Conflicts at the local or national scale

River Jordan Drainage Basin - Introduction

The River Jordan is 251km in length. The source of the River Jordan is in the Anti-Lebanon mountains. It then travels south from Lebanon, along the border of Syria and Israel, before entering the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias). The river then forms the border of Israel and Jordan, followed by the West Bank (Palestine) and Jordan before having its mouth in the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is unusual because of its high salt content and low elevation. It is about 400 metres below sea level (the lowest place on the surface of the earth).

Three main tributaries join north of the Sea of Galilee to form the River Jordan. They are:
  1. The Hasbani, which rises in south Lebanon, with an average annual flow of 138 million cubic metres,
  2. The Dan River, in Israel, averaging 245 million cubic metres per year, and
  3. The Banias River flowing from the Golan Heights, averaging 121 million cubic metres per year.

The climate around Israel, Jordan, Palestine and Syria is very arid (much of Jordan and Syria is desert). The dry climate and the growing populations of the five countries along the River Jordan would be enough to cause conflict over the use of the River Jordan. However, if you add the political and religious disagreements of the area, conflict over the River Jordan is likely to increase in the future.

Very briefly, the area around Jerusalem (Israel/Palestine border) is known as the Holy Land and is an extremely important holy site to Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Israel is largely Jewish and Jordan, Palestine, Syria and Jordan are largely Muslim. All countries have Christian communities, while Lebanon is roughly half Muslim and half Christian. In addition after the British left Palestine in 1948, the British and UN tried to separate the territory between Israel and Palestine, with Jerusalem coming under international control. However, the separation was not accepted by all sides. Since 1948 there have been ongoing conflicts, culminating in the Six Day War and two Palestinian intifadas (uprisings).

Although the political and religious disputes in the Middles East date back thousands of years, many argue that the many reason for the Six Day war in 1967 and the ongoing disagreements is water. During the Six Day war, Israel occupied areas of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine. Although land has now been returned to Egypt and Jordan in peace agreements, Israel still occupies land formerly controlled by Syria (Golan Heights), Lebanon (Shebaa Farms) and Palestine (West Bank). At the end of the war, Israel controlled the mountain aquifers in the West Bank, the Sea of Galilee and much of the Jordan River. These three sources now provide Israel with 60% of its water.
external image Jordan_river.jpg
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Tel Aviv (Jerusalem)
Ramala (Jerusalem)
7,653,600 (2010)
22,072km2 (2% of land area is covered in water)
5860km2 (3% of land is covered in water)
346.8 per km2
429.2 per km2

The Gaza Strip is also part of the Palestinian Territories, but the above information is for the West Bank only, which is still occupied by Israel. Population sizes and territory areas are very hard to calculate. The West Bank is controlled by Israel, so some calculations of Israel include the West Bank. Israel has also built settlements on Palestinian territory, which again is sometimes included in information about Israel. Sometimes statistics on the Palestinian territories includes both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, sometimes the information is separated.

West Bank - Mountain Aquifer

Apart from the River Jordan, the mountain aquifer, largely found in Palestinian territory is the main source of water in Israel and the West Bank. The mountain aquifer in the occupied West Bank is largely used by Israel (80%), only leaving 20% for the Palestinians. The Israel's claim that they have the right to use the aquifer, because some of the water flows (groundwater flow or base flow) into Israeli territory. The coastal aquifer shown to the right (in the Gaza Strip - also part of the Palestinian territory), is becoming exhausted and at threat from saltwater intrusion as well as domestic and industrial pollution (Israel launches program to save coastal aquifer).

Within the West Bank, you find Palestinians and Israeli's living in illegal settlements. The graph below shows that the level of water consumption amongst Israeli's and Palestinian's living in the territory is very uneven. On average Israeli's consume nearly 300 litres and Palestinians about 70 litres.

external image daily-water-occupied-west-bank.jpg?w=352&h=298

West Bank Struggles for Water - BBC article

Water Shortages plague West Bank - BBC article

Desalination: Removing salt water from sea water, in order to use it for agricultural, domestic and industrial use. Although the technology is still fairly new, expensive and consumes large amounts of energy, it is seen as one possible solution to many of the problems in the Middle East where there is a shortage of water. Water factory aims to filter tensions - BBC article

River Jordan nearly running dry - BBC article

Israel cutting Palestinian Water - Al Jazeera article

Obstacles to Arab-Israeli Peace - Water - BBC article

Drought forces Israel to break treaty - BBC article

Conflict Along the Loa River Basin (Atacama Desert, Chile)

The Atacama Desert is mainly located in Northern Chile, but does stretch into parts of Argentina, Bolivia and Peru as well. The Atacama Desert is known as one of the driest places in the world, with the Antofagastan Region in Chile only receiving an average of 1mm of rain a year. It is estimated that some river beds have been dry for over 120,000 years. In such an arid environment, it is know wonder that there are competing demands for water. The main sources of water in the Atacama are the Loa River, Chile's longest river, and some aquifers. The two main competing demands for water are mining and grape growing.

Traditionally agriculture has been one of the most important sectors of the Chilean economy. However, the discovery of vast copper reserves, has now made mining the most important. It is estimated that copper accounts for 70% of Chilean exports, while agriculture accounts for just 25%. The vast power of the copper mines, means that water is slowly being diverted away from vineyards and into mines. Vineyards have been a traditional site in many valleys in the Atacama, but increasingly grapevines are being left to die, because mining companies can pay more for the water. Mining companies are paying up to $120,000 a year for water rights of one litre per second. It is estimated that up to 30% of the regions grape growers have sold some or all of their water rights.

Water is needed by mining companies to help extract copper deposits from copper ore - only about 1% of copper ore is actually copper. The shift of water from grapes to mining, not only means dead grapevines are now a common site, but in some areas the water table has fallen to over 140 metres below the surface.

War for water in Chile's Atacama Desert: Vines or mines? - BBC article

Water clash at Chile copper mine - BBC article
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external image _59259152_grapes3.jpg