The issue of water scarcity is prominent in the Jordan Valley and surrounding countries, and the issues surrounding it are part of a web that is difficult for aspiring solvers to untangle. Natural processes, such as desertification, certainly have their effect, but other issues, including the political crises of the region, rapid population growth, poor infrastructure, water pollution, and the misuse of water resources are also largely responsible for the water crisis. Just as the issue has largely been created by the environment and the people within it, it also greatly affects the environment and people. Many people throughout the area, especially poor populations in rural areas, are fighting for their lives daily while facing water scarcity, water pollution, and the health and economic crises that have followed. While there are solutions in place to make the current water supply more usable, these solutions are only effective as long as the water supply lasts, necessitating adaptive governance as a long-term solution.
Annexation - Annexation adds territory to one’s own territory by appropriation. 1
Desalination - The desalination process removes salt from salt water and treats the water to be suitable for drinking and farming. 6
Desertification - Traditionally, desertification is defined as “land degradation in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas resulting mainly from adverse human impact.” 7 A more recent definition states that it is “a change in soil properties, vegetation or climate, which results in a change in persistent loss of ecosystem services that are fundamental to sustaining life.” 8
Freshwater recharge - This is a process with the objective of replenishing water in an aquifer or filling it back up with water. 9
Gaza or Gaza Strip - The Palestinian territory next to Israel and along the coast is known as Gaza or the Gaza Strip. 10 The water scarcity situation in Gaza is very similar if not identical to the situation in the Jordan Valley itself. 11 Although Israel disengaged from this territory in 2005, 12 Israel imposed a sea, land, and air blockade on Gaza in 2007 and established almost complete control over all water resources there. This greatly limits residents’ access to drinkable water and materials necessary for sanitation infrastructure. 13 14 15
Groundwater aquifers - Groundwater is “water found underground in the cracks and spaces in soil, sand and rock.” 16 Sixty-five percent of the total harvested groundwater comes from nonrenewable aquifers. 17 Aquifers are the rocks or other geological formations that conduct and transmit this groundwater. 18
Hydrology - The branch of science concerned with the properties of the earth’s water, and especially its movement in relation to the land is known as hydrology. 19
Potable water - This water is safe for both drinking and cooking. 22
Salinity - Salinity refers to the concentration of salt in a given water sample. 23
Syrian refugee crisis - Government tension and accompanying violence have forced approximately 6.6 million people to flee Syria in addition to the 6.7 million people trapped and displaced within the country. The majority of these refugees have sought safety in the neighboring countries Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. 24
Water, beyond being necessary for survival, is also a driver of economies and political conflicts around the world—making water scarcity an issue that affects all facets of human life and even exacerbates pre-existing issues within a country. Approximately 2.1 billion people around the world face significant challenges due to water shortages, 25 and the severity and impact of these shortages varies between countries due to environmental and economic conditions. According to hydrologists, a country is labeled “water-stressed” if the annual freshwater availability drops below 1,700 cubic meters per capita. If it drops below 500 cubic meters per capita, the country is experiencing “absolute water scarcity.” 26 When it crosses this mark, the country will face severe water deficit problems threatening many aspects of life, including agriculture, production of water-intensive goods, and the general well-being of the population. 27 This is especially true for rural communities that already lack access to safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, and other water infrastructure. 28 Urban communities, however, also experience problems due to the increased water demand in overcrowded cities. 29
Some of the most water-stressed populations on the planet inhabit the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) region, which, since 1998, has been facing one of its most severe droughts in 900 years. 30 In 2019, one study found that 12 of the 17 most water-stressed countries in the world were in the MENA region. 31 This region is not expected to recover from this state of water scarcity anytime soon; 14 of the 33 countries estimated to be most water-stressed in the world in 2040 are in the Middle East. 32 The World Economic Forum stated in 2015 that the water crisis in the MENA region is the greatest threat to the area—even greater than political instability or unemployment. 33 Not only is this region a natural arid desert historically subject to drought, but climate change has exacerbated its droughts, threatening water access. 34 While the MENA region at large suffers a lack of water due to the drought, each individual country is affected differently.
