Water Scarcity in the Jordan River Basin

We consider the part of the Jordan River Basin that includes the three Dead Sea riparian parties, namely, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority (see Fig. 14.1).[1] A useful (albeit rough) index of regional water scarcity is the quantity of renewable (natural) water available per person in a sustainable fashion, obtained by dividing the average annual supply of renewable natural water by the existing population and measured in units of cubic metre (m3) per year and person (m3/year per person). Regions whose renewable water supplies fall below 1,000 m3/year per person or 500 m3/year per person are said to experience water scarcity or absolute scarcity, respectively (Falkenmark et al. 1989). The 100 m3/year per person threshold is often mentioned as the supply required to satisfy basic human needs (Gleick 1996). While the supply of natural renewable water is on average constant (with possible trends over the long run, due, e.g. to climate change), the population is expanding quite rapidly in this region, implying that the m3/year per person index will decline over time and therefore aggravating water scarcity.

Table 14.1 presents the average supply of renewable water in the Jordan River Basin. It shows that the renewable (natural) water supplies (available on a sustainable fashion, i.e. without drawing down stocks) in the region comprised of Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority are on average 2,428 × 106 m3/year, and this quantity includes 232 × 106 m3/year of brackish water (i.e. water with chloride concentration above 400 mg/l, which is unsuitable for drinking and irrigation of many crops without mixing).[2] The total supply of good quality natural water is therefore 2,196 × 106 m3/year (=2,428 − 232) on average.

Figure 14.2 presents actual (as of 2011) and projected populations for Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority from 1950 to 2050. The m3/year per person scarcity index is obtained by dividing the average annual water supply (2,196 × 106 m3/ year or 2,428 × 106 m3/year) by the population. The results are shown in Table 14.2.

As the table reveals, the region as a whole is already far below the absolute scarcity mark of 500 m3/year per person and will soon enter subsistence scarcity below 100 m3/year per person. Such an acute scarcity implies that increasing the supply of potable water for domestic uses receives the highest priority. This observation virtually implies that natural (potable) water cannot on its own achieve the goal of Dead Sea reclamation (which, as noted above, requires 700 × 106 m3/year to 800 × 106 m3/ year just for stabilising the current level) and other sources must be found for that purpose. These other sources are seawater or recycled water. Indeed, most proposals for reclaiming the Dead Sea, either by stopping its decline or restoring its level to its

Fig. 14.1 The Jordan River Basin. The Upper Jordan River extends between its headwater (at the confluence of the Dan, Banias and Hatzbani) and the Lake Tiberias. The Lower Jordan River is the southern stretch of the river between Lake Tiberias and the Dead Sea (Source: UNEP/DEWA/ GRID-Geneva(en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jordan_River#mediaviewer/File:JordanRiver_en.svg))

Table 14.1 Renewable water resources in the Jordan River Basin

106 m3/year


Israel and Palestinian Authority

1,451 (1,683)a

Weinberger et al. (2012)



Ministry of Water and Irrigation (2009; executive summary, p. 7).


2,196 (2,428)

aAverage over the period 1993–2009 without the 232 × 106 m3/year of brackish water (in parenthesis: total supply with brackish water)

Fig. 14.2 Current (until 2011) and projected population (million) (Source: United Nations (2011))

Table 14.2 Population and annual per person supplies of natural (potable) water


Population (million)

m3/year per person based on 2,428 × 106 m3/year

m3/year per person. based on 2,196 × 106 m3/year













pre-diversion state, involve conveyance of large quantities of seawater from the Mediterranean or from the Red Sea (see Vardi 1990; Beyth 2007 for overviews on past proposals and worldbank.org/rds for the ensemble of studies associated with recent “Red Sea–Dead Sea Conveyance Study Program”). These sea-to-sea conveyance alternatives involve large-scale infrastructure projects and require large upfront investment, raising doubts about their feasibility. In the next section, we briefly summarise one Red Sea–Dead Sea Project and two Mediterranean Sea–Dead Sea Projects considered in the abovementioned World Bank studies.

  • [1] The Jordan River basin contains also parts of southern Lebanon and of southwest Syria. Due to lack of data on these regions, they will not be included in this study.
  • [2] A detailed account of natural, renewable water supplies (including inter-temporal fluctuations) can be found in Tsur (2014).
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