50% of Israel's and Jordan's water demand; Lebanon and Syria are minor users, meeting 5% of their re-combined demands via the Jordan.

Downstream of Tiberias is the Lower Jordan river basin, which joins the Yarmouk and the Zerka Rivers originating from Syria and Jordan in the east. The outlet of this basin is toward the Dead Sea in the south. As a result of water diversion from the upper Jordan by the Israel, there is no fresh water to flow downstream of Tiberias. In normal years Israel allows a flow downstream from Lake Tiberias of just 60 MCM of water basically consisting of saline springs which previously used to feed the lake, and sewage water. These are then joined by what is left of the Yarmouk, by some irrigation return flows, and by winter runoff, adding up to a total of 200-300 MCM. Both in quantity and quality this water is unsuitable for irrigation and does not sufficiently supply natural systems (www. …