Water supply increasingly shapes Israel-Jordan relations

Water problems like Ghor’s increasingly affecting Israel and Jordan’s power imbalance

water project-intake and RO
(Photo: Handout Google maps)

AMMAN — Jordan’s waterscarcity is pushing the Kingdom towards unpalatable decisions, as people invent new, illegal ways to pump water. اضافة اعلان

William Alajalin has worked for 20 years as a water treatment specialist in the Southern Jordan Valley, a.k.a southern Ghor, and is a long-time environmental advocate in the area.

Alajalin believes that the cost of water is the least of the district’s worries. “If we miss out on plan B, getting the recovery water from the other side will be a big crisis,” he said.

The “plan B” he cited is Jordan’s well-publicized arrangement with Israel to buy 50 million cubic meters of water for use in Jordan’s agricultural and industrial sectors. The deal comes as an extension of the two countries’ existing water agreement, which was established as part of the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty.

“The water agreement … included a clause for Jordan and Israel to cooperate to find additional sources of water to supply Jordan with 50 million cubic meters per year of drinking water,” said Yana Abu Taleb, the director of EcoPeace, an ecologically and diplomatically focused organization with offices in Amman, Ramallah, and Tel Aviv. “Ever since, Jordan has used that clause to purchase additional quantities of water to help meet its demand.”

The EcoPeace director rejected the notion that Jordan is completely dependent on Israel for water, noting that the purchasing of additional water resources has been a longstanding component in their complicated relationship. Jordan’s water purchases occur between May and October, during the country’s driest months. Israel is a global leader in desalination technology, and its close access to the Mediterranean has allowed it to provide its excess water to Jordan.

Abu Taleb said the annual purchase generally hits 10 to 20 million cubic meters, but this recent agreement has doubled the amount. “The situation now is changing because Jordan is in dire need,” said Abu Taleb. “And our water situation in the country has become really terrible.”

“What we’re saying at EcoPeace is that Israel has this relative advantage. They’re producing more water than they need. But Jordan also has that comparative advantage of producing energy: renewable energy from the sun. With Jordan’s vast desert areas, the technology has become much cheaper. So, the idea is to build healthy interdependencies so that no part would be depending on the other.”

The idea of a cooperative energy exchange is just one of many solutions Abu Taleb and EcoPeace are working towards. As of today, however, Jordan does not provide Israel with solar energy for desalination.

“It’s a one-way deal this time,” she said.

William Alajalin contended that solar energy is affecting southern Ghor, but the area is facing issues with regulation. He said that solar panels are often used as a way for private properties with agricultural interests to cut costs and pump exorbitant and illegal amounts of water.

“They (used to) pump water using diesel fuel,” said Alajalin. “But now they are using solar energy, so they are pumping 24/7. If I’m using diesel then it costs me money, then I shut it down sometimes …. It’s the same in Wadi Al-Hasa near Tafileh (and Wadi Wala near Karak),” he said. “So, these wadis, they supply water to the southern Ghor community.”

Omar Salameh, the official spokesman for the Ministry of Water, refuted Alajalin’s claim. “There are no illegal uses (on) this line, and there is no solar in (southern Ghor),” he said.

Citing Salameh’s concerns about Jordan’s environmental future, Alajalin said that the Ministry of Water has climate change prioritized.

Alajalin believes that meeting basic infrastructural needs would provide superior long-term solutions. Yet, the Kingdom’s few water resources that are available are undercut severely in affected areas like southern Ghor.

Looming in the background of Jordan’s massive water purchase is the enormous death toll in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza that recently made international headlines.

“We all understand that water is a national security issue. No one wants to fully depend on another country to meet such a security issue and a human need like water,” said EcoPeace’s Abu Taleb.

Increasingly, water is playing a dual role in the region as a topic of human rights and as a bargaining chip in trade negotiations, according to Abu Taleb. She believes that the future of peace, or at least basic cooperation in the region, will depend on the prioritization of Palestine’s ability to manage and access water. But the power imbalance with resource accessibility and infrastructure between the three parties complicates water politics in the region.

“We can't fool ourselves and say you can achieve regional cooperation without trying to bring the economic levels of each of the sides at least to a balance,” she said.

As climate change disrupts the region’s resources, compromise between Jordan, Israel, and Palestine is not just a diplomatic priority, but also in the interest of the region’s long-term ecological survivability, the EcoPeace director said.

“What has that thinking, of decision-makers or politicians, that it’s all or nothing. What has that approach done to us? Where are we now?”

Read more National news