Last Thursday, Israel and Palestine entered into a new “water-sharing” plan which may provide some level of relief to several Palestinian territories, according to the Los Angeles Times. Israel is set to sell 8.7 billion gallons of water to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip at a reduced rate, with the West Bank receiving approximately two-thirds and Gaza the remainder. This latest deal is meant to expand off of a 2013 agreement between Israel and Jordan where Jordan constructed a desalination plant within its borders. The plant takes water from the Red Sea and provides 8-13 billion gallons of fresh water to both countries each year. Israel provides the same amount of fresh water from the Sea of Galilee to Jordan, and receives the brine from the plant to help restore its evaporating Dead Sea.
Still, as the LA Times observes, “The shortages [in Gaza and the West Bank] are so acute that most of the groundwater is not fit for drinking and the additional water is considered a fraction of what is needed.” Indeed, The Water Project notes that “The cost of water in Jordan increased thirty percent in ten years, due to a quick shortage of groundwater.” Although the same size as Portugal, Jordan withdraws one-tenth the amount of freshwater. Other Middle Eastern countries face similar struggles: Yemen is unable to produce enough food for roughly one-third of its population, and the United Arab Emirates, due to unsustainable water usage, is set to run out of freshwater within fifty years if usage continues at its current rate.
The Water Project notes that many of the Middle East’s water struggles come from over-irrigation of agriculture and other unsustainable practices, leading to desertification of the region. However, much of this can also be explained by a simple lack of water availability. Some of the driest nations in the Middle East include Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, all of which receive less than 120mm of rain annually. While many nations have been able to meet needs through groundwater withdrawals, these withdrawals have far exceeded the ability of the aquifer to recharge. A 2013 study published in Water Resources Research used satellite data to find that from 2003-2009, groundwater and other withdrawals from the Tigris and Euphrates river basins depleted the basins by enough to fill the entire Dead Sea, or 117 million acre-feet. Much of this loss can be attributed to the Iraqi government drilling 1,000 new wells in response to its failing water infrastructure. Under-investment, frequent power shortages, and other infrastructure failings eventually led to a cholera outbreak in 2007, causing the government to pursue short-term solutions which may have devastating long-term results.
While the new Israel-Palestine water deal seems to be a net positive for the region, water security will remain an issue for those nations who do not have plans for ensuring long-term retention of what appears to be a rapidly-diminishing water supply. Further trade agreements, investments into infrastructure, and more efficient water use may offer further solutions to the region’s water woes.