By Ian Goldin

AMMAN – The low price of water is the main factor preventing water conservation in rural Jordan, according to a report issued by the International Water Association (IWA).

In contrast, higher prices would provide economic incentives for farmers to be more water efficient and the conserved water could help supply the rising demand in Amman, the report explained.

Early this year, the government implemented an increase in water tariffs for consumers who use an above-average amount of water. However, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation stressed that the price of water used for irrigation will remain unchanged due to the agriculture sector’s contribution to the economy.

But the IWA report pointed out that “irrigated agriculture consumes 75 per cent of [Jordan’s] water, while contributing to only 4 per cent of national income”.

Raed Al Tabini, one of the researchers who authored the report, pointed to inefficient farming and irrigation practices as among the main sources of the water crisis.

“Farmers over-pump water and over-irrigate their crops,” he told The Jordan Times.

“If we don’t address the whole of the problem – including both wasteful consumers in Amman and wasteful farmers in Mafraq – it will never be solved.”

In addition to over-irrigation, farmers also tend to grow water intensive crops. Some of the crops most frequently farmed in Jordan are citrus fruits, tomatoes, strawberries and melons, according to the Department of Statistics.

Economists have advocated virtual water, a policy that would encourage farmers to grow crops that need less water, while importing more water-intensive crops from neighbouring countries. However, food security remains a “major national goal”, the report added, so officials may be wary of relying on imports.

Other projects are designed to supply more water to urban centres like Amman. These include the Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Programme, which would bring water by canal from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, and the Disi Water Project, which would pump water through a 325-kilometre pipeline from the Disi aquifer to Amman, according to the report.

Speaking about these projects last month at the International Water Association Specialist Conference on Efficient Use and Management of Water, USAID acting Mission Director Dana Mansouri said: “Today’s solutions to water scarcity are three: to transport freshwater in at great expense; to create fresh water from salt water at even greater expense; and to use water more efficiently, which actually saves money.”

This winter was the driest in 12 years, according to the Jordan Meteorological Department. A report by the Strategic Foresight Group predicts demand for water in Jordan will be at least three times greater than its availability by 2030.