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Geography and Environment


Jordan’s Water Shortage

The gravest environmental challenge that Jordan faces today is the scarcity of water. Indeed, water is the decisive factor in the population/resources equation. Whereas water resources in Jordan have fluctuated around a stationary average, the country’s population has continued to rise. A high rate of natural population growth, combined with periodic massive influxes of refugees, has transformed a comfortable balance between population and water in the first half of this century into a chronic and worsening imbalance in the second half. The situation has been exacerbated by the fact that Jordan shares most of its surface water resources with neighboring countries, whose control has partially deprived Jordan of its fair share of water. Current use already exceeds renewable supply. The deficit is covered by the unsustainable practice of overdrawing highland aquifers, resulting in lowered water tables and declining water quality.

On a per capita basis, Jordan has one of the lowest levels of water resources in the world. Most experts consider countries with a per capita water production below 1,000 cubic meters per year to be water-poor countries. In 1997, Jordanians consumed a total of 882 million cubic meters (MCM). In 1996, per capita share of water was less than 175 for all uses. This placed Jordan at only 20 percent of the water poverty level. The extent of the crisis is further demonstrated by the fact that, from the 1997 total of 882 MCM, around 225 MCM was pumped from ground water over and above the level of sustainable yield. Likewise, about 70 MCM was pumped from non-renewable fossil water in the southeast of the country.

With Jordan’s population expected to continue to rise, the gap between water supply and demand threatens to widen significantly. By the year 2025, if current trends continue, per capita water supply will fall from the current 200 cubic meters per person to only 91 cubic meters, putting Jordan in the category of having an absolute water shortage. Only two years from now, in the year 2000, Jordan is expected to require 1257 MCM of water to cover minimum domestic, industrial and agricultural needs. Quantities from sources available by that time will not exceed 960 MCM, bringing the deficit to 297 MCM. Of the required total, 61 percent will be needed to maintain existing agricultural activities, 31 percent for domestic consumption, and six percent for industrial uses.

Responding to the challenge, the government has adopted a multi-faceted approach designed to both reduce demand as well as increase supply. The peace treaty signed in 1994 by Jordan and Israel guaranteed Jordan its right to an additional 215 MCM of water annually through new dams, diversion structures, pipelines and a desalination/purification plant. Of this 215 MCM, Jordan is already receiving between 55 and 60 MCM of water from across the border with Israel through a newly-built pipeline. Jordan is also entitled to build a series of dams on the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers to impound its share of flood waters. To this end, the Karama Dam in the Jordan Valley has been built to stor 55 MCM of water, mainly from the Yarmouk, and its yield will be used to help irrigate some 6000 hectares in the southern Jordan Valley.

Water Usage by Sector, 1997

Ministry of Water and Irrigation, HKJ

While significant, the Kingdom’s water gains from the peace treaty are barely enough to maintain the status quo. Recognizing a mutual problem, Jordan and Israel declared in Article 6, Paragraph 3 of the treaty: "The parties recognize that their water resources are not sufficient to meet their needs. More water should be supplied for their use through various methods, including projects of regional and international cooperation."

In addition to securing its bilateral rights from Israel in its 1994 peace treaty, Jordan is actively involved in promoting regional cooperation through the Water Resources Working Group of the Multilateral Peace Talks. Likewise, Jordan is currently involved in discussions with Syria pertaining to issues on the upper catchment of the Yarmouk River in an attempt to reach an understanding over stable water sharing and flood storage between the two countries. Jordan has long been a strong advocate of transforming the zero-sum game in water sharing, where there are winners and losers, into a positive-sum game where all the concerned parties will be winners. Hopefully, in the context of future peace, there will be real cooperation among the countries of the region toward achieving the provision of safe and reliable water for future generations.

On the homefront, Jordan is striving to balance the water deficit by utilizing new sources as well as by decreasing consumption. The Ministry of Water recently unveiled a package of 58 projects, accounting for approximately US$ 5 billion. The projects will be implemented in stages, addressing the most urgent needs first, until the program is completed in 2010. Upon completion, the package should yield an additional 500 MCM per year.

