Spared a water crisis this year, but the future?

Jordan may have been spared a major water crisis this year but the outlook is not good in the parched kingdom, and a range of measures and projects need to be implemented as quickly as possible, say experts.


The government has said the kingdom will have enough water this year to supply its 5.6 million people, as its reservoirs are roughly half full: "We can meet the [water] demands of the public this summer for drinking, agriculture or other purposes," said Moussa Jamaini, Jordan Valley Authority (JVA) secretary-general.


Figures from the Water Ministry indicate there are around a 100 million cubic metres (mcm) in reservoirs across the kingdom, out of a total capacity of 215.4 mcm.


Jordan, which depends on rain as a main source of drinking water, was on the brink of one of the worst dry seasons in years, but heavy rain and snow came at the end of the season, boosting reservoirs, specialists said.


Jordan has neither natural lakes nor major rivers, except for the River Jordan, which has been depleted due to industrial-scale use by Israel.


Demand regularly exceeds supply and the annual amount of water available per person per year is only 145 cubic metres. This is far below the international water poverty line of 500 cubic metres per person per year, said Minister of Water and Irrigation Raed Abu Saud in a statement on Jordan’s water strategy 2008-2020.


Call for speeding up of strategic projects


Experts believe the situation remains under control, but called for the speeding up of strategic projects.


"We can deal with our water crisis. The kingdom must use innovative methods to save water," said Omar Melkawi, professor of water resources at Jordan University of Science and Technology.


Jordan has recently announced several mega-projects to tackle the water shortages, including the US$2-4 billion Red-Dead Canal project, which seeks to provide 850 mcm of potable water a year. Feasibility studies on the project are continuing and experts say it could be at least 10 years before completion.

The government also signed an agreement with a Turkish company, Gama, last summer to pump water from the southern aquifer of Disi at a cost of $600 million. The project, which is expected to be completed by 2020, will provide Amman and the southern governorates with some 170 mcm of water a year.


However, the Disi project has been delayed for years due to lack of funding. Former Water Minister Mohammad Shatnawi admitted the project was a major challenge. He said the kingdom needs smaller scale water projects such as those which aim to desalinate salty wells or upgrade the water supply network.


Greater reliance on desalination


King Abdullah has given the green light for a mega $8.2 billion water strategy to alleviate the chronic water shortage, in accordance with recommendations from a royal committee.


Officials said the strategy seeks to provide sufficient and safe drinking water, maximize the benefits of surface water and stop arbitrary pumping from underground wells.


According to the royal committee, by 2022 reliance on underground water will drop from 32 to 17 percent, and the use of treated wastewater in agriculture will increase from 10 to 13 percent. Moreover, the country’s dependence on desalination plants will grow from 1 percent now to 31 percent in 2022.


Experts fear dry seasons will only get worse. Ahmed Koufahi, executive director of the Jordan Environment Society, said climate change was affecting weather patterns, and urged the authorities to expand green cover in the kingdom and promote efficient use of water.