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Geography of Israel: The Jordan Valley

The Jordan Valley is an element of a great rift which extends from Syria to the Red Sea and continues through a large portion of Eastern Africa. Riparian population groups in the Jordan Valley include Palestinians, Israelis and Jordanians. At its southern extremity, the Jordan Valley connects with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The Jordan Valley has traditionally been a North-South transport corridor, and is crossed by important land routes in the East-West direction.

The area under discussion for integrated development extends from south of Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee) to the Gulf of Aqaba/Eilat. It includes a series of distinctive geographic sections:

  • the Jordan River Valley south of the Sea of Galilee down to the Dead Sea

  • the Dead Sea and its rugged eastern and western escarpments

  • South of the Dead Sea for a distance of about 40 km

  • the arid Wadi Arava/Arava Valley further to the south and the Red Sea coastal zone with the border towns of Aqaba in Jordan and Eilat in Israel.

Regional Collaboration and the Integrated Development of the Jordan Valley

The Jordan Valley has been designated as a special development area and, as a result of a tri-lateral initiative between the United States, Jordan and Israel, the Jordan Valley Steering Committee was formed to develop a master plan for the integrated economic development of the Jordan Valley subregion. For planning purposes, this sub-region includes the Dead Sea, Southern Ghors, Wadi Araba and the area north of the Gulf of Aqaba. The aim of collaborative development in the sub-region is to consolidate economic integration through the provision of critical infrastructure and services to promote private sector investment.

The Jordan Valley coordinated development effort is being managed by a joint steering committee headed by US government representatives. The World Bank is serving as a facilitator for conducting the various studies undertaken within the framework of the project. The Italian Government has provided US $3.2 million for a comprehensive second stage study which was implemented by the Harza Jordan Valley Group and completed in August 1997. This study includes a Master Plan for integrated development of the Jordan Valley.

The following diagram illustrates the Master Plan and the collaborative nature of the planning and project selection process.

The Vision and Development Strategy of the Jordan Valley

The Jordan Valley’s comparative advantages provide a basis for further development of economic activities. As a zone linking Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the Jordan Valley constitutes both an important corridor and shared resource base for economic development. Integrated development of the Jordan Valley is centered around three principal themes:

  • Development of the corridor links through the Jordan Valley.
  • Development of the Jordan Valley as a crossroads between east and east was repressed in the era prior to the Peace Agreement. The establishment of peaceful relations opens up the opportunity for renewing regional continuity. This includes establishing land transport, energy and communications connections between the parties, as well as logistic facilities to serve both regional and international activities. It also means identifying and exploiting economies of scale in the development and operation of logistic facilities to enable more diverse and efficient routing options for the flow of goods and people, both intra-regionally and internationally.
  • Sustainable exploitation of the Jordan Valley’s shared environmental resources.
  • This theme recognizes ecological interdependencies and the imperative of coordinated resource management. Accordingly, the establishment of institutional mechanisms for cross-border collaboration is required. Economic activities tied to shared environmental resources include agriculture, industry and tourism.
  • Creation and exploitation of vertical and horizontal synergies.
  • Integrated development requires recognition of interrelationship between various economic activities. Development planning for the Jordan Valley underscores the importance of undertaking complementary activities. This includes the development of linkages between primary and supporting activities, the creation of scale economies, and exploitation of technology transfer and shared know-how, including agriculture and aquaculture, water management and energy generation.

The majority of development projects for the Jordan Valley have cross-border implications that highlight the benefits made possible by peace between Israel and Jordan. Development planning is for the coming quartcentury, to the year 2020.Development projects take into consideration possible impacts on employment generation as well as the affect of development on the environment. Incremental population increase until the year 2020 for the entire area is estimated at between 350-500 thousand people. Incremental primary and secondary employment arising from the development program is estimated at between 110-146 thousand jobs. Implied employment growth rates are estimated to range between 3.7-4.5% per year.

Spatial Planning Strategy

Given the diverse nature of the Jordan Valley, no single spatial strategy can apply to the entire development area. New areas of urban growth as well as centers of economic activity will be developed. The strategy undertaken in the development program recognizes decisions regarding the location of these new centers will have implications for areas outside the immediate area.

The preferred spatial strategy adopted in the development programme includes:

Environmental Considerations

Environmental Profile

The Jordan Valley area north of and around the Dead Sea has demonstrated what can be done in a relatively well endowed resource environment, but it also shows the influence of a declining resource base. In general terms, a direct relationship exists between economic potential and resource endowment, particularly water.

Quality water is clearly the most critical resource in the Jordan Valley. Water sources in the Jordan Valley include surface supplies derived from the Yarmouk River and the nahals and wadis draining from the upper catchments to the east and west springs, usually associated with fault lines and underground aquifers. Most surface water is abstracted from the Yarmouk River. The Zarqa River supplies about 25% of supply and the remainder is collected from seven additional side wadis. Fresh water is also transferred by pipeline from the Sea of Galilee in Israel direct into the King Abdullah Canal (KAC) under agreements reached at the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace. The flow in the Jordan itself, once a major water resource, has been seriously reduced. It is highly polluted and is generally unsuitable for irrigation or potable water supplies.

