Government calls for more funds to host refugees

Jordanian government officials said on 18 March they needed hundreds of millions of dollars for health, energy, education and other projects to be able to host the over half a million Iraqi refugees living there.

A Jordanian government-sponsored meeting of officials and experts from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, Egypt, the USA, the UN and the European Union tackled the issue of financial aid for the refugees.

In the one-day meeting held behind closed doors, Jordanian officials set out their arguments for why the funds are needed.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), at least 4.4 million Iraqis are still uprooted. Of these, 2.4 million are displaced inside Iraq and two million are abroad - mainly in Syria and Jordan.

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Jordanian officials said it was necessary to build an additional unspecified number of schools, renovate existing ones and furnish them to cater for an expected total of 100,000 students over the next few years.

"We need to employ more teachers, build extra classes and buy equipment for laboratories to provide proper education services," Nasser Shreideh, secretary-general of Jordan's Ministry of Planning, said.

The estimated cost of such improvements, based on studies by the Ministry of Education, is JD 290 million (US$416 million), he said.

Since late 2007 the government has allowed Iraqi students to study in government-funded schools after previously barring them. Iraqi students are now accepted in government schools whether they hold residency permits or not.

The latest figures from the Education Ministry show there are at least 24,000 Iraqi students in schools across the kingdom.

Ministry of Education officials said many schools had had to resort to a double shift system to accommodate the high number of students. Others had organised new classes or brought in extra staff.


A recent decision by the government to allow Iraqis to receive subsidised medical treatment in public hospitals had caused further pressure on the health sector, the Planning Ministry's Shreideh said.

Photo: Mohammad Ben Hussein/IRIN
An impoverished neighbourhood in downtown Amman, Jordan, where many Iraqis live

He said health projects at a cost of JD 176 million ($248 million) in Amman, Irbid and Zarqa would be necessary in the near future.

After the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 the Jordanian government restricted Iraqis seeking medication in public health institutions by charging them hefty fees.

The government eventually waived the fees after pressure from the international community and human rights groups, and Iraqis are now allowed free treatment in government hospitals.

There has been an increasing need to renovate hospitals and build new ones to provide better services.

The European Union, the UNHCR and the US and Iraqi governments have given a total of about $50 million to Jordan to help it cope, but Jordan says the funds are not enough.


The drought-prone kingdom has also been hit by the added demands on its limited water resources.

"The extra demand for water has led to an increased water deficit of 580 million cubic metres annually," said Shreideh.

Photo: Maria Font de Matas/IRIN
Drought-prone Jordan is considered one of the 10 most water impoverished countries in the world

Jordan is considered one of the 10 most water impoverished countries in the world, with annual per capita consumption being 140 cubic metres a year. The average consumption of individuals worldwide is 2,000 cubic metres a year, said Shreideh, noting that JD 430 million ($606 million) is needed to provide new water resources, build more dams, construct treatment plants and refurbish sanitation networks.

Jordan has no major rivers or lakes. The River Jordan's flow has been reduced since Israel diverted water for irrigation purposes, and the country depends heavily on winter rain water to meet the demands of its 5.7 million population.

Pressure has been placed on energy resources, leading to an increase in demand for oil from 6 million tonnes in 2004 to 7.5 million tonnes in 2007.

"If Jordan wants to continue to meet rising demand for energy, we will need an investment of JD 300 million ($423 million) to expand the national refinery," said Shreideh.