by Hana Namrouqa | Jul 08, 2013 | 23:19
More than 60 million cubic metres (mcm) of water are currently being pumped from the Azraq Basin on an annual basis for drinking and irrigation, while it produces only 20mcm annually (Petra file photo)

AMMAN — The Ministry of Water and Irrigation on Monday finalised an action plan to manage usage of water from the Azraq Basin, where the annual pumping is currently more than double the aquifer’s safe yield.

The action plan, which was finalised during the 11th meeting of the Highland Water Forum, entails several measures to end random pumping from the Azraq Basin, Ministry of Water and Irrigation Secretary General Bassem Tulfah said.

The first pillar of the action plan will reinforce government institutions’ capacity to uncover illegal practices and activate related laws, and the second pillar will work on raising water-use efficiency at farms in Azraq to increase revenue, while reducing the amount of water consumed for irrigation, Tulfah underscored.

In addition, the action plan will secure new investment opportunities for farmers who wish to abandon agriculture, he said, noting that these opportunities will serve as alternative to cultivation and will not rely on water consumption.

“The fourth pillar is raising the awareness of the local community about Jordan’s water problems, especially in the Azraq Basin, where annual pumping is 215 per cent above the aquifer’s annual natural recharge capacity,” Tulfah noted.

Launched in 2010, the Highland Water Forum seeks to achieve sustainable management of underground basins in highlands, from which 500 million cubic metres of water are being extracted annually, equalling double the amount of safe pumping limits.

The forum, which includes farmers, ecologists and lawmakers, started working on the Azraq Basin, which is located east of Amman. Spread over 15 per cent of the country’s terrain, the basin provides the capital with a 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.

Official figures indicate that there are around 12 renewable and non-renewable aquifers in Jordan, such as 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.