Introduction and Background
We all live on this beautiful water planet which we have mistakenly chosen to call Earth.
Water—essential for life, economic well-being, and environmental integrity—is in varying degrees in short supply in Israel, Jordan, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip,1 the Middle East area covered by this report. This region of diverse landscapes experiences both low precipitation and high evaporation. The water scarcity issues for the region's present generation are primarily over distribution of water within the society and preservation of water quality. For future generations, the concerns are to ensure adequate water supplies, preserve the quality of the environment, and achieve greater equity in distributing water throughout the region.
Water supplies adequate to meet basic human needs are clearly essential for maintaining and enhancing the welfare of all inhabitants in the region. Science and technology have critical roles to play in helping to achieve related water resource goals. In focusing on science and related technology, the committee construed its task as consisting of two parts. The first was to identify existing approaches, scientific principles, and knowledge that might be brought to bear on the water problems of the region. The second was to identify opportunities to acquire new scientific
knowledge that would be helpful in fashioning sustainable solutions to these problems.
The committee identified five criteria that will be particularly helpful in addressing the region's water problems:
Take a regional view. Important insights will be gained by viewing the water problems of the area from a regional perspective, a perspective defined by hydrologic rather than national boundaries. Asking how water quantity and quality problems would be addressed if the region were managed as a single hydrologic unit will yield critical knowledge for good water resource management.
Account for the welfare of both present and future generations. The needs of both present and future generations and the status of the environment must all be considered as a matter of equity.
Consider all options for balancing water supplies and demands. A perceived gap between estimated future water supplies and water demands is not an adequate basis for water resources planning. Plans must be flexible and robust enough to deal with the uncertainties inherent in hydrologic phenomena, future patterns of social organization and water use, and long-term climatic changes. Plans based solely on projections of expected discrepancies between water supplies and water demands can needlessly reduce the range of planning options to resolve the region's water problems.
Maintain ecosystem services to sustain water supplies through integrated planning. Water must be allocated to maintain and enhance environmental quality and biodiversity, in order to sustain water supplies and to preserve the quality of life for the study area's inhabitants.
Recognize the mutual dependence of water quality and quantity. Any discussion of the adequacy of water supplies must explicitly acknowledge current and future water quality. The adequacy of water supplies inherently involves issues of water quality. This principle is especially important in the study area, where water is scarce and water quality is deteriorating in many areas.
To apply and implement these criteria effectively, it will be necessary to use much of the available scientific and technical information and to continue to seek new scientific information as well. The committee has identified research that would be particularly helpful in resolving regional water problems, such as research on the natural processes that support and deliver ecosystem services. Such promising research and technologies are discussed in Chapters 4 and 5.
On October 16, 1994, Israel and Jordan concluded the Treaty of Peace, which addresses, among other issues, both water and the environment, and establishes a framework for cooperation on water resources. Notably in article 6, Water, the countries recognize their "rightful allocations" of the Jordan and Yarmouk River waters and Araba (Arava) ground water according to the principles and detailed provisions governing quantity, storage, and quality set forth in the treaty's Annex II. In Article 6(4)(d), the two countries agree to cooperate in the "transfer of information and joint research and development in water-related subjects." Annex II establishes a Joint Water Committee to implement the agreement: the countries agree to ''exchange relevant data on water resources through the Joint Water Committee" and to "cooperate in developing plans for purposes of increasing water supplies and improving water use efficiency, within the context of bilateral, regional or international cooperation." Annex IV, Environment, obligates the countries to cooperate on Jordan River "ecological rehabilitation, environmental protection of water resources, and nature reserves and protected areas." This commitment underpins our committee's attention to issues of biological diversity and water resources. Appendix A presents the text of the water-related provisions of the Treaty of Peace.
On September 28, 1995, the Israelis and the Palestinians concluded the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which covers water and sewage issues. Article 40 sets forth general principles for water and sewage development, specifies commitments and responsibilities, identifies areas for mutual cooperation, and provides for a joint water committee and joint supervision and enforcement teams (as elaborated in schedules 8 and 9 to the agreement). The text of article 40 and schedules 8 and 9 appear in Appendix B. The earlier 1994 Israel-Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Agreement on the Gaza Strip and Jericho Area also addressed water and sewage issues (article 31) and the protection of nature, nature reserves, and species of special breed (article 23).
