Water Resources in the Middle East

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Meeting Vital Human Needs: Equitable Resolution of Conflicts over Shared Water Resources of Israelis and Palestinians

  • Hillel ShuvalAffiliated withDepartment of Environmental Health Sciences, Hadassah Academic College-JerusalemEnvironmental Sciences, The Hebrew University Jerusalem

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The Israelis and Palestinians are partners in sharing the water derived from the Mountain Aquifer. The rainfall over that area flows naturally underground from the mountains towards the areas of Israel along the coast and some 80 per cent of it has been pumped up and utilized historically by Jewish farmers going back some 80 years within the current internationally recognized boarders of Israel. The Palestinians base their claim for their rights for these shared waters on the fact that some 85 per cent falls as rainfall over lands which will be included within the Palestinian State and should be allocated to them based on the concept that the water rights should go along with the land. The Israelis base their claim on the fact that international water law recognizes prior or historic use as a standard basis for water rights regardless of the sources of the water. Israel cites the case of Syrian and Iraqi claims of water rights to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers which are derived mainly from rainfall in Turkey.

Five riparians share the water resources of the Jordan River Basin: Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Based on estimates from the World Bank and other sources, the 2005 availability of water resources/person/year is as follows: Lebanon: 1000 m3/per/yr; Syria: 800 m3/per/yr; Jordan: 200 m3/per/yr; Israel: 240 m3/per/yr, Palestine: 70 m3/per/yr. This author has estimated that the Minimum Water Requirement (MWR) needed to maintain a reasonable level of social and economic life and to meet vital human needs in the Middle East is about 125 m3/per/yr. The MWR would meet the needs for water for drinking, domestic and urban purposes for a hygienic standard of living and for commercial and industrial employment, but not for agriculture. Water for agriculture could be provided by recycled water. The MWR concept has been accepted by many as offering a fair basis for providing an equitable starting point for estimating vital human water needs. From the above it is clear that the Palestinians suffer from the most severe water shortages of the five riparians on the Jordan River Basin. The Lebanese and Syrians are the relatively water rich riparian partners with some ten times as much water per person/year as the Palestinians. This chapter proposes following the primary principle of international water law calling for an equitable sharing of the water resources on an international water basin, giving priority to meeting the vital human needs regardless of geographic considerations and historic claims.

Thus, this author proposes that Israel relinquish to the Palestinians a portion of the natural waters of the Mountain Aquifer that it currently uses. He also proposes that Lebanon and Syria, as the two relatively water rich riparians relinquish a portion of their Jordan River water to the Palestinians in the spirit of the proposal of the Johnston plan of 1956. A rightful reallocation of water to the Palestinians should have as its goal meeting their urgent needs for the Minimum Water Requirement. This would establish an equitable basis for sharing the water resources to meet vital human needs as called for by international water law from the five riparians.


Israel Palestine Jordan River Basin water-sharing equitable- reallocation mountain aquifer vital human needs