Management of Shared Water Resources: The Israeli-Palestinian Case with an International Perspective

Edited by Eran Feitelson & Marwan Haddad: Published by International Development Research Centre & Kluwer Academic Publishers Group, PO Box 322, 3300 AH Dordrecht, The Netherlands: 2001: ISBN 0-7923-7254-9: 240 160 mm: xvi + 496pp: Hardback: 112.00

Since longer than we care to remember, the world's press has included almost daily articles on the continuing problems in the intense relationship between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The long history of violent conflict between these two peoples has gained greater international significance since the tragedy at the World Trade Centre on the 11th September 2001, as it seems that resolution of the differences between them has become more important than ever in terms of achieving international security and peace. Reading these newspaper stories one can be forgiven for thinking that given the gulf between each side and the history of mind-blowing violence, there seems very little chance that they can ever co-operate on anything. Before you despair totally you should read this account of co-operation between these two peoples in deciding how to share the most basic resource, that of water.

The Mountain Aquifer comprises a sequence of karstic limestones that stretches from the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea in the east, to the Mediterranean coastal belt in the west, and extends over much of the State of Israel and the West Bank. Essentially, the aquifer system is divided into two basins that drain respectively to the east and to the west with the groundwater divide running along a sinuous north-south line just to the west of Jerusalem. In an arid climate recharge is limited and the careful management of resources is essential to maximize the water available for supplies and to avoid the long-term deterioration in water quality that results from over-exploitation.

The book is the outcome of a seven-year effort to find ways to manage these water resources. A co-operative study was completed on the aquifer system which included four workshops involving Palestinian, Israeli and foreign experts. During the project the peace process has continued along its jerky and sometimes violent road, without bringing the work on water resources management to an early end. The book consists of presentations made at these meetings with introductory and concluding chapters that set the scene of the study and advance the main points raised in the final report of part two of the study.

The book is divided into six parts: the problems and approaches to groundwater management; the Israeli-Palestinian case; international experience in cross-boundary management and allocation of water resources; monitoring, modelling and data compilation as perquisites for groundwater management; issues and innovative options for groundwater management and allocation; and, an action plan for the management of shared groundwater resources.

The authors come from a variety of backgrounds besides the two main states, including Canada, USA, The Netherlands, Costa Rica and Chile. It is perhaps significant however, that the authors of the two papers in the last section are from the two combatant nations.

The book is also of potential interest to managers of water resources who are faced with the difficulties of allocating resources between opposing interests that include environmental needs as well as those of abstractors. In parts of England and Wales for example, the pressure on water resources is already leading to the trading in abstraction licenses and other ways such as seasonal abstraction that allow water resources to be developed without compromising the different and often opposing interests. Elements of these discussions and the resulting proposals may assist in the development of workable solutions.

Several prophets of doom have predicted that the next (and maybe the final) world war will be over water resources. These predictions are based on the fundamental importance of water and the fact that resources are finite. However, they do not take account of this real example of co-operation between states that have the most fundamental of differences in terms of politics and outlook. If these people can co-operate over water resources management, then there is hope that they can work together over the major political differences and eventually resolve them, and that others can follow this example. I for one, am optimistic that the world will not end in a nuclear war over the availability of water supplies and that a determination to live together and share the resources will prevail.

This review appeared in the Journal of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management 2002, Volume 16, No 2, page 154.

Copyright © CIWEM 2002

Eur Geol Eur Ing Professor F.C. Brassington BSc MSc CGeol FGS CEng MICE FCIWEM