Water of the Middle East and North Africa


The Yarmouk River. Photo: Freedom’s Falcon.

The two primary groundwater resources in Israel are the Coastal and Mountain Aquifers. These aquifers are also the main water resources for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank respectively. There are also a number of smaller aquifers in the Negev Desert and Arava Valley.[1]

Coastal Aquifer

The Coastal Aquifer stretches from the Carmel Range in the north to the Sinai Peninsula in the south, and from the West Bank in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. The southernmost part of the aquifer in Sinai and the Gaza Strip are not controlled by Israel. This aquifer is particularly important because it can store large volumes of water for a multi-year period.[2]

The sustainable yield of the Coastal Aquifer is estimated at 360-420 MCM/yr, 15% of which (55 MCM) is the sustainable yield in the Gaza Strip. Current extraction rates, however, far exceed the sustainable yield.[3]

The shallow depth and the relatively soft sandy/sandstone bedrock of the Coastal Aquifer make the water convenient to access but also makes the aquifer susceptible to pollution. Water quality in the Coastal Aquifer has been deteriorating steadily due to pollution and overpumping.[4]

Mountain Aquifer

The Mountain Aquifer is a shared water resource between Israel and the Palestinian West Bank. It is 130 km long and about 35 km wide with a total area of 6,000 km2. The aquifer is fed primarily by rainwater falling in the West Bank.

This aquifer is a very important resource for both Israel and Palestine. It provides Israel with about 25% of its total water budget and is the main water resource for populations in the West Bank. The Mountain Aquifer can be divided into an eastern, northern and western basin based on the direction in which rainwater flows into the aquifer. The sustainable yield of the aquifer is about 350 MCM/yr. However, on average between 679 -735 MCM is extracted annually, 80% by Israel. Together with the reduction in recharge as rainfall levels drop, Israel’s overexploitation of the aquifer has led to the depletion and degradation of available water.

Negev and Arava Aquifers

Two naturally brackish (saline) aquifers are located in the country’s south. The Negev and Arava Aquifers have an estimated combined storage capacity of hundreds of billions of cubic metres. However, this supply is rapidly declining due to excessive pumping[5] by local communities in the southern Arava Valley, where water is treated in small-scale desalination plants.


[1] Beyth, M., 2006. ‘Water crisis in Israel’. In: Leybourne, M. and Gynor, A. eds. Water, Histories, Cultures, Ecologies, University of Western Australia Press, pp. 171–181.
[2] Weinberger, G. et al., 2012. The Natural Water Resources Between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
[3] Isaac, J., 2006. ‘The role of groundwater in the water conflict and resolution betw>een>> >>Israelis> and Palestinians.’ Paper presented at the International Symposium on Groundwater Sustainability (ISGWAS).
[4] Weinberger, G. et al., 2012.
[5] Ibid.