Sorting out Yarmouk deal with Syria; a first step toward facing Jordan water woes

Wahda Dam
Wahdah Dam (Unity Dam) (Photo: Jordan News)
AMMAN — Ministry of Water spokesperson Omar Salameh told Jordan News that there is a noticeable reduction in the flow of water from Syria to Jordan, and that all issues related to the 1987 Yarmouk agreement “will be dissected diligently” during the deliberations of the Joint Water Committee which will meet at a yet-to-be-decided date in the future.اضافة اعلان

But while Salameh expressed uncertainty about the nature of solutions that will be proposed when members convene, he stressed that “Jordanian concerns and interests will be voiced”.

According to Sputnik news, Jordanian Minister of Agriculture Khaled Hneifat said that the Jordanian government is aware of Syria’s violations of the agreement that regulates the flow of Yarmouk River waters.

The agreement, which is a modification of a similar Jordanian-Syrian deal dating back to 1953, stipulated that Jordan would commit to the cost of building an irrigation dam, known as the Wahdah Dam (Unity Dam), on a part of the Yarmouk River that falls on the border between the two countries.

The agreement also clarifies that Syria will be allowed to build up to 28 additional dams that collect Yarmouk waters, all on the condition that Jordan receives at least 200 million cubic meters per year.

Given Jordan’s water shortages and the additional economic pressure created by the Syrian refugee crisis, the Ministry of Agriculture is also concerned about the meager amount of water Jordan receives from Syria, which is significantly less than the amount initially agreed upon by the two parties.

Jordanian water expert and former co-chairman of the Joint Jordanian-Syrian Water Committee Dureid Mahasneh told Jordan News that “whatever Syria exploits from the Yarmouk aquifer will most likely have a negative impact on the flow of water from the Yarmouk River to Jordan”.

Mahasneh also said that for many years, Syria used rainfall water as their main source for grain crops, but that recently, “Syria started using irrigation water instead, which changed their agricultural pattern.” This pattern shift enabled Syria to plant other crops, like trees, which could be possibly detrimental to Jordan.

And while Syria’s intentions are not hostile, he added, its government has retained control over the territory covered by the agreement after a decade of civil war and instability, so “there is no excuse today for continued violations of the agreement”.

According to Mahasneh, Syria has built 46 additional dams, which is significantly more than the number allowed by the agreement.

Sami Tarabieh, environmental project coordination specialist for the UNDP, believes that “regardless of any political factors, the committee must consider a more comprehensive and integrated approach to the Yarmouk issue, beyond a mere focus on the number of dams being built”.

“The Yarmouk basin does not recognize political boundaries and issues. It only operates on natural boundaries,” he said, adding that studies show the Yarmouk Basin as being “extremely vulnerable to drought”, and that the role of climate change should not be underestimated.

Climate change will doubtlessly affect both Syria and Jordan, and to mitigate its damaging effects, increased regional cooperation is needed, said Tarabieh.
Such emphasis on climate change, when it comes to the Yarmouk agreement, was echoed by the Jordanian director for EcoPeace Middle East, Yana Abu Taleb, who believes that the first step toward a resolution is to meet “and discuss climate change”, especially knowing that Jordan’s water shortage has reached a critical point.

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