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International water issues

Most of Jordan’s water resources are shared with other countries. The Yarmouk/Jordan River is the largest river of the country, where water allocation to riparian countries is one of the most difficult regional issues. Failure so far to develop a unified approach to managing these water resources has encouraged unilateral development by the various riparian countries.

In 1951, Jordan announced its plan to divert part of the Yarmouk River via the East Ghor Canal to irrigate the East Ghor area of the Jordan Valley. In response, Israel began construction of its National Water Carrier (NWC) in 1953, resulting in military skirmishes between Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic. In 1955, the Johnston Plan called for the allocation of 55 percent of available water in the Jordan River basin to Jordan, 36 percent to Israel, and 9 percent each to the Syrian Arab Republic and Lebanon. It was never signed by the countries involved, since the Arab riparians insisted that the United States government was not an impartial third party, but it has served as a general guideline for appropriations within the basin. In 1964, the NWC opened and began diverting water from the Jordan River Valley. This diversion led to the Arab Summit of 1964 where a plan was devised to begin diverting the headwaters of the Jordan River to the Syrian Arab Republic and Jordan. From 1965 to 1967 Israel attacked these construction projects in the Syrian Arab Republic, and along with other factors this conflict escalated into the Six Day War in 1967 when Israel completely destroyed the Syrian diversion project and took control of the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This gave Israel control of the Jordan River’s headwaters and significant groundwater resources. The most recent directly water-related conflict occurred in 1969 when Israel attacked Jordan’s East Ghor Canal following suspicions that Jordan was diverting excess amounts of water (Green Cross Italy, 2006). Later on, Israel and Jordan acquiesced to the apportionment, contained in the non-ratified 1955 Johnston Plan for sharing the Jordan Basin's waters (Milich and Varady, 1998).

Jordan is adversely affected by unilateral water development projects by the Syrian Arab Republic in the Upper Yarmouk Basin and by Israel in the Upper Jordan River and the occupied Golan Heights. Despite agreements with the Syrian Arab Republic and Israel, Jordan received only around 119 and 92 million m3/year from Yarmouk water and Lake Tiberias in 2004 and 2005 respectively. This is only approximately 10 percent of the total flow of the Upper Jordan and Yarmouk rivers. It is also much less than the water share from these two basins proposed by the Johnston plan during negotiations in 1950s.

Although no comprehensive agreement exists on sharing the jointly-owned water resources, eleven plans for water use were prepared between 1939 and 1955. The last one was the Johnston Plan of 1955, allocating water between Jordan and the Syrian Arab Republic. In 1987, Jordan and the Syrian Arab Republic signed an agreement to build the Unity Dam on the Yarmouk River with a height of 100 m and a storage capacity of 225 million m3. In 2003, the height of the dam was reduced to 87 m and the storage capacity became 110 million m3. The dam (RCC type) will be completed in 2007. Jordan and Israel reached a compromise on water rights issues in the Jordan River Basin. The Jordanian–Israeli Peace Treaty, which was signed in October 1994, includes agreed articles on water presented in Annex II – Water Related Matters. According to the articles of this annex, Jordan is entitled to store 20 million m3 of the Upper Jordan winter flow on the Israeli side (in Lake Tiberias) and take it back during the summer months. Jordan is entitled to 10 million m3 of desalinated water from the saline Israeli springs near Tiberias and until the desalination plant is erected Jordan can get this quantity in summer from Lake Tiberias. Jordan can build a regulating/storage dam on the Yarmouk downstream of the diversion point of Yarmouk water to the KAC. Jordan can also build a dam of 20 million m3 capacity on the Jordan River and on its reach south of Lake Tiberias on the border between Jordan and Israel. Later, Jordan and Israel agreed to provide Jordan with 50 million m3 of desalinated water from the Israeli saline springs south of Lake Tiberias and until the desalination plant is erected Israel is providing Jordan with 25 million m3 from Lake Tiberias through the summer months. The regulating dam on the Yarmouk River was built and the water conveyor to transport water from Lake Tiberias in Israel to the KAC in Jordan was constructed just after the signing of the Peace Treaty.

In 2007, Jordan and the Syrian Arab Republic agreed to expedite the implementation of agreements signed between the two countries, especially with regard to shared water in the Yarmouk River Basin. They also agreed to continue a study on the Yarmouk River Basin based on previous studies. Currently, the Joint Jordanian–Syrian Higher Committee is discussing how to make use of the Yarmouk River Basin water and how to protect Yarmouk water against depletion. Talks will also include preparations for winter and storage at Al Wihdeh Dam. The establishment of the Wihdeh Dam was designed to enhance the supply of potable water to Jordan by providing it with 80 million m3 annually – 50 million m3 for drinking purposes and 30 million m3 for irrigation in the Jordan Valley. The dam was also created to enhance the environmental situation of the area surrounding the Yarmouk River Basin and activate tourism, in addition to generating power. The Syrian authorities have shown an understanding of Jordan's limited water resources (The Jordan Times, 2008).


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