Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Flowing Streams and Arid Politics -- Water and Power: The Politics of a Scarce Resource in the Jordan River Basin by Miriam R. Lowi / Rivers of Eden: The Struggle for Water and the Quest for Peace in the Middle East by Daniel Hillel

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Flowing Streams and Arid Politics -- Water and Power: The Politics of a Scarce Resource in the Jordan River Basin by Miriam R. Lowi / Rivers of Eden: The Struggle for Water and the Quest for Peace in the Middle East by Daniel Hillel

Article excerpt

Water and Power: The Politics of a Scarce Resource in the Jordan River Basin, by Miriam R. Lowi. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. xix + 204 pages. Appends. to p. 211. Notes to p. 270. Bibl. to p. 285. Index to p. 291. $49.95.

Rivers of Eden: The Struggle for Water and the Quest for Peace in the Middle East, by Daniel Hillel. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. x + 297 pages. Notes to p. 318. Bibl. to p. 329. Gloss. to p. 342. Index to p. 388. $30.

As King Hussein of Jordan and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel both have acknowledged, the most crucial and valuable part of the peace treaty they signed in 1994 may well be the agreement on water. This agreement seems capable of ending at least one part of the discord and conflict that have wracked the Middle East since early Sumerian times. After generations of ambiguity and tergiversation by both sides, Israel accepted Jordan's pressing demands (usually made through the years with the dignity and discretion that characterize King Hussein's acts) for its rightful share of water.

Although Syria--which, like Jordan and Iraq, suffers from cumulative and acute water shortage--has not acknowledged this publicly. Israel also committed itself in the peace treaty with Jordan to limit its share of the Yarmuk River waters (shared by Israel, Jordan, and Syria) to the 25 million cubic meters (mcm) per year allocated under the 1954 Johnston Plan. This was the basic blueprint for equitable Mideast water-sharing which the administration of US President Dwight Eisenhower--much more far-seeing and imaginative about laying foundations of peace and growth in the region than most successors--drew up. Jordan, as a recent study prepared for the Economist Intelligence Unit points out, is likely to get 215 mcm per year of additional water from the Yarmuk and its seasonal floodwater, desalinated water, the Jordan River's floodwaters, and other sources to be determined.(1) Jordan has been unable to match Israel's capital and technology input devoted to storage of river waters, to upgrading the brackish flow of Jordan River water, and to protecting the quality of shared water resources for both states. Jordan will now be able to do these things if the agreement, under supervision of a joint Jordanian-Israeli water committee, is properly implemented.

The Jordan-Israel treaty puts its two signatories far ahead of the other riverine states of the region in resolving often tough, intractable problems in the Euphrates, Litani, Nile, Tigris, and other Mideast water systems. Both of the two excellent books under review were published before this Jordan-Israel treaty was a done deal. Each book, however, anticipates the requirements for positive solutions in its analysis of the Mideast aspects of the growing global water shortage.

Professor Miriam Lowi did her graduate work at Princeton University under the eminent Middle East economic historian, Charles Issawi. Her systematic study reflects Issawi's influence. She treats Arab-Israeli contention over the Jordan River basin in terms familiar to Americans or Europeans living in arid zones like Nevada or Italy's Mezzogiorno, where water can be a political as well as an existential issue. ("Water," wrote the French poet-aviator Antoine de St.-Exupery, "is not necessary to life but is life itself.") Lowi reviews other riparian disputes over: the Euphrates basin--among Iraq, Syria, and Turkey; the Indus basin--between India and Pakistan; and the Nile basin--among Egypt, the Sudan, and seven other African riparian states.

In her careful dissection of the main Jordan basin issues from the first work of American planners like Eric Johnston, Lowi traces how the plans and projects of the 1950s have become tangled in the deadly web of the central, emotive Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and in such equally complicated ones as the Israeli-Syrian conflict over the Banias River and other Jordan headwaters rising in or near the Golan Heights. …

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