By Stefan Stahlberg. How Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan could find together through water-energy cooperation: the region can only meet the serious lack of water and increasing energy demand together.
This article has been originally posted on the website of the Konrad Adenauer Foundatin (KAS) and is reposted here with kind permission by the KAS office in Ramallah.
There can be no talk of mutual trust between Israel and Palestine: US President Trump has just recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and wants to transfer the US Embassy of Tel Aviv there – causing violent protests and unrest in the region. But the Palestinians are far away from a new Intifada. Aside from the political conflicts, there is still a great deal of willingness for cross-border cooperation in selected policy fields: the region can only meet the serious lack of water and increasing energy demand together.
We have to "prevent a water disaster"
The Water-Energy Nexus offers solutions to overcome these problems, according to Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) and EcoPeace Middle East experts. The two think tanks entertain offices in Amman, Jerusalem and Ramallah, among others. EcoPeace and the KAS's office in Ramallah have analysed the water and energy situation over the last three years and worked together to produce a study, with intensive involvement of political and civil society representatives in the development process. Now they are presenting alarming numbers: By 2030, population will increase by seven million compared to 2015, to an estimated 29.5 million. In Jordan and Palestine, each individual consumes between 46 and 48 m3 of water per year in 2015, and just under 94 m3 in Israel. The so-called "groundwater overuse" is already immensely high: "We have too little water, 267 million m3," says Nada Majdalani. The region needs a total of 573.6 million m3 of water per year by 2030, "to prevent a water disaster," warns the co-director of EcoPeace in Palestine.
"We can desalinate as much water as we want"
The proposed solution for both think tanks is, in simple word: Jordan uses its 330 sunny days and takes advantage of low population density of large areas of the country for the production of solar energy. This it exports to Palestine and Israel for the operation of seawater desalination plants, because "we can desalinate as much water as we want," says Oded Fixler from the Israeli Ministry of Regional Cooperation. The water recovered from the sea then can flow back to Jordan. The Gaza coast could also be a place for future investment in desalination plants.
The time has come, because "the costs have fallen dramatically," says Jordanian Basim Saleh of the environmental technology company GreenTech. Ten years ago, the desalination of one cubic meter of water cost USD 2, today it's only USD 0.65. If the water is to be transported from the Mediterranean coast to Jordan, the price increases to "only" USD 0.93 to USD 1.18.
Energy and water security for a whole region
For the researchers, the benefits for the people in the three countries would be obvious: the project could provide the region with energy and water security for the next decades. In addition, Jordan could increase its GDP by three to five percent, Majdalani estimates. Israel could achieve its climate goals by importing solar energy, and the Palestinian Territories would reduce their dependence on Israel for water and energy resources. So far, the PA is relying almost exclusively on energy supplies from Israel; a maximum of five percent comes from Egypt and Jordan.
But perhaps more importantly, the cooperation could "change the rules of the game" in the Middle East, says Gidon Bromberg. Of course, the project involves an entrepreneurial risk, but that is "marginal". Instead, the Israeli EcoPeace director warns, "Being inactive carries a much greater risk."
Now the project needs close to nine million USD for a comprehensive feasibility study and a pilot project. Despite the visible benefits, the initiators of the think tanks must show that the whole thing is "a project for banks, a profitable project," says Majdalani.