Land constitutes another environmental constraint. Natural or geological erosion is a continuing process in the Jordan Valley, especially in the eastern wadis. To a certain extent, the removal of vegetation in the upper catchments of the higlands, both east and west, has increased the intensity of runoff water and added to the severity of erosion. Dams in the side wadis have attenuated flood flow and erosional debris is now deposited within the reservoir area. In addition overgrazing and removal of vegetation for fuel wood has increased the instability of sideslopes. Construction activities, roads, dams, and potable water pumping stations have resulted in erosion and left scars on the landscape which will take time to recover, given the dry climate. Wind erosion occurs locally and is minimized by agricultural activities. Soil salinity and nutrient imbalance has increased markedly in the Jordan Valley.

Six environmental divisions can be identified:

Environmental Division

Summary Description

Jordan Valley (JV)

The Jordan River Valley flows from the Yarmouk confluence south to the Dead Sea, comprising the lower Beit She'an and Yarmouk valleys and the Zor, Aqatar and Ghor subdivisions in the lower Jordan Valley. Intensive irrigated cultivation in Jordan and Israel decreases steadily southwards.

Dead Sea Basin (DSB)

The (northern) Dead Sea, evaporation ponds (southern Dead Sea), and shorelines, including tourism developments and the potash works and settlements. Also includes Southern Ghors, Hadeitea, Maqra’a, Safi and Feifa, plus the narrow similar tract of adjacent Israeli territory and the extension along the west coast of the Dead Sea.

Wadi Araba/ Arava North (WAN)

The northern Wadi Araba/Arava draining into the Dead Sea Basin. Almost no development and only small settlements in Jordan, but a series of highly developed agricultural settlements in Israel based on groundwater resources.

Wadi Araba/Arava South (WAS)

The southern Wadi Araba/Arava to about 10 km north of the coast formed by a series of internal drainage basins; similar development and settlement patterns to WAN.

Eilat/Aqaba Urban - Industrial Area

The twin towns of Eilat and Aqaba respectively occupy about 14 and 27 km of the upper Gulf of Aqaba coastline and extending about 10 km into Wadi Araba/Arava. Aqaba is a rapidly expanding urban, industrial, transport and tourism center while Eilat is primarily a highly developed tourist resort.

Upper Gulf of Aqaba (UGA)

Includes the Gulf of Aqaba within Jordanian and Israeli territorial wters. The narrow outlet to the Red Sea creates lake-like qualities, especially the exytreme clarity of high salinity that are distinctive features of the UGA, resulting in its unique coral reef ecology and a high level of biodiversity, while at the same time making it extremely vulnerable to pollution.

The Jordan Valley lies within a zone of geological instability. Historically earthquake events have been recorded regularly e.g. the severe devastation of Pella in 746 AD. However, the Jordan Valley is not particularly active.

Environmental Assessment and Management

The projects evaluated for the Jordan Valley development programme take into consideration anticipated environmental impact. Environmental strategy has three main thrusts: protection of Jordan Valley resources, promotion of re-utilization of resources and programs to rehabilitate degraded areas.

In general positive environmental impacts relate to human issues and are concentrated in areas proposed for urbanization in the Jordan Valley, East Dead Sea region and Eilat-Aqaba. In general, expected negative impacts on the environment resulting from projects examined relatively are few:

  • Diminished stream water discharges in the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea Basin;
  • Constrained land availability in the areas designated for urban development;
  • Damage to marine communities, particularly in the Gulf of Aqaba.
A preliminary framework for and Environmental Management Plan (EMP) has been prepared. A detailed environmental profile has been compiled, preliminary environmental assessment for all proposed projects has been conducted and a preliminary environmental monitoring and evaluation system has been established. The EMP also includes recommendations for environmental coordination, a proposed Environmental Awareness Program for the Jordan Valley and suggestions for bi-lateral institutional arrangements and initiatives for the adoption of mutually acceptable environmental standards and legislation.

Jordan Valley Integrated Development Study Master Plan

The Master Plan and its Core Projects

The Master Plan is an informal advisory planning document that is designed to perform five key functions:

  • provide strategic guidance to statutory planning ;

  • outline a framework for infrastructure integration;

  • identify projects which minimize both negative environmental impacts and development costs;

  • provide a common conceptual framework for project planning and evaluation;

  • inform potential investors, donors and government agencies of projected investment opportunities.

Core project components consist of short-term (completion within five years) and long term projects. These are essentially public sector projects which will facilitate the development of the Jordan Valley by providing leverage for stimulating private sector investment. The project portfolio selected contains both hardware and software projects, including studies and research projects, and programs aimed at promoting collaborative development planning.

Total core investments identified for the public and private sectors for the short term are estimated at $.8 billion, while long-term investments come to $5.8 billion (see table below). Emphasis is placed on developing the water sector. Short term projects for this sector include water storage and conveyance systems in the Jordan Valley and Southern Ghors region.

The industrial sector plays an important role in the short term development program, with public sector investment channeled towards the creation of production and logistic related infrastructure.

Source: Israeli Foreign Ministry