The Middle East is the most water stressed region in the world. Jordan is listed as one of the most water poor countries and Palestine suffers from an engineered water shortage as a result of the occupation. And with climate change expected only to exacerbate the region’s water shortages, the need to find new, affordable, and sustainable sources of water is only increasing.
Innovative technologies such as desalination and wastewater treatment and reuse are game-changing solutions that are already being used to increase the region’s access to freshwater. However, these technologies are highly energy intensive. For example, in Israel the average electricity consumption for desalinating a cubic meter of water is 3.5 kWh (or, enough energy to power a typical 60-watt light bulb for almost two and a half days!). And when these technologies are scaled up for national-scale production, the electricity consumption quickly adds up. In 2013, desalination and wastewater treatment consumed 10% of Israel’s total electricity supply.
But the region lacks a sufficient supply of conventional fuels to power these much-needed technologies for the long-term: Jordan has almost no fuel reserves (and import approximately 96% of the fuel used) and Israel’s natural gas reserves are expected to run out within 3-4 decades. Renewable energy, on the other hand, offers a more long-term, sustainable, and climate-friendly solution. While Israel and Palestine lack the sufficient open space for large-scale renewable energy infrastructure, Jordan’s eastern deserts have huge solar energy potential, offering plenty of open land and among the highest solar radiation in the world.
The region’s growing water and associated energy demand are regional problems, and, therefore, a solution that promotes regional interdependence, providing a source of both water and energy in a secure and reliable manner, can benefit all parties, in perhaps more than one way.
EcoPeace Middle East has, therefore, proposed the creation of a regional produced water-renewable energy community, in which renewable energy from Jordan can be used to desalinate seawater along the coasts of Israel and Gaza in order to meet the water demand of all three countries. (A complete version of the proposal can be found here.)
Such a solution—one that promotes regional interdependence—can, in addition to solving the region’s resource-related needs, help to foster a strategic stability in the region. The proposed mechanism would require long-term cooperation and provide equitable benefits for those involved, serving as a way to build trust among regional neighbors. Furthermore, solving the region’s water shortage – currently an issue of much political contention and social strife – could encourage Israel to move forward on a final water agreement with Palestine and even help broker broader peace agreements in the region.
This post was contributed by Jessye Waxman, Research Intern at EcoPeace Middle East, Tel Aviv Office.