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Jordan's water crisis deepens as climate changes, population grows

by Reuters
Thursday, 2 September 2021 13:55 GMT

A screen grab shows people stand near water tank vehicle in Amman, Jordan August 31, 2021. REUTERS TV/via REUTERS

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Climate change has brought drier weather to the Middle East, but Jordan has fared worse than its neighbours

By Hams Rabah and Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN, Sept 2 (Reuters) - At a private underground well in Amman, Imad Suleiman waits for hours to pump water into the container on his truck that he then sells on to private customers in the sprawling city of four million.

He has a growing clientele among the residents of Jordan's capital, pushed by a combination of climate change, population growth, corruption and creaking infrastructure to buy from costly private tankers rather than rely on tap water that only runs for one day a week.

"This year the increase (in demand) compared to previous years is around 70 to 80 percent," Suleiman told Reuters. The rooftop tanks where his customers store their water now pepper the city's landscape.

While climate change has brought drier weather to the Middle East, Jordan has fared worse than its neighbours. "Rainfall did not exceed 60% of the average," said Water Ministry official Omar Salameh.

Meanwhile, demand had risen sharply. Jordan's population has doubled in the past 20 years, with waves of refugees, including more than 1 million Syrians, taken in.

The share of water per person per year has plummeted to 80 cubic metres from 3,400 at the turn of the century, official figures show, and Salameh says available supplies are only enough for three million of Jordan's 10 million inhabitants.

With aquifers beneath the desert overpumped and flows in the Jordan-Yarmouk river hit by upstream diversions in Israel and Syria, farmers in the Jordan Valley, the country's breadbasket, are also feeling the pinch.

"Water scarcity affected us, we cannot grow summer crops which we usually do and can give us good financial returns," Jehad Tawalbeh, a farmer who inherited his farm from his father, said.


Agriculture now consumes around 60 percent of supplies, but Jordan's water problems are aggravated further by corruption and poor planning, with more than half of the pumped water estimated to be lost by theft and leaky pipes, despite billions of dollars of funds poured in by major Western donors.

Projects ranging from dozens of dams, reservoirs to water treatment plants and a $1 billion pipeline transporting fresh water from a large reservoir in the south to the capital Amman have been no more than stopgap measures.

A Stanford University study released last 2021 painted a bleak picture showing per capita water use in Jordan could halve by the end of this century.

Without intervention, few households in the arid nation will by then have access to even 40 liters (10.5 gallons) of piped water per person per day, it said.

Water expert and former government official Dreid Mahaseneh believes only huge desalination projects such as a long-proposed canal from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea can meet the growing population's future needs.

"Our fate might be at risk if we continue like this... and there would be forced migrations, socio economic and political instability, future thirst and dark scenarios. The future of our country will be endangered," Mahasneh added.

(Additional reporting by Jehad Abu Shalbak, Writing by Suleiman al-Khalidi; editing by John Stonestreet)

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