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News Jordan: Water Shortage

Jordan as a desert kingdom ranges among the most arid countries in the world. In European standards the Jordan River would be considered as a tiny ditch. Therefore, water is a very controversial topic in the Middle East where water must be shared between Israel, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

The water shortage has been a constant problem in Jordan for years, but after a significantly poor winter, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation has decided on an emergency strategic plan, which would mean a drastic reduction in the already limited household water supply in order to cope with the increasing demand for potable water.

A rationing system currently sets the distribution of running water to the different neighbourhoods in the Jordanian capital, so that each one gets it only once a week for an average time of about 24 hours.

According to locals, in some areas where politicians live, the neighbours enjoy a significantly better water supply. For others, this “water day” is the time for cleaning up the apartment, doing laundry and mainly storing water for the rest of the week in huge tanks on the roof. For some of the people this is actually the only chance for taking a shower. Others, however, use this opportunity to water the pavements and staircases or wash their cars, just because there’s water coming from the tap.

Very few Jordanians own private swimming pools in their backyard, but many others come to the big water park on the road connecting Amman with its airport. Not far from there, on the same road, water tankers owners, like Ali and Ahmad, come daily to fill up their trucks with water from a local natural spring called “Ziza”. Later they would deliver it to those who run out of water before the next “water day”. The price is 25 Jordanian Dinars (approximately 22 Euro) for six cubic meters. Nonetheless, the lack of the life-fluid is caused and results in frequent cases of theft. “It’s not stealing,” tries a local who’s familiar with the phenomena to rephrase, “it’s borrowing”.

Four rivers feed the Jordan River, each rise in another country. Known as Dan, Hasbani, Banias and Yarmuk they join the main stream of the Jordan. Except from Lebanon, the three other countries suffer constant water shortage.

After four years in a raw of extremely poor rainfall, Jordan’s big cities are facing the coming summer with immense water deficiency. According to experts, the Dead Sea is expected to vanish within the next fifty years. The water level of the unique salt lake, on the lowest point of Earth, is losing approximately one meter a year. The famous “Red-Dead Canal”, a joint project of Israel and Jordan with the support of the World Bank, is planned to deliver water from the Red Sea up north to the Dead Sea.

The whole water topic is highly politicised and goes back to the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948 and even further. Since then many people came to build their lives in Israel and in Jordan. Wars have been ignited by the will to get over the few water resources in the region and peace treaties have been established with major efforts in order to assure adequate access to water for the different parties. Approximately 70 percent of Jordan’s population today are refugees. “They work here, have their shops and enterprises in Jordan, do their part on the gross domestic income,” says Guy Honoré, “but they didn’t bring water, of course”. Honoré is working for the GTZ (German Technical Corporation) as the Head of the Water Department. “The GTZ as an enterprise related to the German Ministry for Economical Collaboration and Development counsels the Jordan Ministry for Water and Irrigation on the efficiency of water distribution,” says the expert on hydraulic engineering.

Nowadays agriculture in Jordan takes almost 65 percent of the entire water share. On the other hand, it achieves only five percent of the gross domestic product. Currently, mainly water-demanding vegetables just like tomatoes and cucumbers ere grown on the fields. “On the long run vegetables less water-demanding should be grown in order to get better harvest and benefit for the invested water,” Honoré recommends. Jordanian authorities are trying to fight water wastage with advertisement campaigns, and lately also by issuing warnings for households found wasting water prior to temporarily suspending the supply. Honoré believes it’s nothing more than a populist action meant to show the poor that now the people who are better off have to make efforts as well.

The ministry’s emergency plan, as announced on March, will include reducing the water supply to once or twice a week, for three to five hours at a time, according to IRIN News. However, Mohammad Ben Hussein, The Jordan Times reporter who wrote the news item for IRIN is not bothered. He’s getting the running water 24 hours a week. For now. “Maybe it will be implemented only in few neighbourhoods,” he says.

“The water deficit, currently over 500 million cubic meters annually, is expected to increase this year, with a 30 percent deficit in drinking water and 50 percent in irrigation,” the ministry’s assistant secretary general and spokesperson, Adnan Zu’bi, has been quoted as telling The Jordan Times.

But at the same time, according to estimations, a major amount of the water is apparently lost due to leaks in the old pipeline infrastructure. According to Honoré, “water loss rate reaches sometimes up to 40 percent in some places,” including both leaking pipelines and water theft.

“I have the impression that there’s no awareness to the need for a careful handling with water. Nobody wants to be the one to bring the bad news to the people,” he says. They are afraid of bad image, accuses Honoré the ministry officials, if they would order the citizens to carefully use the already scarce water they have.

As a consequence of water scarcity in Jordan, Amman’s citizens get their water delivered once a week. Lina Ejeilat, a journalist who lives with eight of her family members in Amman, tells about her experience: “The water comes from Sunday night until Monday morning.” Sometimes there is too little for a big families’ demand, therefore Lina’s family has a well consisting of 18,000 litres in addition to two water tanks, each carrying a capacity of 2,000 litres.

They use the water for drinking, but only “because we have a filter”. Many others usually buy additional bottled water that costs around 0.25 Jordan Dollars (approximately 0.23 Euro) each. Most of these, coming from neighbouring Saudi Arabia, are distributed by local or international corporations such as Nestle and Coca Cola.

Amman’s rooftops are dominated by the round plastic water tanks, mostly black or light-grey, or cubic metal ones. A brand new 2,000 litres water tank, which would be sufficient for a week time for a family of six, costs around 100 Jordan Dollars – only 10 Jordan Dollars less than the minimum monthly wage in Jordan. The water bill, sent once every three months by the Jordanian water company Miyahuna (Arabic for “our water”) details each household’s water consumption: 0.3 Jordan Dollars for one cubic meter up to the amount of 40 cubic meters. Beyond this amount, the price is calculated retroactively by 0.85 Jordan Dollars for one cubic meter. “The water actually costs more, but the tariffs are strongly subventioned by government,” says Honoré.

Many of Amman’s residents can’t even recall when the rationing system was first introduced. “This whole issue of the water shortage freaks me out,” says Ejeilat, “and I think that indeed we’re not aware of how severe this problem is. People are bothered by many other problems – increase of the oil prices, income, living costs and so on”.

”The water is drinkable”, claims Honoré, who drinks them himself, also owning a filter. “I think water is a human right”, says Honoré. “But that only means you need to have around ten litres a day for drinking, cooking and basic hygiene”. His model suggests 10 or 20 litres being delivered for free per person per day. “At the moment we use more than 50 litres a day, and that includes washing, showering and flushing toilets with drinking water”.




Contact information Josef C. Ladenhauf and Ido Liven
News type Inbrief
File link
Source of information GOETHE Institut Jordanien/ Euro Mediterranean Academy for Young Journalists
Keyword(s) Water Shortage
Geographical coverage Jordan
News date 27/01/2009
Working language(s) ENGLISH