Dwindling water supplies, refugee influxes, erratic rainfall draw a grim picture

By Mohammad Ghazal – JJul 18,2022

  • Water situation ‘critical’, says minister 
  • National Water Carrier project, still in pipeline, offers glimmer of hope amid rising needs
  • Change in water consumption habits necessary

AMMAN — The negative impacts of climate change are snowballing, taking a heavy toll on Jordan’s water sector as the government warns that this year is the most difficult the sector has seen. 

Dwindling water supplies amid a growing population coupled with the influx of refugees, lower than forecast precipitation and higher evaporation due to rising temperatures, as well as increased frequency and intensity of extreme rainfalls are all factors that have lowered Jordan’s per capita share of water to reach less than one-tenth of the water poverty line of 1,000 cubic metres per person per year, Minister of Water and Irrigation Mohammad Al Najjar said in an exclusive interview with The Jordan Times.

The water situation is “critical and this is the most difficult year for Jordan’s water sector” as the country’s largest 14 dams, which have a total capacity of 280 million cubic metres (mcm), hold only 25 per cent of their capacity and most of the country’s 12 groundwater basins have been depleted due to over pumping, the minister said. 

Thus, Jordan’s per capita share of water currently stands at 90 cubic metres per year, which is only 10 per cent of the water poverty line and 97.5 per cent lower when compared to Jordan’s per capita water share of 3,600 m3/year in 1946, according to the minister.

In addition, non-revenue water remains a major challenge as the percentage of lost water stands high at 50 per cent.

“We expect the per capita share of water to witness a further drop as a result of climate change and its implications coupled with other factors,” Najjar said.

Jordan expects a stronger impact of climate change in the decades to come if no actions are taken.

In its Third National Communication on climate Change submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the country said a drier climate is likely in Jordan. 

By 2070-2100, the cumulated precipitation could likely decrease by 15-25 per cent. It is more likely to have drier autumn and winter as compared to spring, with a median value of precipitation decrease reaching -35 per cent in autumn in 2070-2100, according to the communication.  

Projections predict more extreme heat waves where the analysis of summer temperature, monthly values and the inter-annual variability reveal that some thresholds could be exceeded especially for a summer month where the average of maximum temperature for the whole country could exceed 42-44°C.

‘Rainfall intensity changing’

Jordan, which has an average rainfall of less than 50 millimetres each year, has not only been seeing a decline in rainfall over the past years but also a reoccurrence of erratic rainfalls, which on many occasions have resulted in fatal flash floods.

“Jordan is one of the largely affected countries by climate change… During the last two rainy seasons, there was no water in the south of Jordan and that’s a large area,” the minister said.

Precipitation throughout the Kingdom was 80 per cent last year and the year before it was 60 per cent and during the last rainy season the rainfall was concentrated in the central and northern areas, Najjar said. 

Jordan’s southern areas and the northeastern parts witnessed less than 40 per cent precipitation during the last rainy season, noted the minister.

“The situation is critical and uncomfortable… the number of complaints we are receiving is very large… we provide a modest supply of water for citizens, which is once per week and in some areas in Ajloun and Jerash it is once every three weeks,” he said.

‘No more dams needed’

Jordan’s water comes from surface and underground resources, both renewable and non-renewable, which provide 911mcm per year. On top of that, Jordan gets around 170mcm of treated wastewater annually.

With erratic rainfall, changing rainfall intensity and precipitation, increasingly depleted basins and a growing population, Jordan’s solution for addressing water scarcity does not lie in building more dams, but rather in desalinating sea water, which never runs out, according to the minister.

Of Jordan’s 12 groundwater basins, the majority are being pumped at a deficit and the Kingdom has already stopped pumping from some wells as the quality of water changed due to over-pumping. Ground water is being extracted at a higher rate than that which is being replenished, the minister said. 

“We mainly rely on underground water for getting drinking water and we have depleted the majority of the underground water resources,” Najjar said.

To address the rising water needs, Jordan has built several dams and currently there are 14 major dams with a total capacity of 280mcm. In addition, there are 420 water harvesting structures distributed across Jordan. The capacity of these structures varies from a few thousand cubic metres in some structures to a maximum of 250,000 cubic metres in others. The overall capacity of these structures is 112mcm and they are rarely filled with small quantities of water.