On February 13, 1996, in Norway, as an output of the Multilateral Working Group on Water Resources of the Middle East Peace Process, Israel, Jordan, and the PLO signed a Declaration of Principles for Cooperation Among The Core Parties on Water-Related Matters and New and Additional Waters, for the benefit of the Palestinian Authority. This instrument, which specifies recommended voluntary actions, identifies common issues to be included in water resources legislation and management, mechanisms of cooperation on "new and additional water resources," and proposed areas for possible cooperation.
Subsequent to the 1994 Treaty of Peace, the United Nations (UN)
General Assembly approved, on May 21, 1997, a new convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, which is now open to signature by states. While this convention explicitly avoids affecting the rights and obligations of state parties to international agreements already in force, it does address water quality and the protection of the ecosystems of international watercourses as important issues in using watercourses. Both these issues are stressed in this report.
Independent of the status of regional peace agreements, the potential for impartial scientific assessments of sustainable regional water supplies provides a continuing opportunity for cooperation.
Role of the Sponsoring Organizations
In 1994, the presidents and representatives of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the Royal Scientific Society of Jordan, the Palestine Health Council, the Egyptian Academy of Scientific Research and Technology, and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine met in Washington, D.C., to consider modes of cooperation. They decided there was strong interest in cooperating on joint scientific studies typical of those done at the U.S. National Research Council.
A variety of regional problems and priorities were discussed. High among them was sustainable development in the region. The representatives felt that misuse and overuse of water resources would lead to deterioration of environmental quality, including water quality. Because most Middle East countries share common problems in development, notably in the often related areas of water, environment, and energy, the representatives proposed a study on sustainable regional water supplies.
The following year, 1995, the presidents and representatives of the scientific academies and councils of Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, and the United States approved a joint study on Sustainable Water Supplies for the Middle East. After consultation among these organizations, a multidisciplinary, multinational committee of volunteers was appointed in December 1995, meeting for the first time in February 1996 and for the fourth and final time in April 1997. Committee members included scientists and engineers from the United States, the Palestinian Authority, Israel, Jordan, and Canada. Together the members have broad expertise, experience, and international perspectives on hydrology, wastewater reuse, water management, surface- and ground-water quality, agricultural and environmental engineering, ecology, biodiversity, natural resources law, agricultural and resource economics, soil and irrigation science, and public health.
The study area charge was to examine ways to increase sustainable
water supplies in the Middle East. The study area, as defined in this report, includes Israel, Jordan, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The committee was to focus on "methods developed in the Middle East and elsewhere for enhancing water supplies and avoiding overexploitation of water resources, and on the relationships between water supply enhancement and preservation of environmental quality, especially water quality." Specifically, the committee was to consider "the scientific and technological basis of a range of related issues such as use of treated municipal wastewater for irrigation and other purposes, desalination, water harvesting, cleanup of ground-water contamination, and opportunities offered by improved conservation technologies and strategies to enhance water quality and prevent resource degradation."
Because water resources are critical to both the economic development and the maintenance of natural systems, the committee endorses the concept of intergenerational equity in the use of freshwater resources. This concept is an overarching theme throughout the report. As Edith Brown Weiss has observed, "sustainable development is inherently intergenerational because it implies that we must use our environment in a way that is compatible with maintaining it for future generations." ("Intergenerational Fairness and Water Resources," in NRC, 1993). In many instances, such as withdrawal of ground water in excess of recharge rates or mining of water from nonrechargeable aquifers, there are conflicts between the immediate satisfaction of needs and the long-term maintenance of the resource for both humans and the environment. The 1992 UN Conference on the Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro endorsed moving away from an emphasis on development of new water supplies toward a focus on comprehensive water management, economic behavior, policies to overcome market and government failures, incentives to provide users with better services, and technologies to increase the efficiency of water use. This recommended focus stresses integrated water management, seeing water not just as a basic human need, but also as an integral part of the ecosystem, a natural resource, and a social and economic good (Box 1.1).