One area of the MENA region that is extremely affected by this water crisis is the Jordan Valley. The three countries that make up the Jordan Valley—Israel, Palestine, and Jordan—were labeled as water-stressed in the aforementioned study that assessed the world’s most water-stressed populations. 35 The Jordan Valley itself follows the Jordan River from the Dead Sea in the south to the Sea of Galilee in the north. 36 All three of these major bodies of water are undrinkable due to high salinity, 37 pollution, 38 or inadequate amounts of water remaining. 39 This situation is escalating the issue of water stress to absolute water scarcity. In 2009, a number of communities in the Jordan Valley were recorded as receiving only 200 cubic meters of water per capita, significantly below the global water scarcity line of 500 cubic meters per capita. 40 41 For comparison, although the countries of Jordan and Portugal have roughly the same population size, Jordan’s average freshwater withdrawal was 124% of the country’s total internal water resources in 2014, while Portugal’s was only 24% in 2007, demonstrating the severely low reserves Jordan holds. 42
The majority of research that will be used in this brief will be from studies conducted in the countries of Israel, Jordan, and Palestine individually. These studies contain information about the physical environment and geography as well as the socioeconomic and political situations in the Jordan Valley and surrounding areas. They also provide a guide for understanding the factors behind current water scarcity in the Jordan Valley.
In the midst of massive population growth, the government water infrastructure has not been able to keep up with increasing water needs. Several analyses from an extensive hydrology study show that 78% of the water shortage in the MENA region can be attributed to socioeconomic factors, rather than climate change. 43 In a UNICEF study of 65 communities in the Jordan Valley, it was found that only 65% of the population was served by the existing distribution network of piped water. Among that 65%, many still did not receive consistent and reliable water allocation: 82% of these individuals were continuously supplied while the other 18% experienced spotty water coverage. For the 35% of the population not served by existing infrastructure, pipelines, springs, and wells are not within reasonable walking distance of their communities, which greatly reduces their access to the filling points. 44 Whether individuals receive spotty coverage or no coverage, it is mainly due to the layout and spread of the population; while the majority of the area’s population congregates around water networks, a significant percentage live in small, far spread communities ranging from 9 to 1,140 people. 45 Fourteen smaller communities from this study are expected to use distant filling points positioned on the main pipelines to get their water, but this requires individuals to rely on expensive private tankers to carry the water home—causing greater strain on an already economically strained population. 46
Bedouins, who tend to live in the smallest communities farthest from the main pipelines and urban areas, were found to be one of the most vulnerable groups in the area. They rely heavily on dried up springs in the winter and water trucks in the summer. 47 These Bedouins have even less drinking water per capita than villagers, who are already at the absolute water scarcity level as defined by the UN. 48 The access that these nomadic groups and their herds have to water networks is further restricted by Israeli movement policies. 49 Within Area C communities, especially Bedouin communities, it is very difficult to get authorization for infrastructure projects that would improve water networks due to the current leadership’s restrictive zoning and planning procedures. 50
Another prime example of this poor infrastructure exists in the Gaza strip. In Gaza, residents struggle daily to get the water they need for drinking, cooking, washing, and toilet use. 51 The amount of people in Gaza who had access to safe drinking water through the public water network fell from 98.3% in 2000 to 10.5% in 2014 due to poor infrastructure. 52 With few other options, residents have taken to building 4,000–5,000 unauthorized wells which further deplete aquifers that are already running low. 53 The 2,000,000 residents of Gaza were dependent on expensive water tank trucks and bottled water or containers for 89.6% of their water supply in 2014, 54 a risky and unsustainable situation for an area experiencing an estimated population growth of 2.13% in 2020. 55
Water politics, or hydropolitics, have long played a role in nation and state building around the world, and conflicts in hydropolitics have greatly contributed to the water scarcity in the Jordan Valley as well. 56 Competing ideologies between Israel and Palestine and the ensuing political disputes contribute to the problematic water distribution methods of the Israeli administration that leave Palestinian communities with insufficient water-based resources. 57 The majority of the Jordan Valley has become an Area C zone, meaning that it is now fully under the control of the Israeli military and administration. 58 Access to water by Palestinian and other non-Israeli communities in the valley is affected daily by these politically tense conditions.
