THE WATER RIGHTS OF THE CO-RIPARIANS TO THE JORDAN RIVER BASIN

The co-riparians of the Jordan River Basin (Lebanon, Syria, Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories and Jordan) suffer differing degrees of water stress. The quantification and attainment of their water rights is thus an important topic, especially as the demand for water is growing throughout the region as a whole.

Authors: David J.H. Phillips, Shaddad Attili, Stephen McCaffrey, John S. Murray and Mark Zeitoun

Access to sufficient volumes of water of appropriate quality is a vital human need; the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has recently recognized the human right to water. The co-riparians of the Jordan River Basin (Lebanon, Syria, Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories and Jordan) suffer differing degrees of water stress, as measured by international benchmarks. The quantification and attainment of their water rights is thus an important topic, especially as the demand for water is growing throughout the region as a whole.

Previous international agreements amongst the co-riparians concerning water-related topics are addressed, and it is demonstrated that none of these have adequately quantified the water rights of any of the parties. The allocations of the Jordan River proposed by US Ambassador Eric Johnston in the mid-1950s may be thought to represent an important international standard, but cannot be considered to equate to the full present-day water rights of the co-riparians to that system. This is principally because no regard was given in the work by Johnston to the groundwater resources available to the co-riparians, and the only demand deemed to be of relevance was the use of water for agricultural irrigation.

Customary international water law (evidence of which may be found in The Helsinki Rules on the Uses of the Waters of International Rivers of 1966 and the 1997 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses) determines the water rights of the parties at the present time in a broad fashion. But provides only general guidance in identifying legitimate quantitative allocations of fresh waters for the co-riparians of the Jordan River.

It is argued that despite such difficulties, quantitative equitable and reasonable allocations can and must be derived for the co-riparians of the Jordan River Basin, and such allocations will be a critical component in fully defining the water rights of the parties. One of the key elements in such a process should be the allocation of equal per capita volumes of fresh water to the various parties. Equal per capita allocations appear a just and reasonable starting point in deriving an equitable apportionment of fresh water for domestic uses at least.

Even if the water rights of the parties were to be quantified, problems would remain in certain parties attaining their rightful allocations of shared watercourses. It is argued that these are mainly due to the existence of a ‘zero-sum game’ in many such circumstances, where water volumes gained by one party are lost by another party. In the case of the co-riparians of the Jordan River, it is suggested that this problem can be surmounted by the addition of ‘new water’ to the regional resource, thus generating a ‘positive-sum game’ where all parties benefit over time. The general pattern of such allocations is proposed, and recent plans for desalination in the region are reviewed, specifically.

The distinction between water rights and water use is also discussed briefly. It will be important in any future agreements to separate the concepts of water rights and water use, neither of which fully defines the other (either before or after agreements are concluded on water allocations).

Unless international agreements determining equitable and reasonable allocations to the co-riparians of the Jordan River can be concluded (involving each of the parties and all of the water resources, not simply surface waters), none of the parties will understand their water rights, or be able to attain water security in the future. It is in the interest of all the countries in the region to cooperate on the allocation and management of the available water supplies, rather than competing for these. Each of the co-riparians should prepare Master Plans for water use and for the development of new water resources in the future, as a matter of high priority. These Master Plans should recognize international standards; should rely on the cooperative or (preferably) joint management of shared watercourses; and will define a number of strategic aspects of the future economic and social development of the countries involved.

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Biography: Dr. Phillips has been active in environmental and water-related issues for over 30 years throughout the world. Dr. Phillips graduated from Cambridge University in England, initially studying biochemistry and then receiving a Ph.D. in aquatic pollution. He has worked for national Governments, international organizations and consultancies on environmental and water-related topics. He currently advises Governments and other international bodies as a freelance consultant in a wide range of geographies throughout the world. Dr. Phillips has worked with the Negotiations Support Unit on issues related to the Permanent Status negotiations in Palestine since 1999. He lives in southern France and in Namibia, southern Africa.