HRH Prince Feisal, president of the Royal Water Committee, attends the launch of the Highland Water Forum on Monday (Petra photo)
HRH Prince Feisal, president of the Royal Water Committee, attends the launch of the Highland Water Forum on Monday (Petra photo)

By Hana Namrouqa

AMMAN – With 500 million cubic metres of water being pumped annually from underground basins, double the amount of safe pumping limits, a forum of farmers, ecologists and lawmakers was launched on Monday to preserve the country’s aquifers.

The Highland Water Forum, which was launched yesterday in the presence of HRH Prince Feisal, president of the Royal Water Committee, seeks to achieve sustainable management of underground basins in highlands.

Referring to the constant drop in underground water levels and the consequent rise in salinity due to over pumping, Minister of Water and Irrigation Mohammad Najjar yesterday noted that “groundwater depletion is Jordan’s biggest problem and true challenge”.

“Currently, we are pumping about 500 million cubic metres (mcm) annually from aquifers, while the available amounts are 280mcm.This situation cannot continue because levels have reached an alarming stage,” he said during the launch, calling for instant and efficient solutions.

In order to preserve groundwater resources, cooperation among water consumers and providers is a necessity, he pointed out.

“We must get all water users, whether for drinking, industry, tourism or agricultural purposes, involved in the management of groundwater resources. This will not be easy but it will be the best solution to face a challenge that threatens our national security,” the minister stressed.

The Highland Water Forum, established by the Jordanian-German Water Programme, seeks to engage farmers in highlands in the management of water resources by discussing water policies with them and merging their knowledge and needs with government water strategies and policies, according to the ministry.

Official figures indicate that there are around 12 renewable and non-renewable aquifers in Jordan, such as the Disi and Al Jafer, spread over an area of 633-1,856 square kilometres.

Several main underground aquifers have already dried up and others are on the way to complete depletion. Al Duleil aquifer is now completely dry, Al Jafer is almost dry after eight years of pumping, while the Azraq aquifer is expected to run out of water in 15 or 20 years if random pumping continues, according to water experts.

The forum will start working on the Azraq Basin, located east of Amman and stretching over 15 per cent of the country’s terrain, which provides the capital with one quarter of its drinking water needs.

More than 60mcm of water are currently being pumped from the basin on an annual basis for drinking and irrigation, while it produces only 20mcm annually.

The excessive extraction of water from the wetland has caused water levels to drop by 12-15 metres below ground level, according to environmentalists.

Hans-Christian Mangelsdorf, head of the German embassy’s development cooperation section, yesterday noted that many studies have been carried out over the past years to evaluate the water situation in Jordan, and now is the time to implement their results.

He said agriculture plays a major role in the highlands, not only as an income generator for families, but it also represents a way of life.

Meanwhile, the head of the farmers’ union in Mafraq, Salameh Khushman, said many farmers had to abandon their farms, their only source of income, due to declining water levels in wells and increasing salinity of water and soil.