Although Palestine has many natural water sources, 59 the water that Palestinian communities in Israeli occupied areas receive is dependent on Israeli distribution. This is mostly carried out through filling points, which are sections along pipelines with openings for residents to retrieve water. These filling points are under Israeli control in Area C zones, and nearly 90% of the region composed of the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea is labeled Area C. Even the people in the other 10% of this region, while not living in Area C zones, are often cut off from resources by the Area C zones that border their land. 60 This means that, despite available springs and aquifers at nearby locations under Israeli military control, residents of the West Bank/Gaza, Jordan, and Yemen receive less than 200 cubic meters of water per individual per year 61 —much lower than the UN’s definition of absolute water scarcity at 500 cubic meters per capita. Israel has also been expanding its boundaries further into Palestine by placing settlements in the territory. 62 Forty-seven Palestinian villages were included in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2019 Jordan Valley annexation plan. 63 Israeli leaders claim that the motivation for these settlements is increased security along trade routes; however, the strategic placement of settlements has allowed for Israel to claim more springs in the area and gain further control over water sources. 64
The annexation of Palestinian lands by the Israeli government is a complicated subject for those in the region and for the western countries that have a presence in the area, and many of these governments have conflicting opinions about the legality of Israeli actions. Members of the United States government and European Union generally believe that Israel is violating international law in order to make land grabs, take over water sources, and drive other groups off the land. 65 In 2017, the United Nations General Assembly even voted (163 to 6 66 ) that Israel must pay restitution for the reservoirs, springs, and aquifers taken from Palestine, yet the annexing of Palestinian land continues. 67
One study proposed that if the illegal land grab narrative continues, tensions will continue to rise and opportunities will be missed for conflict resolution and promotion of fair water-sharing practices. 68 For example, a diplomatic crisis arose in 2013 in the Jordan Valley involving plans for a water trade between Israel and Jordan. Because of the lack of cooperation between the countries involved, cross-border contact was scaled back between the two regions, which still to this day limits communication in water sharing practices. 69 This “water war” and constant conflict between these governments regarding water issues, as perpetuated by the “land grab narrative”, has inadvertently reduced the access that the general public has to clean water.
Population growth in the Jordan Valley drives water scarcity because it decreases the amount of water available for each individual. According to a 2017 report, the MENA region houses many of the fastest-growing populations in the world, the fifth fastest-growing nation being Jordan. 70 Because of massive population growth in the area, water scarcity in the MENA region is approaching absolute. 71 The MENA region’s population of 432 million in 2007 was projected to grow to nearly 700 million by 2050. 72 This massive growth would lead to nearly 40% less water being available per capita by 2050. 73 Even before this projected growth, one study states that the Middle East’s water supply fell below what was needed to fully meet its domestic, industrial, and food needs starting in 1970. 74 Although the government has undertaken a variety of large-scale projects to increase the amount of potable water, these projects have yet to keep up with the ever-increasing water demand because of the rapid population growth and depleting resources. 75 76
One of the strongest factors in population growth has been the influx of refugees into the valley. The Syrian refugee crisis has sent a massive amount of Syrian refugees to neighboring countries, and the Jordan Valley alone has taken in 600,000 of these 2.5 million refugees. 77 With so many tragic losses caused by the Syrian war, one of the biggest casualties has been overlooked: the Jordan River. Due to a rapid increase in population and a lack of filling points and pipelines, the sources in the Upper Jordan have been diverted to meet the exponentially increasing needs, diminishing the Jordan River to now be narrow enough to jump across in some places. 78 Not only has the massive influx of people depleted the Jordan River, but the camps and settlements created for these refugees have been using inadequate sewage treatment and dumping this wastewater into the river. 79 Raw sewage from Palestinian communities and refugee camps flows freely in the river and the remaining streams feeding it, 80 decreasing access to clean water for the Jordan Valley population as a whole.
