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News Jordan: Water scarcity places Jordan's economic growth at risk

Jordan's Prime Minister Nader Al Dahabi was in Paris for the inaugural Mediterranean Union summit, where he took the opportunity to highlight the problem of water supply in the Middle East. In an address given on behalf of the King, Dahabi told delegates, "the region's demand for water is rising rapidly in tandem with a growing population and an increasingly dangerous water scarcity".

At a meeting held by the Water and Irrigation Ministry (MWRI) shortly before he left for Paris, Prime Minister Dahabi announced that water security was now the government's priority. Water and Irrigation Minister Raed Abu Saud, speaking at the meeting, said Jordan's water deficit for this summer currently stood at 12.7m cubic metres. Earlier in June, Abu Saud had warned Jordanians to expect a drought this summer, as the nation's reservoirs stood at only 40% of their capacity.

The Paris speech was followed the next day by the publication of a report by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a US government-funded programme designed to aid development in emerging markets. The report concluded that water scarcity placed Jordan's continued economic growth at risk, and that progress on canalisation and conservation was urgently required.

Jordan is among the 10 most water-scarce nations on earth, due to both a lack of natural resources and continued human pressure on the basin of the river Jordan. Over the years, diversion works by Israel, Syria and Jordan have reduced the flow of the river considerably, causing damage to its ecosystem and forcing the banks of the Dead Sea to retreat by up to a mile in places. Access to the waters of the Jordan remains a contentious issue, and environmental NGOs claim provisions in the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan designed to rehabilitate the river have not been acted upon.

The government has been aware of the problems facing water security for a long time. In 2005 an agreement was signed between Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian National Authority to assess the possibility of building a canal to link the Red and Dead seas. A World Bank feasibility study is currently being conducted to determine both the financial and environmental factors involved in constructing such a canal. The cost of the project has been estimated at $2.4bn, with a build time of anything up to 25 years. However, regional tensions have exacerbated efforts to speed up the process, and the RDS (Red Sea/Dead Sea) donor committee, at its recent May meeting faced a $3.5m shortfall to fund the feasibility study.

The canal is expected to eventually provide up to a billion cubic metres of water to the Dead Sea annually, plus 850 million cubic meters of potable water through desalination powered by hydroelectricity generated by the 400m gradient. With no guarantee that it will ever come to light however, in the short term Jordan must find some way of meeting its current water shortfall.

Dahabi said he wanted to see progress on the canal speeded up, as well as the long-planned Disi aquifer - a 325km conveyance system designed to run the length of the country to connect Amman with the natural reservoir on its Saudi border, which it is hoped will bring an additional 100m cubic metres a year to the capital. However, with a growing population and renewable freshwater resources estimated at only 850m cubic meters per year (according to the MWRI), the more immediate concern is improving conservation and water treatment. According to Mohammed Najjar, acting Director of the Water Authority's planning and administration unit, up to 51% of water in Jordan is currently wasted, with half of the population not currently served by sewerage networks.

Increasing canalisation in Jordan will allow more water to be treated - the government is looking to increase capacity by over 100m cubic metres by 2020. from 130m cubic metres currently to 240m cubic metres. This would allow agriculture (which currently accounts for 65% of available water demand, despite contributing only 3% of GDP) to use recycled water, increasing the fresh water available for human consumption and industry. Another bonus of greater conservation would be decreased energy consumption. Currently, water is rationed throughout summer in Amman, and stored in house tanks. This places an additional strain on electricity generation as energy is required to pump water around the house, rather than relying on pressure within the system.

The MCC and the Jordanian government are currently involved in a workshop session to discuss the findings of the MCC's report, with the intention of developing firm policies that can be used to raise funds to address the water shortfall. Dahabi's job will then be to persuade organisations such as the Mediterranean Union that water is an even more valuable resource than hot air.

Contact information n/a
News type Inbrief
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Source of information ANIMA Investment Network / Oxford Business Group
Keyword(s) water scarcity
Geographical coverage Jordan
News date 30/07/2008
Working language(s) ENGLISH