Water, Socioeconomic Development, and Sustainability
As the study area's inhabitants struggle to provide both prosperity for their citizens and good stewardship of the environment, it has been increasingly recognized that economic development, sustainable water supplies, and sustainability are mutually dependent.
Clean and adequate water supplies are critical for long-term economic development; for social welfare, and for ensuring sustainability. Urban
BOX 1.1 Global Water Cooperation
The following principles were endorsed at conferences on water and the environment in Dublin and Rio de Janeiro, both in 1992.
The World Bank and UN Development Program have invited other partners to join in establishing a Global Water Partnership to support more coherent and integrated approaches to the management of water resources. A World Water Council has been established at the suggestion of the International Water Resources Association to promote these views.
and industrial growth is creating unprecedented demands for water, often at the expense of agriculture, aquatic ecosystems, and the rural poor (World Bank, 1995). The World Bank suggests that new approaches to water resource management are needed, approaches that will—
- Address quantity and quality issues through an integrated approach
- Link land use management with sustainable water management
- Recognize freshwater, coastal, and marine environments as a management continuum
- Recognize water as an economic good and promote cost-effective interventions
- Support innovative and participatory approaches
- Focus on actions that improve the lives of people and the quality of their environment
- View the management of river basins, coastal zones, and the marine environment together—not as totally separate issues.
The above approach is consistent with many of the conclusions of this committee.
Water and irrigated agriculture have been central in developing the region's economies. The socioeconomic development of both Israel and Jordan since 1950 have depended substantially on the construction of the National Water Carrier and the King Abdullah (East Ghor) Canal. These
waterways support production of essential food and fiber, and provide the livelihood for some of the rapidly expanding population of the region. At the same time, the socioeconomic development of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has been hindered by the lack of sufficient water supply owing to both quota restrictions and the absence of infrastructure development (e.g., the proposed West Ghor Canal). Under present conditions, irrigation may continue to play a role in the socioeconomic well-being of the people in the study area. However, new strategies are needed for water use and reuse. Otherwise, severe regional and local water scarcities and contamination will threaten household and industrial sectors, damage the environment, and escalate water-related health problems.
New sources of water are increasingly expensive to develop, limiting the potential for expansion of supplies. As the economies of the region continue to expand, the share of irrigated agriculture in the GNP will diminish. As the human populations grow, the increased demand for potable water will reduce some of the water available to agriculture, but at the same time increase the quantity of wastewater available for irrigation. As irrigation continues in areas overlying aquifers, regional groundwater quality will deteriorate due to increased salinity and other chemical pollutants. These trends will have a profound effect on the role of irrigated agriculture in the area and pose a major water supply challenge.
The primary challenge for regional water resources is to make scarce water as productive as possible, while ensuring equitable distribution of the resource. One important challenge may be reevaluating the role of traditional agriculture. Water used for irrigation will likely have to be diverted to meet the needs of urban areas and industry. New agricultural practices will have to be adopted that are more in harmony with regional climate conditions. Other farming techniques may be considered, such as the "dryland" farming as practiced on the West Bank that requires a minimum of supplemental irrigation, and greater use of hydroponic farms, where water can be recycled to irrigate crops. Brackish water is quite useful for intensive aquaculture in deserts but may increase soil salinity. If efforts are made to improve the productivity of water use in irrigated agriculture and other activities, care should be taken to ensure that gains in productivity are not offset by negative impacts on biodiversity and water quality.
