The Wadi Arabah region is an extremely arid valley in Jordan characterized by hot climate, meager annual rainfall, high evaporation rate and limited water resources. The arid desert creates several challenges to extracting and managing water in this region thus hampering the development of agricultural, domestic, and industrial sectors in the valley. The casual attitude towards water management in the region highlights the need for additional consideration to the hydrological and geographical realities of the area.
Agriculture accounts for the largest water consumption, especially in summer. In arid land with high evaporation rates, negative agricultural practices may lead to reduced soil fertility, damage to the ecosystem, increased runoff, and contamination of groundwater and surface water sources. Extensive water storage and transfer systems should be established to allowed crop production and expansion in Wadi Arabah.
In Jordan, only 5% of the rainwater infiltrates into the groundwater bodies, while 90% of annual rainfall is lost to evaporation. Thus rainwater harvesting is a good option despite low annual rainfall. Ground water aquifers may be used to provide water for irrigation sector, though preliminary treatment may be necessary to remove Fe, Mg and other salts.
Wadi Arabah can be transformed into an agricultural settlement by establishing farms through the production of drought-tolerant forages. Agriculture in the region should concentrate on low-volume irrigation systems like micro-sprinkling or drip irrigation. Crops can be developed to meet the needs of local communities as well as to protect the limited water and soil resources and surrounding ecosystems. Arabah saline water can be used to irrigate saline-tolerable crops or develop wetlands.
A sustainable agricultural system is aimed at reducing the dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. To achieve this, the dual-level organic agriculture, similar to that in early Islamic period, should be considered where fruit trees are used to limit evaporation rates, make shade, and reduce the pollution that leaches into ground water. Raising goats and camels, rather than other animals, can also be a good way to conserve water in Wadi Arabah. For example, the black desert goat raised by the Sinai Bedouin shepherds can survive without water for four days, which is a big advantage over sheep and cows.
Large-scale investments in modern water management technologies are an urgent need of the hour. Competition between different sectors can lead to deterioration in water resources so it is important to develop a water use plan. A concerted move towards industrial sustainability can ensure that water is used efficiently and recycled wastewater is put to good uses.
It is well-understood that cost of implementing sustainable water management system is much lower than those of repairing the damage caused by improper planning and implementation. In the face of these challenges, all stakeholders must work together to find solutions to the water problems faced by Wadi Arabah in form of climate change, water scarcity and industrial pollution. Environmental education, stakeholders’ participation, corporate guidance and government incentives are necessary to ensure sustainable development of Wadi Arabah.