News & Current Affairs

Water Treaties

By: Amy Grossbard
January 31, 2013

Last week’s blog outlined the influence water can have on local security situations, specifically its role in conflicts in the Middle East. As the water wars rationale implies, these so-called water wars are based on water scarcity, competitive use and the countries being enemies due to a wider conflict. Picking up arms is not the only way to resolve such an issue however, as will be outlined in this post focusing on water treaties.

Due to commonalities between the countries, Friends of the Earth Middle East have a special relationship with Indian and Pakistani environmentalists, as contact with Ahmad Rafay Alam and the Good Water Neighbors program demonstrate. There are more similarities in circumstances between Jordan and Israel, and Pakistan and India than one might think at first glance. Focusing on the environmental similarities, one will find that both the Jordan River and Indus basins have a semi-arid climate. Pakistan is equally reliant on the river as a water source, both on the municipal and agricultural level,[1] as is Jordan. The Indus and Jordan River do not only have in common that their flow is deteriorating, but also that water treaties were designed to control their output. The similar political situation, and the way that since the signing of the Indus Waters Treaty in 1960[2] no war has included any dispute over the river, makes it a treaty that can be looked upon as an example and for inspiration.

NSU Jordan River Basin Map
NSU Jordan River Basin Map

In 1994, Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty, commonly known as the Arava/Araba Treaty. Article 6 of the Treaty refers to water management and stipulates the amounts of water Jordan and Israel are allowed to diverge from the Yarmouk and Jordan Rivers. Additionally, it stipulates that any endeavors undertaken regarding water development or management, must ensure that the resources of the other party are not affected (6.2). Clause 6.3 acknowledges that the current water resources are not enough, enforcing cooperation between the two nations when it comes to finding new resources. Collaboration is also attempted to be achieved through the founding of the Joint Water Committee (6.1.3), which has been a very positive development of the treaty.

However, the increasing demand for water due to urbanization, industrialization, increasing populations, consumerism and irrigated agriculture; and the political nature of water use in the region, topped off by the ensuing global environmental and political difficulties make the 1994 water treaty a fragile one. Many of the water clause’s sub-articles have been implemented since the signing, yet not all. Some infrastructure which was meant to be built within years of the signing of the treaty, still hasn’t not come into place. These infrastructural deficits add to the risk that the quantity of the Jordan River water flow will decrease. This in turn could increase the chance of renewed dispute over the basin erupting, due to the fact that “almost 90% of all conflictive events relate to quantity or infrastructure.”[3]

Friends of the Earth Middle East
Friends of the Earth Middle East, founded in the same year as the Arava Treaty was signed, attempts to contribute to the maintenance of the current peaceful situation between Jordan and Israel. It does so through its strategy of ‘Environmental Peacemaking’, by promoting cross-border cooperation and building trust through its programs and initiatives. Different programs contribute to this effort in unique ways. For example, the Jordan River Rehabilitation program addresses the diminishing flows of the river that could lead, not only to its disappearance and consequent ecological and socio-economic troubles, but also to an exacerbation of tensions between the signatories of the Arava Treaty. The Good Water Neighbors program attempts to solidify grassroots involvement in cross-border cooperation. This program shows that a mutual effort to build trust and understanding can lead to common efforts in problem solving and peace building. If this is possible on a local community level in situations of disagreement, then surely that provides hope for such successes on a larger scale.

This post was written by Amman based intern Lidwien Wijchers, who is pursuing her Master’s degree in the Human Geography specialization of Conflict, Territories, and Identities.

[1] Alam, U.Z. (2002). “Questioning the Water Wars Rationale: A Case Study of the Indus Waters Treaty.” The Geographical Journal 168:4, p. 342.

[2] Alam, p. 343.

[3] Giordano M. & A.T. Wolf, (2003). “Sharing Waters: Post-Rio International Water Management.” Natural Resources Forum 27, p. 165.