The drier conditions and waning water resources in the Jordan Valley can also be attributed to two prevalent misuses of water resources: the misuse of aquifers and heavy irrigation. The natural water gleaned from aquifers in the valley is routed into water distribution systems that feed into filling points for domestic use and irrigation systems. Aquifers, though meant for the use of all sectors, are being tapped-out by the government and disproportionately distributed to farms, causing a lack of potable water available for other uses. 81 The governments in the Jordan Valley are continuously turning to groundwater despite the waning source. 82 Continued use could cause permanent damage to the water sources and lead to adverse long-term consequences for the environment. 83 This change in environment due to the overuse of groundwater perpetuates the issue of water scarcity by causing the landscape to become drier and decreasing the amount of moisture in the ground, further depleting the water resources. 84
One of the ways in which these aquifers and other water resources are being misused is by overdrawing from them for the purpose of heavy irrigation. The practice of heavy irrigation takes water from many different sources (including rivers, aquifers, and groundwater), but once the irrigation is complete, any excess water can no longer be used for other purposes, such as drinking, due to the added pollutants and chemical compounds. This automatically uses up to 90% of the Jordan Valley’s already thin water supply. 85 The amount of water used for heavy irrigation in the MENA region at large is estimated to be 50% more than what is required to produce healthy crops. 86 This has led to a depletion of the water sources that feed into the irrigation systems in the Jordan Valley. For example, the Yarmouk River, one of the main water sources for irrigation in the valley, 87 has reportedly been reduced to “a sluggish trickle overgrown with vegetation.” 88
In addition to the water shortage itself, much of the water that flows through this area is contaminated by high salt content, further diminishing the potable water supply. The Palestinian Water Authority found that the salinity of the coastal aquifers alone has increased dramatically in the last 30 years due to over-pumping and sea water infiltration. 89 This increase in salinity is not just affecting coastal water sources but resources throughout the region as well. The Karama Dam in Jordan, for example, has an estimated 503,000 tons of salt added every year. 90 In order for a coastal aquifer to fend off the infiltration of salty sea water, it needs to stay at a certain level and be recharged by freshwater rain regularly. Due to overdrawing from aquifers, there is not a sufficient amount of time for freshwater recharge, causing the salinity of these coastal MENA aquifers to increase rapidly. 91 This increased salinity makes the water less usable because it leads to health problems if consumed, thereby perpetuating the issue of the scarcity of clean water. 92
Sewer intrusion also plays a role in the increasing water degradation. 93 Specifically, there are concerns that Gaza’s practice of sewage dumping off the coast will pollute the water in surrounding aquifers, water systems, and countries. 94 The Coastal Municipalities Water Utility of Gaza has prioritized the operation of sewage dumping stations along the coast in order to send the sewage out to the ocean and avoid flooding from the waste plants into other parts of the city. The volume of dumped waste increases every year; between 2012 and 2016, the amount of sewage dumped into the ocean and infecting the aquifers increased from 90,000 cubic meters per day to 108,000 cubic meters per day. 95 Although no recent studies have been conducted to assess the current state of the aquifers, it was projected in 2017 that if these sewage-dumping practices continued at the same rate, the main coastal aquifers would be damaged irreversibly by 2020. 96 Because of this increased sewer intrusion, less water is sufficiently clean for domestic or agricultural uses.
In addition to the increased salinity and sewage waste, the water is also polluted by chemicals. Farmers in the Jordan Valley use insecticides to protect their crops, as is common in agricultural practices around the world. The chemicals in these insecticides contaminate the runoff, which pollutes main water distributors as it flows back into the rivers and lakes where new water is collected. 97 Israel’s National Water Carrier and Jordan’s King Abdullah canal are two of the major distribution systems that carry water to areas in need, and they are greatly polluted by this runoff. 98 Because of this, approximately 70% of freshwater resources in the Jordan Valley are contaminated by these biological pollutants. 99 Shared aquifers between Israel, Palestine, and Jordan are also in danger of more contamination from chemical seepage. 100
Between increased salinity, sewer intrusion, and agricultural chemical runoff, the amount of clean water in the valley has decreased, stretching the already thin water supply even further.
