IN Jordan, where talk of a water shortage is in the present tense, demand is already outpacing supply. Under an unratified river-sharing plan brokered by the Eisenhower administration in 1953, Jordan was to get a 275 million-cubic-meter annual share of the Jordan River, enough to irrigate thousands of acres in the fertile Jordan Valley.
But Israel and Syria, the Jordan River's two other main users, are taking more than their share, leaving Jordan with less than half that amount. With its nonrenewable aquifers being overtapped at a rate of 15 percent a year, the Hashemite Kingdom is on the verge of a critical shortfall.
``We're living a crisis in summertime as it is,'' says a Jordanian official, referring to protracted water and power cuts now common in Amman and other Jordanian cities.
To avoid a projected 50 percent water deficit by the year 2005, Jordan is counting heavily on a joint project with Syria for construction of the Unity Dam at Maqarin on the Yarmuk, the only untapped tributary of the Jordan.
Jordan hopes that the dam will enable it to double the amount of land under cultivation in the Jordan Valley, and provide additional water for industry and municipal use.
But the project has been delayed for years because of Israel's insistence that the dam will cut into its fair share of the Yarmuk.
Meanwhile, Syria is planning to use a series of seven small dams to divert Yarmuk water upstream, because of the extra demands Turkey is placing on the Euphrates, Syria's other main water resource.
Even without these complications, Jordan's estimated $450 million investment in the Unity Dam may buy only a five-year brief respite from shortages because of the country's 3.8 percent population growth rate - one of the highest in the world.
``Jordan could be in trouble by mid-decade,'' concludes a Western diplomat. ``It could become a crisis by the turn of the century.''