As the exploitation of new water resources is costly, Jordan will invest heavily in the development and maintenance of water infrastructure. Among the projects requiring immediate attention are storage dams, wastewater treatment and reuse, rehabilitation of distribution systems, and augmenting urban water supplies. Conserving water, reducing leakage and waste, and utilizing a greater proportion of surface water through damming are comparatively economical ways of stretching Jordan’s meager water supply further.

Jordan also needs to expand its water supply to meet its growing needs by exploiting new sources. Naturally, these offer fewer and more costly options than conservation. Desalination, for example, could raise the cost of fresh water production by as much as two- or three-fold, at a time when budgetary constraints are forcing a broad range of traditional subsidies, including that for water, to be reduced. Other issues and trends also point to a steeply rising demand for funds for the investment, operation and maintenance of water systems in the future. Private sector participation is one way to help develop Jordan’s water infrastructure without increasing Jordan’s debt burden. Some of the components that can be directly provided by the private sector include BOT/BOO (Build, Operate, Transfer/Build, Operate, Own) schemes for water and wastewater projects, water meters, domestic appliances, leak detection equipment, pipes, pumps and wastewater treatment package plants.

To squeeze the most from its limited resources, the Kingdom will have to maintain comprehensive and reliable data, including data on water quantity, quality and utilization. The supplies and utilization of surface water, ground water and treated waste water will be carefully monitored. Likewise, the importance of shared surface water supplies and groundwater aquifers demands careful and consistent assessment and monitoring of these resources. Other non-conventional water resources, particularly brackish water, will be assessed as desalination becomes more economically feasible.

Jordan will maximize the full potential of surface water and ground water based on economic feasibility, while taking into consideration the relevant social and environmental impacts. Investigative works into deep aquifers have been and are being conducted to support development planning, and the interactive use of ground and surface water with different qualities is being studied. Moreover, the Kingdom will conduct periodic assessments of its available and potential water resources.


Per Capita Share Per Year in Cubic Meters, 1995


Ministry of Water and Irrigation, HKJ

In order to carefully plan for the future, Jordan has adopted a National Water Strategy. The strategy is a comprehensive set of guidelines employing a dual approach of demand management and supply management. It places particular emphasis on the need for improved resource management, stressing the sustainability of present and future uses. Special care will be given to protecting the water supply against pollution, quality degradation and the depletion of resources. Furthermore, resource management will be improved by increasing the efficiency of conveyance and distribution systems, while the applications and uses of water will be more selectively determined. Multiple resources will be used interactively to maximize both the usable flow as well as the net benefit acquired from a unit of water.

In conjunction with this, the strategy outlines the need to evaluate future industrial, commercial, tourism and agricultural projects in terms of their water requirements. Performance efficiency of water and wastewater systems will be monitored and rated, and improvements in performance will be introduced with due consideration given to resource economics. The strategy also aims to keep operations and maintenance costs to a minimum.

The National Water Strategy ensures that the rightful shares of the Kingdom’s shared water resources shall be defended and protected through bilateral and multilateral contacts, negotiations, and agreements. Peace water and wastewater projects, including the scheme for the development of the Jordan Rift Valley, shall be accorded special attention for construction, operation and maintenance. Due respect will be given to the provisions of international law as applicable to water sharing, protection and conservation, as well as to those laws applicable to territorial waters. Jordan shall continue to pursue bilateral and multilateral cooperation with neighboring states, and the Kingdom will continue to advocate regional cooperation.

With the National Water Strategy as an umbrella, a set of policy papers has been formulated and approved by the Council of Ministers. The Government policies in the water sector are elaborated in four policy papers. These are: Water Utility Policy, Irrigation Water Policy, Ground Water Management Policy and Wastewater Management Policy. With the National Water Strategy, these four policy papers and the investment program, Jordan has charted the "road map" for the future of its water sector.