The process of desertification is one of the most significant contributors to water scarcity. Desertification is the land degradation—including reduced soil quality, less vegetation, and the drying up of current water resources 101 —that results mainly from human practices as well as from climate change. 102
Since climate change is a contributor to exacerbated desertification, the severity of this issue in the region is proven by climatic models. The majority of these models expect a 25% decrease in precipitation combined with a 4.5°C increase in temperature annually in this region. This will heighten the water scarcity issue by further drying up the sources available. 103 Several analyses from an extensive hydrology study show that 22% of the water shortage in the MENA region is attributable to this change in climate. 104
The effect of desertification on this area and its contribution to water scarcity is further evidenced by the droughts that have been occurring. 105 After a major drought in the Levant (a region including Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Israel) from 2006 to 2009, the United Nations Water Council was required to restructure their model that explained the water levels in each part of the world. The original model contained a red line to indicate that the situation was at a critical level, but due to the situation in the Levant, they were required to add a black line below the red line to indicate the level of water scarcity that the Levant region had reached and the irreversibility of this situation. 106 Additionally, as a result of the climate change associated with desertification, the average groundwater and aquifer replenishment in the Jordan Valley is expected to decrease by a staggering 45%–60% by 2025. 107
Throughout the MENA region, but particularly in the Jordan Valley, the lack of access to water and proper water infrastructure has adverse health consequences. In addition to the amount of drinking water available being insufficient for the population, there is little to no water left over for basic hygiene and sanitation. 108 Due to the Israeli control over many Jordan Valley springs and aquifers, it is difficult for the Palestinian communities in the surrounding areas to create sanitary environments (including toilets and facilities for privacy), especially for the hygiene needs of women and girls. 109 Additional consequences of the water shortage are the development of adverse health conditions and diseases, including weakness, lethargy, neurological symptoms, kidney failure, and arthritis—arthritis being especially prevalent in women who have to carry water across long distances on a daily basis. 110 This data is based on personal observations, interviews, and reports collected during trips to occupied territories. Quantitative data on this subject is very sparse; however, present studies indicate a strong connection between these health issues and inadequate water supplies. 111
In addition to the health issues caused by low amounts of water, there are many health issues caused by the alternative sources of water that people turn to, including water that is highly saline or sewage water. These are some of the strongest contributors to major health issues in the area. 112 High levels of salt in the water can be the cause of numerous health issues, including neurological disorders, kidney failure, edema, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, and even salt poisoning—which is terminal. 113 In addition to salt contaminating the drinking supply, sewage often pollutes the water causing widespread health consequences, including diarrhea, kidney disease, hepatitis, and liver diseases. 114 Although quantitative data on these health conditions in the Jordan Valley is sparse, a UNICEF report on Malawi found that 90% of deaths from diarrhea could be directly linked to lack of clean water. 115 116 Because one of the largest bodies of water in the area, the Jordan River, has been infiltrated by these contaminants, these health consequences are spread across the Jordan Valley. 117
As the climate worsens and poor water management continues, rural communities with small farms are not receiving the water needed to sustain business and are collapsing; 118 as a result, many people are migrating to cities in search of economic opportunities. 119 Though statistics are lacking on the specific number of rural families that migrate due to the drought and water shortage in the Jordan Valley, a UN report from Syria reflects a similar situation. According to the UN, between 40,000 and 60,000 families have migrated in response to the Syrian drought, which has accelerated the growth of urban populations and increased the poverty levels. 120 Thus, water scarcity and drought have played a big part in the growth of many urban centers across the MENA region.
In addition to those driven to urban centers due to the droughts, around 80%–90% of the displaced refugee populations in the MENA region have migrated to cities, which is significantly above the global average of 60% of displaced populations who reside in cities. 121 While this higher percentage is not solely due to the water shortage, the lack of adequate water resources in areas outside of the cities is woven into the web of reasons for this mass migration. For example, many people migrate to the cities in search of economic opportunities, but the reason there are fewer opportunities in the rural areas is that the water shortage is causing a collapse of the rural economy. 122
This widespread migration from the rural communities to urban cities is compounding difficulties that cities in the MENA region already face, such as the unmet demand for resources like land, jobs, and housing. 123 One case study highlights the rural community of Auja in Palestine, which relied mainly on the Auja spring for irrigation. When the agricultural sector in their community collapsed due to water scarcity, many tried to move to the cities but found few employment opportunities because of their low levels of education. 124 Because of this, many Aujans went to work in one of the 37 Israeli settlements that exist around the cities, 125 which is not an ideal situation due to political tension and general contempt between the Palestinians and Israelis.
