by Elisa Oddone | Jan 22, 2014

IRBID — Work on water networks in northern Jordan will address the country’s struggle to keep up with an increased domestic demand for water as it faces a flood of Syrian refugees and a looming drought, according to a senior official.

“We are facing a catastrophic humanitarian crisis,” Water Minister Hazem Nasser said on Tuesday while handing over pumps and transformers provided UNHCR and Mercy Corps in Irbid Governorate for the rehabilitation of the northern region’s water networks.

“One year ago we were in complete chaos; we did not know how to handle the refugee influx. At least now we know our roadmap. We know how to handle it,” Nasser said.

“There is a lack of resources, especially financial resources, but this will hopefully come down the road,” he added.

Around 600,000 Syrians have found sanctuary in the Kingdom so far, putting a strain on the country’s health and education services and already scarce water resources in one of the world’s 10 driest countries.

According to the UNHCR, less than a fifth of the Syrian refugees live in Jordan’s two official camps, Zaatari in Mafraq and Mreijeb Al Fhoud in Zarqa, with the largest concentration of refugees in the Kingdom’s northern region, due to its proximity to the Syrian border.

With the possibility of a drought over the next few months, the minister said he was considering approving an emergency plan for the summer.

“I was hoping this summer would bless us with less suffering, but unfortunately things [have turned out] to be negative. Since the cold spell hit the country in mid-December, we have not gotten any more rain and, according to weather forecasts, it will not be rainy in January or in February,” Nasser said.

“We will evaluate the situation on whether to proceed under normal conditions or approve an emergency plan by mid-February. Under drought conditions, our problems could multiply by a factor of five or 10,” he added.


The rehabilitation of water networks in northern governorates is expected to provide 30,000 persons with an additional 35 litres of water per day, UNHCR representative in Jordan Andrew Harper said, adding that the UN refugee agency had planned investments totalling about $20 million to support water and wastewater projects in 2014.

In collaboration with global humanitarian agency Mercy Corps, international agencies have already laid out a six kilometre pipe in the northern District of Ramtha and improved the sanitary facilities in 25 schools, Mercy Corps Deputy Country Director Raed Nimri said.

Noting that the vast majority of Syrians live in host communities scattered across the country, Harper said it made sense to start putting more resources into these communities and support projects tackling the country’s problems since these would not only help Syrians and Jordanians, but will also last long after the refugees have returned home.

“The materials provided will help us deal with the coming summer,” Yarmouk Water Company General Manager Mohammad Rababa said. “We are looking at next summer as a big challenge and trying to be prepared and have all water networks up and running while also searching for new sources of water.”

“… We will continue to do what we have been doing so far, ensuring that refugees receive assistance and protection together with the Jordanian government, but there are limits to that, given the lack of resources, water and international support,” Harper said while calling for more funds from donor countries.

“The one thing which we are going to strongly lobby for is that if there is a difficulty in getting agreements in Syria, then at least [the international community] should [agree] on the amount of international support a country like Jordan should receive.”—-nasser