Water, water, everywhere

Jordan, Palestine, and Israel struggle to reap benefits from a groundbreaking water agreement, writes Nikita Malik. openDemocracy focuses on debate over international politics and culture, offering news and opinion articles from established academics, journalists, and policymakers covering current issues in world affairs.

The scarcity of water resources and the relative power of countries that share them has long been a hotly contested topic. In a paper published in 2008, Mark Zeitoun and Naho Mirumachi argue that these ‘transboundary water interactions’ are inherently political processes, determined by broader political conflicts. Nowhere are these processes and conflicts more visible than the Dead Sea to Red Sea project, signed off by Palestine, Israel, and Jordan earlier this week. Whether this cooperative agreement sustains or transforms the conflict it is intended to resolve is a matter not only of opinion, but also, time.

Yaakov Garb, an Israeli environmental and social studies expert at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, stated to the New York Times that he suspects the project is “wrapped up in ‘Saving the Dead Sea’ clothing” in order to attract international financing. Others argue that Red-to-Dead is more concerned with providing freshwater to a desperate region, and less to do with reversing receding water levels in the Dead Sea. It is this demand for fresh water that has caused evaporation of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea in the first place: waters that flow into the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee are diverted for consumption. This has caused the amount of water that flows freely to Jordan to decrease over time: A 2011 report by the Indian-based think tank Strategic Foresight Group (SFG) states that even as consumption levels increase rapidly, the annual discharge of Jordan River decreased to 200 cubic metres in 2011, compared to 1,300 cubic metres in 1960. Conversely, the aggressive adoption of desalination plants, coupled with profitable waste-water reuse policies, has meant that per capita usage of fresh water has steadily declined in Israel: approximately 80% of all waste water is recycled in the nation, more than double the rate of any other country in the world.

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