Sustainability, Intergenerational Equity, and Freshwater Resources in the Middle East
The terms sustainable and sustainability have been widely used, but
they are difficult to define precisely (see, e.g., Norgaard, 1994) and remain the subject of complex interdisciplinary and international research (SCOPE, 1997). When the United States Council on Sustainable Development sought a new consensus for a healthy future society and environment it enumerated ten goals: health, economic prosperity, equity, conservation of nature, stewardship, sustainable communities, civic engagement, population, international responsibility, and education (U.S. President's Council on Sustainable Development, 1996). Sustainable development is defined as the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (UN World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987). Defining any of these goals requires a variety of social and technological assumptions. Nonetheless, the committee agrees that there is an important concept embodied in the terms sustainability and intergenerational equity: the idea that the present generation's children and grandchildren should have at least as much ability to use a resource as the present generation does. This concept should acknowledge the possibility that future generations may use an alternative form of a resource or a substitute. Thus, the committee's interpretation of sustainability is incorporated in the term intergenerational equity.
The 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro provided a mandate for sustainable development, a goal that requires attention to fairness in using and conserving freshwater resources, both among members of the present generation and between them and future generations. The need for intergenerational equity is particularly acute in the Middle East, where freshwater supplies are scarce, their use intensive, the claimants to them many, and the potential for depriving future generations of adequate freshwater supplies, at least at comparable prices, quite real.
The development and use of freshwater resources raise many intergenerational issues, including potential degradation of resource quality and resource depletion, as well as equitable access to supplies and opportunities to supply human needs. Degraded water quality is perhaps the best known problem. Contamination of surface water, whether in lakes or streams, may cause water to be unusable for some purposes. The natural flushing time for contaminants may be long, and the removal of contaminants expensive. For ground water, the cost of removing contaminants or of containing the spread of toxic contamination may be high enough to preclude most uses of the aquifer. In other cases, pumping ground water in excess of recharge rates may cause saline intrusion into
freshwater, which is hard to reverse at acceptable costs and may lead eventually to abandoning parts of the aquifer. These issues also raise important inter- and intragenerational implications. Those who benefit from a lack of concern about contaminating the freshwater sources may not be those who must suffer the consequences.
A second intergenerational issue arises from the depletion of particular freshwater resources. While, physically, water is never lost but only changed in form, the scarcity of freshwater resources in particular places or times may make access to adequate resources more difficult or cause higher real prices to future generations for freshwater.
Equitable access to freshwater resources raises other intra- and intergenerational problems. Poor communities, for example, may suffer serious water pollution, or lack potable water or sufficient water for agriculture and village use—in short, they do not enjoy equitable access to water resources. These conditions may endure from generation to generation.
The report of the Legal Experts for the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (UN, 1997a) has identified three principles of intergenerational equity: comparable options, comparable quality, and nondiscriminatory access.
- Ensuring comparable options for freshwater entails maintaining diversity of water supply, from both ground and surface water; developing technology for alternative sources of freshwater at reasonable prices, such as desalination technology; and recycling freshwater resources as possible. Proposed changes to water-intensive agricultural systems might also be reappraised, to the extent that they may deprive others of water for basic needs.
- Ensuring comparable quality means avoiding toxic contamination of watercourses and aquifers, saline intrusion that renders freshwater unusable, and other forms of point and nonpoint water pollution.
- Ensuring nondiscriminatory access for future generations obligates the present generation to attempt to supply water in such a manner that the real price of freshwater is not significantly higher to future generations. In marketing water, price should reflect the full costs, including those to future generations. Moreover, equitable access implies the right to nondiscriminatory bearing of environmental burdens from water pollution and source depletion as well as access to potable water supplies.
The principles of intergenerational equity thus require representation of the interests of future generations, whether in administrative and political decision making, judicial determinations, or the market place.
The actions recommended to the UN Commission on Sustainable Development from the 1997 Assessment of Freshwater Resources of the
World (UN, 1997b) include strategies that address basic human needs and preserve ecosystems consistent with socioeconomic objectives of different societies. Intergenerational fairness implies the necessity for a wide variety of measures, some discussed in this report: good monitoring of water resources quality; scientific and technological research and development for more efficient use of available resources without their contamination or degradation; intergenerational assessments of the effects of particular water projects and uses; effective maintenance of capital investments, such as dams, municipal sewage treatment plants, and water delivery systems; protection of aquifers' recharge areas by appropriate land use planning; and equitable systems for sharing resources among communities. Applying a biogeophysical view, development approaches must be aimed at improving environmental conditions without compromising the capacity to maintain improved conditions indefinitely (Holdren, Daily, and Ehrlich, 1995).
