CE 397 Transboundary Water
The Jordan River basin is shared by four sovereign states:
Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon and the Palestinian autonomy. Among its
geographical, economical and political characteristics are:
High variability in flows due to precipitation patterns. There are two major
seasons in the region a “wet” winter and a “dry” summer.
Water demand centers are located far from the sources of water. Water has to
The region suffers from water scarcity, especially Jordan which suffers from
water shortage in the major metropolitan areas.
High population growth rates are predicted to contribute to the stress on the
basins water supply. Estimated that between 2015 and 2020 the population in
the basin countries will be about 16 to 18 million. This might result in a
drastic reduction in per capita water availability.
Disparities in the level of economic development, GNP per capita ranges from
1150 in Syria to 15,810 in Israel. This also creates disparities in the per
capita use between the riparians.
All states are in debt and receive substantial support from the international
A large portion of the water is allocated for agriculture. Agriculture is an
important economic function in some of the riparian states and is also used
for political and ideological reasons.
Most water related projects in the basin such as the Israeli water carrier,
the East Ghor canal and the Syrian dams on the Yarmuk were done unilaterally
and usually with objection from the riparian states.
Hydrology of the Jordan River Basin
There are four main sources of water in the basin: The flow of
the main rivers, the perennial flow of the wadis, the flood flow of the wadis
and groundwater supply. The upper basin is composed of the Banyas the Bareighit
the Dan and the Hasbani. About 50-70% of the flow originates from springs: the
Dan’s source is in Israel, the Hasbani’s in Lebanon and the source of the Banyas
in Syria. The annual flow from these rivers is estimated at 572 million cubic
The Yarmuk is the principal tributary of the system. About 20%
of the basin area is (7252 square kilometers) lies within Jordan and the
remaining 80% within Syria. All of the Yarmuk’s flow originates outside Israeli
territory. The annual flow of the Yarmuk is estimated at 475 million cubic
Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee)
The lake is the main storage feature in the basin. It’s
upstream location, the storage capacity make it the most strategic water body in
The lower Jordan forms the border between Israel and Jordan
and Jordan and the West Bank. It flows between Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee)
and the Dead Sea. About 20% of the lower Jordan’s flow originates within Israel.
The annual average flow of the Jordan is estimated to be 538 million cubic
Israel and the West Bank Palestinians also rely on a group of
aquifers: The Yarqon-Taninim aquifer is located on the western parts of the West
Bank and its water flows down westerly towards the Mediterranean Sea. This
aquifer supplies about 25% of Israel’s water consumption.
The second aquifer is the coastal aquifer which is shared by
Israel and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Another group of aquifers forms
the eastern part of the West Bank and drains into the Jordan River.
The water agreement between Jordan and Israel
In October 1994 Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty that
included a treaty regarding the share of the Jordan River’s basin water. The
following key points were part of the agreement:
The entire water agreement was developed in the bilateral arena. Other
riparian states (Lebanon and Syria) were not part of the treaty, although
these states control the sources of the river. While Jordan and Israel are
allocated most of the flow. The Palestinian Authority was also part of the
negotiations although not formally.
Water quality issues were addressed in the agreement, generally prohibiting
disposal of wastewater before they are treated to standards allowing their
unrestricted agricultural use.
Water allocations were exchanged between the parties to accommodate the needs
of both riparians. Israel was allowed to use wells in the southern part of the
basin while Jordan received the same allocation at the northern part.
The issue of water rights was not raised; the negotiations and agreement were
practical and focused on the functional aspects.
A joint water committee was established to implement the agreement and to
address future issues.
Cooperation in the areas of developing new water resources, prevention of
contamination, alleviation of storages and information sharing were
Uncertainty in the future flows are addressed through fixed allocations to one
country while the other receives the rest of the flow.
Questions for and Topics
- Given the water scarcity in the Basin and the population growth, what
future solutions are attainable?
- Do Syria and Lebanon have the right to allocate the water originating in
their territories? Obviously this will effect Israel’s and Jordan’s
- Israel’s solution to the water scarcity is desalination; will this new
water source hurt Israel in future water negotiations with Syria and the
- Water and agriculture are used for political/ideological reasons. How does
that affect Hydropolotics in the region?
- Is Israel violating the international law by transferring water outside
the basin? If yes, why did Jordan still sign a treaty with Israel without
objecting this violation?
- Is the Jordan-Israel agreement a good model for agreements? Is it
practical and will it be sustainable over time?
- Why weren’t water rights discussed in the Jordan-Israeli agreement? Is
this a good approach?
Elhance, Arun P.,
The Jordan Basin, Hydropolitics in the Third World: Conflict and
Cooperation in International River Basins, United States Institute for
Peace, Washington DC, 1999, pp. 85-122.
Shamir, U., Jordan River Case
Study: The Negotiations and the Water Agreement between The Hashmite Kingdom of
Jordan and the State of Israel, Potential Conflict
to Cooperation Potential, UNESCO, Paris, 2003 - Especially pages 10 -15
which discuss the actual agreement reached between Israel and Jordan.
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