Water Woes in Jordan

Being one of the most arid countries in the Middle East, Jordan is facing severe water shortages. The current per capita water supply in the country is 200 cubic meters per year which is almost one-third of the global average. To make matters worse, it is projected that Jordan’s population (currently at 6 million) will reach 9 million by 2025 causing a drastic decline in per capita water availability to measly 91 cubic meters.

State of the Affairs

Groundwater resources account for 54% of Jordan’s total water supply, and are being threatened by pollution due to over-pumping of aquifers, seepage from landfill sites, and improper disposal of dangerous chemicals. Agricultural sector is responsible for about two-third of Jordan’s total water consumption. Jordan is currently ranked among the top five countries most threatened by water shortages. More than 75 percent of the population lives in cities which are often located away from water bodies.

Management of water resources is therefore a big challenge for the Jordanian government which has been trying to reduce the rising demand for water through public awareness campaigns. A large fraction of freshwater supplies is contributed by aquifers which are threatened by overpumping and pollution. Managing the supply as well as the demand end of water resources has assumed tremendous importance in the country.

Future Strategy

The government may start water supply management initiative by enforcing regulation on water extraction from groundwater aquifers. The absence of strict laws is leading to illegal well drilling, reckless use of water and unsustainable extraction of water from aquifers. Aquifers in Jordan are being used at twice the recharge rate which is hampering natural replenishment process and may eventually lead to drying up.

The Jordanian government may also take initiative in renovating old and rusted water pipes that supply private homes with domestic water supplies. For example, in the United States alone, water leaks are responsible for wastage of 1 trillion gallons of water every year, which is equivalent to the annual water usage of Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami combined. Furthermore, rusted pipes can cause a change in the color and taste of the water, triggering additional water loss through the disposal of dirty water. Therefore, repairing old water pipes, and replacing them after 2-3 decades is very important.

A key component of water supply management is utilizing alternative sources of water such as wastewater treatment plants, which allow reuse of wastewater. This not only creates an additional water supply source, but also reduces the reliance on the natural water supplies, such as ground water, giving aquifers more time to replenish and recharge. Importantly, wastewater treatment is a potential source of energy, through harnessing the methane produced by the sewage water.

Furthermore, wastewater treatment plants reduce environmental pollution by extracting wastewater that is usually disposed off into rivers and aquifers in the form of runoffs. The government has been planning to build wastewater treatment plants across Jordan, such as the Amman-Zarqa wastewater treatment plant. However, these plants have yet to be built, and Jordan has yet to use wastewater treatment to its full potential.

Conclusion

Water shortage has significantly increased stress on water resources in Jordan. Aquifers have reached historically low levels, water demand is rising exponentially, water pollution is rising and mismanagement of water resources continues unabated. Water scarcity is a big threat to Jordan’s industrial development, economic growth, food production and overall well-being of its population. Jordan has already been forced to tap into non-renewable water resources from fossilized deep-water aquifers. The government and citizens should work together to find a plausible solution to tackle the water scarcity plaguing the country.

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About Amir Dakkak

Amir Dakkak, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, is in his fourth year at the University of Edinburgh majoring in Environmental Sciences. His main passion is water scarcity and water sustainability in the MENA region. He runs the blog Water Source that addresses water problems and sustainability. Amir has worked with Emirates Environmental Group on various environmental issues including water scarcity.
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One Response to Water Woes in Jordan

  1. The reuse of waste water is an essential element of the overall water use strategy of Jordan. The ability to obtain treated waste water that is suitable for various needs is also an issue. Conventional treatment as it currently exists in Jordan is not sufficient given the magnitude of the waste water produced and the lack of facilities in and around the giant urban area of Amman as well as in other secondary cities within the country, not to mention rural communities. Relying on conventional waste water treatment is the current approach based upon traditional civil engineering principles. If Jordan is to truly move more quickly and effectively to harness this source of water, especially for irrigation purposes, then less conventional techniques are called for. The ability to transform a greater proportion of currently treated waste water could reduce the pressure created by high urban water demands that threatens the speed at which aquifers are replenished in this arid environment. The use of artificial wetlands created in low lying areas is one option that is sustainable, affordable and feasible as land is available, and the current conventional waste treatment plants are operating at full capacity, yet are unable to cope with the supply of waste water in the huge urban landscape that is Amman alone. If created these biological waste treatment plants could dramatically increase the supply of treated waste water suitable for irrigation and be transported to the major agricultural producing areas using existing transport systems. The second part of this equation involves a systematic approach to increasing surface runoff infiltration during the rainy season and the infrequent rains in the off seasons. This involves the use of permanent long-lived vegetative barriers created along topographic contours perpendicular to water flows especially in rural areas that can be established during the rainy season let say in year 1. Once established these vegetative barriers, lets call them hedgerows, would last for up to 40-60 years thereafter. The purpose of these hedges is to slow down natural runoff when it rains to the point of that water has a chance to infiltrate into the land and not simply runoff. This added ability to increase infiltration, if it occurs in the broader landscape, would have significant long- term effects on aquifer replenishment. The magnitude of aquifer replenishment is so large that numbers become a bit incomprehensible. On the other hand, having vegetative barriers everywhere in any given landscape could become a community-based activity and give the population some hope of solving their own problems instead of relying on the government or international agencies who up to this point in time have not yet solved this problem despite the promises given to date. More information on landscape scale usage of vegetative barriers for aquifer recharge and the techniques of biological waste water treatment can be found at http://www.vetiver.org.

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