“Even during very good, wet years and when the precipitation is within average, these dams and structures are never completely full… It is very rare that one or two dams are filled with water so we certainly do not need more dams,” he added.

Due to increased rainfall intensity, the authorities cannot even predict which areas will witness a good rainfall and when and for how long. 

“It all now depends on how lucky we are and whether the rain that falls goes to dams and structures that are used for drinking purposes or for dams that are only used for the agricultural sector,” he added.

For drinking water, Jordan sometimes relies on getting some small quantities of water from Al Wehda and Al Mujib dams.

“This year, there is no water in Al Mujib dam…We did not get one single drop of water from this dam. Therefore, we faced many problems in Karak, for example, and there are areas that are still suffering and we are working day and night to fix the situation in the affected areas,” he added.

At the end of the last rainy season, the country’s 14 dams only held 25 per cent of their total storage.

“The solution is very clear and it is desalination of sea water for now,” he added.

‘Aqaba-Amman project to breathe life into sector’

The over $2 billion  National Water Carrier Project (Aqaba-Amman Water Desalination and Transport Project) is Jordan’s top priority at this stage. The project, which will be implemented on the basis of build-operate-transfer (BOT) system, will source water from the Gulf of Aqaba and pump it across the country with an annual capacity of 300mcm of desalinated water.

“We are working around the clock to make sure the project goes as planned as we cannot tolerate any delays,” he said.

“This is the solution that will make us comfortable for the coming 15-20 years maximum. The 300mcm that we will get from the project will fill the shortage in water supply and will help meet the rising needs,” he added.

The project will enable Jordan to “leave some of the underground water wells so they fill up again and then you go back to them after 15-25 years and who knows maybe we will need to desalinate more in the future as demand soars”, he added.

The Aqaba-Amman project will slightly increase the water per capita share in Jordan, he said. “But we will not reach a comfortable stage. If we want to get 500mcm of water annually from the project we will need $5 billion, which is double what is needed to invest for now.”

There is currently $800 million of grants and government contributions to the project, in addition to financing and concessional loans from several financing institutions of around $1 billion and the rest is from the developers that will build on the BOT basis.

The five prequalified consortiums — Saudi Arabia’s Acwa Power, Saudi Arabia’s Huta Marine Works, Ajlan & Bros and Almar Water Solutions, Japan’s Marubeni Corporation, Meridiam/Vinci Orascom (France/Egypt) and Naqel Water Solutions (Suez-CCC) — are due to submit the bids during the last quarter of this year and the first drop of water is expected to reach users in 2027, the minister said.

“We need it as the population rises. In 2040, we expect the population to be 16 million,” Najjar said.

‘Additional water from Israel’

Out of Jordan’s total water consumption, around 500mcm is needed for drinking purposes every year and demand for drinking water grows by no less than 8 per cent annually.

“But this year the drinking water we have is less than what we need…We have around 470mcm…We have shortage in drinking water this year compared with last year,” the minister said.

“If we do not have another source for the coming years. Our situation will become more and more critical every year. Unless we have a good rainy season that is above average and then only in that particular year, we will be somehow comfortable,”  he added.

Jordan still has a drinking water shortage of 30mcm this year, according to the minister.

To address the needs, Jordan last year purchased 50mcm of water from Israel.

In addition to the agreed upon quantities of water that Jordan received under the 1994 Wadi Araba peace treaty with Israel, Jordan has also this year started the purchase of an additional 50mcm whose supply will be completed by September.

In 2023, Jordan will also buy an additional 50mcm of water from Israel to meet the rising drinking needs, the minister said.

‘Sustaining lifeline for economy’ 

Ensuring a sustained and sufficient supply of water for Jordan’s agricultural sector is a top priority for Jordan that is working on strengthening its food security at various fronts.

Jordan’s agricultural sector, which contributes around 5 per cent to the country’s gross domestic product, gets around 49 per cent of the available water resources in Jordan and this represents only around 60 per cent of the sector’s actual needs.

Equally important is ensuring a sustained supply of water for the mining, industrial, hospitality sectors and others, which are main engines driving the economic growth.

