Persistent drought could devastate crops

Jordan's plight with drought has been highlighted this year with almost no rain falling on the kingdom, prompting officials to call on citizens to pray for rain on Friday 26 December.



Fear is growing that if no rain falls in the coming few days, the agriculture season for vegetables, wheat and barley would be wasted.



In the Jordan valley, one of the kingdom's main vegetables suppliers, rain has been scarce and farmers fear for the viability of their crops.



Farmers from Deir Ala, in the northern Jordan Valley, told IRIN the government stopped pumping water to their farms to preserve the water for drinking purposes amid declining levels of rain.



"What can I do with my plants?" asked Mohammad Barawi, a farmer. Also in the southern city of Kerak prospects for this year's wheat and barley produce are bleak as farmers worry that without water seeds might rot underground.



"I only pray that rain falls very soon, or else I will lose all my harvest," said Salim Abdullah, a farmer with 100 donums of barley on the outskirts of Kerak.



However, Aktham Medanat, head of Karak agriculture department, said that more farmers might be seeking government aid in 2008 compared to past years.



Water problem highlighted



A ministerial conference for the Mediterranean region was held on 23 December under the auspices of the European Union on the shores of the Dead Sea to discuss means of tackling climate change and its impact on water resources.



Of the 19 countries taking part in the one-day event, Jordan is the poorest in terms of water resources. Jordanian officials presented their case to donors with a call to support the long sought-for Dead Sea/Red Sea canal, that might prove to be the only life line for the 5.6 million population as water resources continue drying.



The strategy aims to maintain the quality of water and reduce pressure on water resources through better water management. Ministers in the conference decided to adopt a long-term strategy to tackle the water problem, but for Jordan an urgent solution is needed to provide water.



However, implementing the Dead Sea/Red Sea canal project could be harder than Jordanians hoped, according to Jordan's former minister of water Hazem al-Nasser. He said political problems among the neighbours might delay the project.



Israeli minister of infrastructure Binyamin Ben-Elieze said his country strongly supports Jordan's calls for building the canal. He said Jordan would pump around 60 percent of the water from the canal while Israel and the Palestinian territories would get the remaining 40 percent combined.



Jordan is counting on the project to be one of the kingdom's main energy resources.



The canal would cut through the desert bordering Jordan and Israel in Wadi Araba, creating a natural borderline between the two countries, which signed a peace treaty in 1994. According to the plan, a total of 650 million cubic metres would be pumped from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea annually.



The flowing water would also help generate electricity as water is drawn from the Red sea, raised 170 metres above sea level and then released to the Dead Sea at 400 metres below sea level.



A rapid decline in Dead Sea water levels has alarmed environmentalists in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories who fear the biblical site might dry up within 50 years.



Experts are at the final stages of a feasibility study funded by the World Bank to determine the environmental impact of the canal, with Egyptian authorities already saying they fear for the corals on the Red Sea if the canal is built.



mbh/ar/ed