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Water in Israel: The Water Resources Working Group

The aims of the Water Resources Working Group, as expressed in the Moscow Steering Group meeting (January 1992) were to foster cooperation on water related issues while creating confidence building measures, and cooperative efforts to alleviate water shortages of the parties, through:

A. Enhancement of data availability
B. Enhancement of water supply
C. Water management and conservation
D. Concepts of regional cooperation.

Taking into consideration that the water resources of the region are already fully exploited and demand for water is rising rapidly, the issue of water has become one of the most urgent. Given its importance to sustaining the quality of life and future economic development, emphasis is being placed on enhancing existing resources and developing new, additional resources, including desalination and sewage treatment.

The activities of the working group include various projects and workshops, and the training of water personnel. The steering group of the Water Resources Working Group last convened in Hammamet, Tunisia, in May 1996. In the four categories defined above, the following activities have been carried out:

A. Enhancement of water data availability:

The Middle East Water Data Banks Plan - The U.S. and the E.U. are heading a project to establish data banks on hydrological data. Of 40 priority recommendations, more than half have been implemented or are currently being implemented. These include establishing regional directories of water resource professionals, water institutions, publications, projects and studies, establishing a geographic reference system, establishing agreed-upon water standards, and more. Among the donor countries taking part in the initiative are Canada, France, the Netherlands, and Australia.

B. Enhancement of water supply:

Middle East Regional Study on Water Supply and Demand Development - The project, sponsored by the German government, involved collecting data from the three core parties regarding current demand and projected demand for the years 2010, 2020 and 2040. This information was then compared to the available water resources in the region, and the anticipated gap between supply and demand was calculated for these time frames. The second stage of the project was to identify different solutions for bridging the gap. The solution found to be most suitable for the region was desalination. The third phase, which finalized the project in February 1998, identified priority activities for the region to be implemented in the short term. These include joint development of a prototype desalination plant, as well as comparative studies on desalination schemes.

The Middle East Desalination Research Center - The Center was established in Oman in December 1996 and coordinates and sponsors basic and applied research in the area of desalination. In addition, the Center promotes and organizes various training courses in this field. The U.S., Israel, Japan, Oman, the E.U. and Korea are the founding members of this first regional center, and comprise its board of directors. To date, about $1.5 million have been distributed to research project partners from the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. A number of training courses have been held for regional participants. A workshop on desalination was held in Eilat in February 1996.

C. Water management and conservation:

Public Awareness Project - The U.S. has sponsored a project aimed at raising awareness, especially of children, to the shortage of water in our region and to the wise use of water resources. Seven parties are participating in this project: Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, the PA, Israel, Oman and Egypt. At the last meeting, a local work plan targeted at children was established, parts of which will comprise a regional public awareness program. A video describing the achievement of the project will be broadcast on regional television channels.

D. Concepts of regional cooperation:

Comparative Survey of regulatory and legal framework of water laws, pricing and management - A comparative study outlining these issues has been conducted by the Norwegian government through CESAR. A document was subsequently drafted identifying principles for regional cooperation. This declaration was signed in June 1996. The first project to result from this was the establishment of the Waternet project, designed t o develop a computerized information system for water related issues to serve as a tool for researchers in the region and to enhance regional cooperation. Computer nodes are currently being interconnected within each party. The next phase will be the establishment of the regional network.

It is estimated that the total investments in the projects of the working group amount to some $45 million.

Sources: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs