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Misrepresenting the Jordan River Basin

Clemens Messerschmid
Hydrogeologist, Free Lance Consultant, Ramallah, Palestine; clemensmesserschmid@yahoo.de

Jan Selby
Department of International Relations, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK; j.selby@sussex.ac.uk

ABSTRACT: This article advances a critique of the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia’s (ESCWA’s) representation of the Jordan River Basin, as contained in its recently published Inventory of Shared Water Resources in Western Asia. We argue that ESCWA’s representation of the Jordan Basin is marked by serious technical errors and a systematic bias in favour of one riparian, Israel, and against the Jordan River’s four Arab riparians. We demonstrate this in relation to ESCWA’s account of the political geography of the Jordan River Basin, which foregrounds Israel and its perspectives and narratives; in relation to hydrology, where Israel’s contribution to the basin is overstated, whilst that of Arab riparians is understated; and in relation to development and abstraction, where Israel’s transformation and use of the basin are underplayed, while Arab impacts are exaggerated. Taken together, this bundle of misrepresentations conveys the impression that it is Israel which is the main contributor to the Jordan River Basin, Arab riparians its chief exploiters. This impression is, we argue, not just false but also surprising, given that the Inventory is in the name of an organisation of Arab states. The evidence discussed here provides a striking illustration of how hegemonic hydro-political narratives are reproduced, including by actors other than basin hegemons themselves.

KEYWORDS: Jordan River, hydrology, bias, political geography, hegemony