Increased migration and urban overcrowding has become a self-sustaining cycle. As more people move to urban areas, the domestic and industrial demand for water increases. With such high demands, these areas are paid more attention and become “privileged users,” leaving the farms and rural communities to be further neglected and collapse. 126 This then causes even more people to leave those communities in search of better economic opportunities and conditions in the cities.
The MENA region was historically home to some of the world’s largest and most powerful civilizations, and their environment was often described as “the Fertile Crescent.” 127 Now, the area is dry, brown, and void of leafy green vegetation. The exploitation of aquifers has led and will continue to lead to permanent damage to wetlands and wildlife. 128 An example of this is the former overdrawing from the Azraq Oasis to provide water to cities, which resulted in long-term dropping in the groundwater table of 0.5 to 1 meters annually. 129 Due to the drought alone, if no action is taken in policy, Jordan is likely to experience a 28%–58% decline in soil moisture. 130 As the aquifers and soil become more and more damaged, wetlands and oases will disappear because of the depleting supply of water to naturally flow to the surface. 131 With fewer wetlands and oases, it naturally follows that there are fewer resources to keep the local wildlife thriving (see following figure). In addition to the destruction of vegetation in the area due to desertification, the air quality is also affected by desalination plants. 132 As the freshwater supply disappears, governments are turning to the use of desalination plants to generate usable water, with over 50 plants already built in the Jordan Valley before 2017. 133 The urgent construction and high usage of these plants add pollutants to the region’s climate. 134
Although the Jordan Valley was historically known as an ideal location for agricultural activities, the decrease in water availability from local springs has played a significant role in diminishing agricultural productivity, especially in rural areas. 135 A recent study from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States (FAO) estimates that, by 2030, 58% of the renewable water resources in the MENA region will need to be utilized for mass food production alone in order to support the population growth that is expected. 136 This would leave much less water for the smaller rural farms. Crops are being imported to supplement the inadequate food supply that local agriculture alone provides. 137 Overall in the valley, crop yields have been reduced by an average of 50% every year, 138 causing the need for an annual importation of 50 million tons of grain. 139 The resulting situation has left 86% of the population in Jordan alone to rely on food being delivered to them from other countries, 140 and, in an area plagued with political unrest, the completion of these deliveries could be threatened. Therefore, the worsening water crisis not only deprives communities of water but also puts them in danger of not having access to adequate amounts of food.
Water scarcity in the MENA region has perpetuated the economic inequality between many sectors of the population. The limited water available in the area is mostly consumed by “privileged users,” 141 who generally live in cities or are large agricultural producers. Because it is more financially advantageous for the government to give the water to privileged users and larger businesses, this is where the majority of the water is allocated. More vulnerable communities (non-privileged users), such as the Bedouin of Palestine and residents of the Gaza Strip, must pay private providers for water—often at extremely inflated rates. 142 According to the UN, prices in Gaza are about 30–40 NIS (US$7.5–US$10) per cubic metre, and this is unaffordable for many residents. 143 As the water supply wanes, the cities and larger farms are given priority, and the rural communities and their farms are left with less and less water at extremely inflated prices. 144 Although this is partially due to simple geographic differences (urban and rural populations), it is very closely tied to the greater amount of power awarded to large agricultural producers due to their economic influence. As the small, rural, and economically disadvantaged farms and populations are forced to pay private providers for water, their agricultural businesses are collapsing, further perpetuating socioeconomic divides between them and the “privileged.”
Since the few major bodies of water in the Jordan Valley are highly salinated, desalination plants are often built in order to make water usable for the general population, thereby increasing the water supply. 145 Desalination is the process of taking salinized water, such as ocean water, and removing salt and other microorganisms through filtration to make it potable. 146 147 Throughout the country of Israel, 55% of domestic water comes from desalination. 148
The three most common desalination methods implemented in the Jordan Valley are thermal, electrical, and pressure. 149 A very common desalination technology is reverse osmosis, a pressure method in which salt water is pressurized against one surface of a membrane, and, as the salt-depleted water moves across the membrane, clean water is released from the low-pressure side. 150 Some of the largest plants use this method, including the Sorek plant in Israel. 151
In 2010, 50 desalination plants had been built and were operative across Israel. 152 These plants are run by government entities, such as the Jordan Water Authority (a department of the Jordanian government) and the Joint Water Committee of Israel and Palestine. 153 Despite the tension between Jordan, Israel, and Palestine and a certain degree of non-cooperation when it comes to the distribution of water, there are a few desalination projects in which these three governments work together. One example of these projects that is still in a preparatory phase is the Red Sea–Dead Sea Conveyance. 154 The goal of this project is to build a desalination plant in Aqaba that would remove seawater from the Red Sea and produce freshwater for Jordan, Israel, and Palestine. 155
While impact analyses regarding the effects of desalination on the environment do exist, reports on how the population has been affected by desalination are lacking. There are, however, population reports containing output data.