Water Quality, Water Quantity, and Ecosystem Services
A 1997 UN study, Comprehensive Assessment of the Freshwater Resources of the World, reports that consumptive water use has been increasing more than twice as fast as population during this century and that the resulting shortages have been worsened by pollution (UN, 1997b). As a result, one-fifth of the world's people lack access to safe drinking water and more than half lack adequate sanitation. Rapid population increases in the study area—accompanied by intensified industrial, commercial, and residential development—have led to point and nonpoint pollution of surface and ground water by contaminants such as fertilizers, insecticides, human wastes, motor oil, and landfill leachates. Thus, simply maintaining regional water quality and quantity means considering the effects of a wide variety of human activities on watersheds and water bodies.
It is essential to consider the ecological effects and constraints on water development. Water pollution and releases of nutrient-laden municipal sewage effluents have increased, and water consumption has also increased, reducing the flows available for dilution of wastes. Maintaining sufficient freshwater in its natural channels helps keep water quality at levels safe for fish, other aquatic organisms, and people. But regional drainage of wetlands and large-scale ground-water development have had serious negative effects:
- Loss of stream habitat
- Aquatic organisms' becoming extinct or imperiled in increasing numbers
- Impairment of many beneficial water uses, including drinking, swimming, and fishing.
As described in Chapter 4 of this report, biological communities provide many goods and services to humankind: food, fuel, fiber, pharmaceuticals and other biological products, improvement of air and water quality, reduction of climatic extremes, recreation, and aesthetic values. Recent studies are confirming that the capacity of ecosystems to resist changing environmental conditions, as well as to rebound from unusual climatic or biotic events, is related positively to species numbers. The relationship between the natural diversity of biological communities and their provision of goods and services is not precisely known, but it is certain that if diversity is reduced enough, there will be a significant loss of goods and services. One of these services is the provision of clean water.
The benefits, or ecosystem services, provided by freshwater systems fall into three broad categories: (1) the supply of water for drinking, irrigation, and other purposes; (2) the supply of goods other than water, such as fish, vegetation, and waterfowl; and (3) the supply of nonextractive or "instream" benefits, such as recreation, transportation, and flood control. Certain ecosystems, like those found in arid regions, appear particularly vulnerable to human disruption and alternation of their functioning. These sensitive systems all have low representation of key functional types (organisms that share a common role). As society exerts ever greater control and management of ecosystems in the study area, care must be taken to ensure their sustainability, which is in significant part due to the buffering capacity of biodiversity. Consideration of ecological factors related to water is not a luxury, but should be an integral part of planning and management.
The Committee's Approach to the Present Study
The committee's work focuses on scientific and technological information and methods to help maintain or increase water supplies on a sustainable basis in the Middle East. The committee has not considered potential legal constraints, the allocation of water supplies, the desirability of various pricing structures or restrictions on use, international treaties and agreements, or issues of population distribution and growth—except when straightforward descriptions of these policies and their consequences are needed to understand the relevance of scientific and technical discussions.
The committee agreed that this report should accomplish five critical tasks: (1) address options for enhancing water management, without
relying on the common or problematic approach of identifying "gaps" between anticipated water supplies and water demand (see Chapter 3); (2) address environmental impacts, including impacts on biodiversity, that are important to consider in planning and managing water resources; (3) analyze water supply options in light of intergenerational equity and sustainable use; (4) discuss a regional approach to water issues, inasmuch as interactions among hydrology, geology, biology, and human populations cross political boundaries within the region; and (5) consider water quality and quantity as closely related.
Estimating of sustainability to achieve intergenerational equity necessarily involves judgments about many parameters. The time horizon is the indefinite future, but forecast accuracy is limited. Climate variability can be estimated from the recent past quite accurately, and at least impressionistically for several thousand years, but future changes cannot be predicted with great confidence, and the potential range of variation is not precisely known. Standards for water quality might change as new insight is gained into factors affecting human health and environmental conditions. The technologies of water extraction, production, treatment, transport, and consumption continue to evolve, with both positive and negative consequences. The number, location, and economic and social status of people in specific areas all shift with growth, migration, and economic development. The committee notes these and other uncertainties where applicable, and describes problem areas where research is needed and likely to be useful in anticipating the likely circumstances of future populations.
