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The Issue of Water Needs Between Israel and Jordan

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A Carter Administration official stressed that the need for water could become “a cause of conflict” or “an imperative for cooperation” between Israel and Jordan.

Joseph Wheeler, acting administrator of the Agency for International Development, told the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee for Europe and the Middle East that there was only a “fixed and limited supply” of water in the area. “Of particular concern is the area on both sides of the lower Jordan River where Israel, Jordan and the West Bank share geographically the surface waters and in part the underground waters. The usable capacity of the principal water resource, the Jordan River, and its natural storage reservoir Lake Tiberias, have been exploited.”

Wheeler, who was the leadoff witness in the start of Congressional hearings on proposed United States foreign aid for the 1981 fiscal year, was asked by Rep. Lee Hamilton (D. Ind.), the subcommittee’s chairman, which country controls the waters of the Jordan River. He replied that Israel has access above Lake Tiberias but Syria and Jordan have “some access” to tributaries of the Jordan Rivers.

Wheeler pointed out that “already, inadequate supply of water and sewage capacity are creating a major health problem for the Jordanian plateau and the major cities of Amman and Irbid where over 80 percent of the Jordanian population lives.” He said that Jordan “plans to control” the Yarmouk River by constructing a storage dam at Moqarin on the border between Jordan and Syria some 30 miles from Lake Tiberias.

“Within 20 years or so all the water will be needed in its first use for urban uses on the Jordanian plateau,” he said. “Meanwhile, the need for water in Israel and on the West Bank is increasing. Against this background of regional water shortage which affects the vital interest of Israel, Jordan and the West Bank, water resource questions constitute a major economic and political issue.”

ISSUE OF INFLATION

Wheeler was also asked about such issues as inflation. “The most difficult case is Israel,” he said. He said attempts have been made to encourage the resumption of an earlier growth rate to combat inflation. He did not go into detail because he was scheduled to discuss Israel at a special hearing today. Egypt’s inflation is “officially in the 10-15 percent range,” Wheeler said. He said a more accurate figure would be 20-30 percent because many items, such as bread, are subsidized by the government.

IMPORTANCE OF REMITTANCES

Wheeler said that the remittances by the more than two million workers from Jordan, North Yemen and Syria working in the oil-rich Arab countries are a important “financial resource” for their home countries. “Their current annual remittances are about $5 billion,” he said. “Over half of these workers are in Saudi Arabia, with Libya and Kuwait employing a large portion of the remainder.” He said that remittances to Egypt total nearly $2 billion a year.

“If foreign exchange earnings from remittances and exports were reduced sharply there would be critical shortages,” Wheeler said. “Similarly, a sudden major influx of returning migrant workers would create a major unemployment problem.”

Wheeler said the oil-producing countries have been providing “on the order of $2.5 billion annually” to other Arab countries. However, since the Egyptian-Israel agreement, the amount to Egypt has been reduced while increased to other countries. He said that Egypt received $1.6 billion in 1975 and $2 billion in 1977.

Since the Camp David accords new commitments to Egypt dropped to $500 million in 1978 and ceased completely last year, Wheeler said. On the other hand, assistance to Syria almost tripled from $500 million to $1.3 billion. Similarly aid to Jordan was $640 million in 1979 and is “estimated at an over higher level in 1980,” Wheeler testified.

On another point, Wheeler said the Middle East “is affected by rapid change more than most areas of the world.” He said “the Near East contains some of the richest and some of the poorest peoples of the world.” He named Egypt, Jordan and Syria among the poorest. Discussing literacy, Wheeler said only five countries in the area have adult literacy rates over 50 percent: Turkey, Jordan, Tunisia, Syria and Israel.

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