Desalination has been a highly beneficial practice in many different areas of the world. Some of the most widely accepted benefits are that it provides safe, potable water for people and agriculture through proven technology, and it is more sustainable than many other practices because it uses the ocean—an almost unlimited source of water on the planet. 156 There are approximately 20,000 desalination facilities globally, and more than 300 million people receive their water from this method 157 —including 80% of the population of Israel. 158 Desalination also seems to be one of the most common practices of water delivery in water scarce areas, whereas the use of water produced from wastewater treatment (covered next) is still marginal. 159
Desalination provides more potable water to a large portion of the Jordan Valley population and promises to be a big step in bringing the area to acceptable water availability levels. It is estimated that 1.5 million residents have received more potable water since 2013 when one plant in Israel went online. 160 Another plant salvaged 85%–90% of the water after filtration and has a maximum capacity of desalinating 55 million cubic meters (MCM) per year. 161 This is a significant amount considering that a country becomes water-stressed when it reaches 1700 MCM per year per capita. 162
From an economic standpoint, this is highly beneficial to the area. Although the price of potable water can be, in many areas, increased up to three-fold due to the costs associated with desalination and desalination plants, 163 this practice gives much more water to the rural communities, allowing farms to produce more and ultimately increase their revenue. 164
Cost is one of the biggest challenges in desalination. A study estimated the cost of desalinated water per cubic meter to be between US$0.82 and US$1.04 depending on the desalination technology used. 165 Energy accounts for approximately 75% of the supply cost of desalination. There are also additional costs including transportation costs and environmental externalities. 166 This makes desalination less attractive to poorer countries in the region. Desalination can also have significant negative impacts on the environment, such as the discharge of salt on coastal or marine ecosystems in the case of seawater desalination. 167
Some findings state that there are nutritional dangers in the long-run if desalinated water is consumed over a long period of time, including an increased risk of early death. Desalination removes important nutrients that are found in naturally acquired water, which could have a wide range of adverse health effects. In a case study conducted in Russia, epidemiologists found that people who are provided demineralised water develop higher rates of hypertension, heart disease, ulcers, growth abnormalities, edema, and anemia. 168 Newborns in the area where this was conducted also showed higher morbidity. 169
Finally, many researchers have questioned the sustainability of desalination. While this method seems to work presently, the desalination techniques used currently have major long-term environment costs. Some desalination plants use solar energy in order to alleviate the issue of CO2 emissions, but this does not make the process any more sustainable. 170 The water is being taken from a non-renewable source that will eventually become depleted just as the aquifers. 171
Wastewater treatment is the process of taking water that is unusable and removing the elements necessary to make it usable for irrigation. Irrigated agriculture in the Jordan Valley uses 42% of the freshwater supply, which is urgently needed for drinking water. Thus, alternative resources, including treated wastewater, for irrigation are highly desirable. 172 This practice provides farmers with an alternative source of irrigation water that would not be viable drinking water, leaving more of the freshwater resources available for domestic use. 173
From 2006 to 2011, a project was implemented by the Jordan Valley Authority in collaboration with organizations from Germany to strengthen the wastewater treatment process and make it more sustainable. 174 The goal of this project was to create a program and infrastructure that would continue after the withdrawal of the program. They worked with about 4,000 farms in the middle and southern Jordan Valley. While no physical infrastructure was created during this project, the already existing plants and programs were rehabilitated and improved to create a more sustainable system. 175
The official report on this project listed a few long-term impacts that came as a result of the strengthening of wastewater treatment infrastructure in the Jordan Valley. Two of these impacts are directly connected to water scarcity in the area. First, the conflicts over drinking-water sources have declined, which has reduced the pressure on these resources. Second, wastewater treatment has had positive impacts on the environment, such as “reduced salinity, energy consumption, and CO2-emission.” 176