The committee has drawn on experience from other parts of the world when it is relevant to Middle East conditions, and it has evaluated to the best of its ability the currently available regional data. The committee has also drawn information and data from recently published reports analyzing regional water resources and demand. Notable examples of these reports include: Middle East Regional Study on Water Supply and Demand Development (CES Consulting Engineers and GTZ [Association for Technical Cooperation], 1996), A Strategy for Managing Water in the Middle East and North Africa (Berkoff, 1994), and Core and Periphery (Biswas et al., 1997). Many other reports that the committee consulted during its study are listed in the bibliography in Appendix E.
This report sets the stage by providing a physical and geographic description of the region and current patterns of water use (Chapter 2). Subjects covered include existing water sources, precipitation, climate, and surface- and ground-water hydrology. Chapter 3 looks at possible future patterns of water use, including the major factors that might influence those patterns. Chapter 4 describes fundamental interactions among the sustainability of water supplies, biodiversity, and ecosystem services
in the study area. Chapter 5 presents technological, economic, and other options for improving the region's water supplies, emphasizing integrated water resources management.
The primary audience of this report is scientists and policy makers, especially those of the region; the regional organizations sponsoring this study; nongovernmental organizations; international organizations; and the private and commercial sectors. It has recognized that some future decisions about water will be influenced by policy commitments by the respective countries and by the constraints of national legal systems. The committee was not asked to provide policy advice, and it has not. Rather, the report reflects the committee's consensus on current scientific and technological information about the basic resource and the likely consequences of changes in it. This information will be valuable in other settings to inform good policy choices.
Berkoff, J. 1994. A strategy for managing water in the Middle East and North Africa. Washington, D.C.: The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank.
Biswas, A. K., J. Kolars, M. Murakami, J. Waterbury, and A. Wolf. 1997. Core and Periphery: A Comprehensive Approach to Middle Eastern Water. Middle East Water Commission. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Holdren, J., G. Daily, and P. Ehrlich. 1995. The meaning of sustainability: Biogeophysical aspects. In Defining and Measuring Sustainability, M. Munansingha and W. Shearer, eds. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank.
CES Consulting Engineers and GTZ. 1996. Middle East Regional Study on Water Supply and Demand Development, Phase I, Regional overview. Sponsored by the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Multilateral Working Group on Water Resources. Eschborn, Germany: CES Consulting Engineers and Association for Technical Cooperation (GTZ).
National Research Council. 1993. Intergenerational fairness and water resources. Pp. 3-10 in Sustaining Our Water Resources, Proceedings of the Water Science and Technology Board Tenth Anniversary Symposium, November 9, 1992. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Norgaard, R. 1994. Development Betrayed: The End of Progress and a Coevolutionary Revisioning of the Future. New York, New York: Routledge.
SCOPE. 1997. Sustainability Indicators: A Report on the Project on Indicators of Sustainable Development. Moldan, B., S. Billharz, and R. Matravers (eds.). West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
United Nations. 1997a. Report of the Expert Group Meeting on Identification of Principles of International Law for Sustainable Development, Geneva, Switzerland, 26-28 September 1995. United Nations Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development, Background Paper #3, 4th Session UN Commission on Sustainable Development, April-May, 1996 . New York, New York: The United Nations.
United Nations. 1997b. Comprehensive Assessment of the Freshwater Resources of the World CSD. New York, New York: The United Nations.
United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development. 1987. Our Common Future. New York, New York: The United Nations.
U.S. President's Council on Sustainable Development. 1996. Sustainable America: A New Consensus for Prosperity, Opportunity, and A Healthy Environment for the Future. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.
World Bank. 1995. Mainstreaming the Environment. Washington, D.C.: The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank.