AMMAN, Jordan — The kingdom of Jordan is one of the driest countries on Earth. According to the government-run website of King Hussein I, 75 percent of the country has a desert climate with less than 200mm of rain annually, making water scarcity in Jordan one of the largest issues in the nation.
Due to fast paced population increases and widespread desertification, the entire region of the Middle East is facing the threat of drought. Water scarcity in Jordan is particularly troubling because it is a small country and therefore has limited water resources compared to the amount of people living within its borders.
The country currently obtains most of its water from the East Bank of the Jordan River and the Yarmouk River along the country’s border with Syria. However, Jordan shares these water sources with Syria and Israel, leaving its access limited. Mercy Corps has reported that dated water pumps throughout the country have resulted in liters of water gushing out of broken pipes instead of reaching families’ faucets. The report estimates that “the amount of water lost nation wide could satisfy the needs of 2.6 million people—more than a third of Jordan’s current population.”
A report from Al-Jazeera features Ali Abdu Summaqa, the water authority director in the city of Mafraq, who claims that Jordan’s reserves can support around four million people whereas the population is at ten million.
Since the end of World War II, Jordan’s central location and hospitality towards forced migrants have made it host to a variety of refugees from neighboring countries. In addition to having the highest number of Palestinian refugees in the world, Jordan has also hosted forced migrants from Lebanon, during the country’s 1975-1991 civil war, and from Iraq, since the 1991 Gulf War as well as after 2003 following the U.S. invasion.
According to the UNHCR there are currently 684,795 registered refugees and asylum seekers in Jordan. The majority of people are coming from Syria and Iraq, seeking to escape the violence caused by the Syrian Civil War and ISIS.
The UNHCR reports that the Jordanian Government grants refugees access to services, such as health and education, in both camp and urban settings. However, the substantial population of refugees has placed a considerable amount of strain on monetary and physical resources.
Water conservation plans in particular must now be altered to accommodate Jordan’s newest population group. As most of the refugees have settled in the more water-rich region of Northern Jordan, the government and NGOs working in the region have taken steps to enact stronger conservation efforts.
Jordan has been implementing water conservation plans for years, resulting in a population that is fairly used to careful water use. However, according to Ghassan Hazboun, Mercy Corps’ Water Engineering Director, refugees coming from Jordan’s relatively water-rich neighbors are generally unaccustomed to water scarcity and rationing and put a strain the water supply through their increased water use. He worries that Jordanians are becoming frustrated with having to share their already scarce water supply.
Outside organizations are attempting to assist the Jordanian government by supplying funds and training for new water saving technology. Mercy Corps has been working with the Jordanian government, having built several wells in Jordan’s most crowded Zaatari and Azraq refugee camps.
The UNHCR claims it has revised the 2014 budget for its Jordan operation to “USD 352.9 million, due to the needs arising from the Syria emergency.”
An engineering team from the Hamburg Water Authority of Germany is also helping Jordanian officials to design and implement water treatment facilities. New water facilities will be useful in cleaning and recycling dirty water from populous urban areas.
Training also provided by the Hamburg Water Authority will allow local workers to maintain the machines on their own.
While the issue of water scarcity in Jordan is receiving attention and assistance, much improvement still needs to be made. Replacing old water facilities is expensive and requires technological knowledge. Conservation awareness programs needed to educate incoming refugees also require considerable amounts of time and money. Furthermore, citizens may become frustrated with further restrictions on their already scarce water allotment.
Water is a necessity that cannot be bypassed or substituted. To avoid a serious water deficit in the future, the Jordanian government must continue to receive aid and develop solutions as the conflict in Syria drags on and the wells in Jordan run dry.