Though wastewater treatment is not currently a prominent practice, it is promising. There is a large reserve of wastewater available for reuse that is not currently being treated. In Saudi Arabia, only 18% of the wastewater produced daily is sent through treatment plants and reused. 177 Some of the benefits of wastewater treatment thus far are the reduction in the amount of polluted water, the addition of significant amounts of water, the safeguarding of freshwater resources, and the production of nutrient rich water which is better for the crop yields. 178 The amount of wastewater generated annually in the MENA region is 13.2 billion cubic meters, and 43.2% of it is treated and redistributed. 179 The sector most affected by the water produced is agriculture, to which 83% of the water goes after treatment. 180
While no gaps regarding this project can be found in the official report, gaps involving wastewater treatment at large do exist. A 2017 report from the United Nations stated that there are emerging pollutants in the water, even after the conventional treatments available today. 181 These treatments, though able to treat the water partially, are not effective in removing some of the more complicated chemical compounds. 182 Because of this, there are potential human health risks when sources of drinking water are contaminated by treated wastewater. 183 The release of this partially treated water can pollute surrounding water sources, especially surface water. 184 It is more difficult to trace due to the dilution that takes place when this treated wastewater combines with surrounding water sources, but it can increase the toxicity of crucial and already waning supplies of water, affecting the ecosystem it supports and the health of those consuming it. 185
Adaptive governance refers to the collaboration of state and non-state entities to negotiate and coordinate the management of social-ecological systems. 186 This practice most often involves a central planning approach where a planning authority or “social planner” 187 is appointed to increase regional welfare through water demand management, such as the Palestinian Water Authority or Water Authority of Jordan. Policies are then created to manage the intended systems and services. 188
There are several regional advocacy groups who recommend policies to the water authorities, attempt to help governments collaborate on water management, and protect community interests. 189 EcoPeace Middle East is an advocacy group that unites environmentalists from Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Palestine in an unprecedented collaboration effort to include environmental concerns in development plans for the region. Environmental protection and peacebuilding across borders are dual objectives of their bottom-up community projects and top-down advocacy strategies.
The EcoPeace Middle East bottom-up approaches include community youth programs and education projects through their Good Water Neighbors (GWN) initiative. 190 They also operate interactive learning experiences with the shared environment for locals and visitors. One focus in particular is their rehabilitation project for the Jordan River which emphasizes the religious, symbolic significance of the river to three main faiths in the region in order to unite efforts on preserving its water supply and water quality. 191
EcoPeace Middle East also employs several top-down approaches. They make an effort to change water diversion practices from the Jordan River, as 95% of its waters are diverted for industrial and agricultural use in the upper valley, leaving the river a trickle of the water source it should be in the lower valley. 192 They are also working on research to create a Water and Energy Nexus which would allow Jordan to become a renewable energy provider to the Levant, with Israel and Gaza as producers of desalinated water. 193 Following a European model, this interconnectedness between the countries would ideally allow for them to work together to form a backbone of sustainability in the region. Through all of these projects and more, EcoPeace reports having worked with and connected over 28 communities who share a water source with at least one other community across a border. 194 From the GWN communities, youth attend camps together and talk about shared environmental issues. 195 They do not report a number of attendees on their website. EcoPeace also reports having inspired many mayors and municipal leaders to join them in “transboundary cooperation,” which speaks to their goals of peacebuilding and awareness. More information on specific impact has not been found.
These government water authorities seem to be unable to collaborate successfully in the implementation of policy and large-scale projects. For example, Jordan’s landmark desalination project with the Red Sea has been repeatedly halted since 2017 because of “a diplomatic crisis” with Israel. 196 Jordan’s project includes a water trade with Israel, but, because of cross-border political issues, contact became strained. Collaboration within the valley is necessary in order for these “social planners” to implement the goals that are agreed upon by the governments in the area. EcoPeace Middle East understands the need for a higher level of collaboration in order to move forward with large-scale and community projects.
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