Desalination – the solution to water scarcity in Israel, Jordan and Palestine?

Water scarcity is recognized as a major threat to the future of Israel, Jordan and Palestine.

It has long been appreciated that desalination of sea water represents a possible solution to the water problems of the three countries. This Fact Sheet sets out the basic facts about desalination in the region and attempts to assess the pros and cons of its use on a large scale.

Desalination in Israel

Until the nineteen nineties, desalination in Israel was limited to small brackish water desalination plants serving remote settlements, not reached by the national water supply grid and a single small plant in Eilat. The need for seawater desalination on a large scale was not seriously considered since fresh water was being provided by the transport of Sea of Galilee water via the National Water Carrier (NWC). This fresh water supply expanded utilization of local aquifers, effected distribution of blended surface and ground waters to all customers through regional grids, and increased agricultural water use efficiency and the partial shifting of agricultural irrigation to recycled wastewater (Dreizin et al, 2008, p. 133)

However in the last decade of the twentieth century, attitudes changed as it became clear that existing fresh water resources, however well managed, would not be sufficient to meet increasing demand.

The fact that the costs of desalination were progressively reduced by developments in technology was also a key factor in making desalination a realistic option.

As a result:

Current and programmed desalinated water capacity (Dreizin, 2008, p. 148)


Plant location

Plant capacity – million / year

























To be bid









Desalination in Jordan

Jordan is one of the 10 most water deprived countries in the world with one of the lowest levels of water resources per capita. The annual per capita share from water resources in Jordan is about 150which is far below the generally accepted per capita water poverty line of 1000per annum. Demand has increased rapidly with rapid increases in population (5.3 million in 2003 and growing at a very high annual rate of 3.6%) and agricultural and industrial development which have placed heavy demands on water resources.

With Jordan’s population expected to continue to rise, the gap between water supply and demand threatens to widen significantly such that by 2025, if current trends continue Jordan could be in the category of having an absolute water shortage. Water use exceeds renewable supply and the deficit is covered by the unsustainable practice of overdrawing the groundwater aquifers well above their sustainable yield, resulting in lower water tables and declining water quality (increased salinity). Existing aquifers are being depleted at a rapid rate, water rationing is a fact of life for most Jordanians and the cost of supplying water continues to rise. The agreement reached with Israel which enables Jordan to receive 50 a year is helpful but can only ameliorate the crisis.

Extreme water scarcity is the single most important natural constraint to Jordan’s economic growth and development. Jordan shares most of its surface water resources with neighboring countries – whose influence has sometimes deprived Jordan of its fair share of water. (Mohsen, 2007, p. 27-30, 43; Abu Qdais, 2007, p. 17).

As a result of the situation described above, Jordan is examining the potential for increased desalination, especially through the Red-Dead conduit scheme (see below). (Mohsen, 2007, p. 27).

The current situation with regard to desalination is:


Desalination in Palestine

All of Palestine suffers from water scarcity. Existing water resources are insufficient to meet current demand, let alone cope with potential needs. In Gaza, where the coastal aquifer is both overpumped and polluted, the situation is particularly serious. In these circumstances, desalination is particularly important both in the short and long-term, especially in the Gaza Strip.

In the Gaza Strip a population of 1.5 million lives on top of an aquifer which is now completely insufficient and heavily polluted as a result of over abstraction, seawater intrusion and wastewater discharge. This aquifer was sufficient for the needs of the area fifty years ago, and readily accessible by means of shallow wells. (Al-Agha, Mortaja, 2005, p. 161; El Sheikh et. Al. 2003, p. 41)

It is estimated that 90% of the groundwater is unfit for drinking as a result of contamination (Al-Agha, Mortaja, 2004, p. 157). In most parts of the Gaza Strip, the chloride and nitrate content of domestic water exceeds WHO guidelines (Al-Agha, Mortaja, 2005, p. 159). In these circumstances desalination is a valuable, and one of the most promising options.