“We need to balance our resources and ensure sustained water supply to the agricultural sector…There is scarcity in surface water. We need to balance between drinking needs and agricultural needs and each drop of water matters,” the minister said.

“We are talking about Jordan’s food security. Jordan relies on the Jordan Valley for meeting its needs of vegetables and a large part of its needs of fresh fruits…We cannot further reduce the quantities supplied to the agricultural sector. We need to strike a balance and we are aware of the impact of climate change challenges on the sector,” he added.

Jordan’s industrial sector consumes around 50mcm per year, while around 15mcm are needed annually for other purposes including raising livestock in remote areas, which is an important source of living for many. There are also rising needs for the tourism sector.

“Keeping this balance between all sectors is a very daunting but critically important process that we need to keep, and with rising temperatures and less rainfall the challenges are mounting,” Najjar continued.

In spite of all the challenges, Jordan has an agricultural sector “to be proud of”.

“We are one of the poorest countries in terms of water resources, but our water quality is very high and we have sufficient production of fruits and vegetables, and we even export and this means a lot in a country that does not have water,” he added.

‘Cost of energy remains challenge’

Jordan’s water sector consumes 15 per cent of the country’s total production of electricity. The cost of pumping and transferring water from resources to habituated areas is high and this is one of the main limitations in the sector as Jordan imports most of its energy needs.

“With the upcoming major projects, our sector’s consumption of electricity will reach 20 per cent and this will increase the costs and pressure on the water sector, especially the financial pressure,” he said.

The government is working on projects towards energy transition in the sector through increased reliance on renewable energy and generating electricity from bioenergy in the wastewater treatment plants, but there is a need for more and financing is a challenge, according to the minister.

“The distance between water resources and populous areas is huge and this increases the costs of water transfer. In addition, we are going deeper and deeper into our underground water resources and that consumes more energy and we cannot rely on renewable energy at night for example unless there are solutions for storing the energy,” he added.

‘No increase in water tariff’

Ensuring financial sustainability in the sector is important so is ensuring a sustained and high-quality service and supply to households and consumers.

“We look at the overall economic situation in Jordan. We do not want to increase pressure on citizens or increase the burden. In the near future, there are no plans at all to increase water tariffs,” he said.

“We realise that without improving the service you cannot impose any additional costs on citizens. When is that possible? It is only when citizens feel that water supply is regular and enough in terms of quality and quantity and then and only then we look into whether we change the tariff or not. When is that to happen? It is only when the service is improved,” he said.

‘Non-revenue water remains major challenge’

Non-revenue water — water lost through leaky pipes, theft and under-billing — remains a major problem, as the percentage of lost water stands at about 50 per cent.

One of the main challenges is that the water meters at households are old.

“The water meters currently at households should be changed every three to five years.  But there are hundreds of thousands of water meters that have not been changed for 10 to 15 and even 20 years. Therefore, any water meter has a life span and if the meter is not changed it will not accurately measure the water consumption and what is actually consumed,” he added.

He added that meters in some areas have been changed and the water loss percentage declined as the meters started to have accurate readings.

“We have old, worn-out networks… Some of them have sizeable leaks and in some areas the networks are 30 years old,” he added.

The minister said when water is pumped once a week, the network is stressed and the possibility of leaks increases. 

“Once the Amman-Aqaba project is active, most cities will have flowing water in the pipes around the clock and people will have an adequate supply and this will reduce pressure on networks. This will enable us to better detect worn-out networks,” said the minister.

‘Rising needs, changing habits’

Jordan is a country that never closed its borders to the refugees. “Jordan is greatly affected by the activities of the industrialised and advanced countries due to their high emissions” and climate change’s impact on the Kingdom is becoming increasingly evident, which requires continued and stepped-up support.

“There is assistance, but it is not enough to meet the needs. Committed assistance for the Jordan Response Plan for example was weak,” the minister said. 

Water demand is rising in all sectors and Jordan needs sustained support in this respect.

The minister said there is a dire need for changing consumption habits among households and rationing the use of water or “we will be in an unenviable situation”.

“Using water hoses for washing cars and yards should disappear from our practices. Even if you can afford the price of water it does not mean that you waste it,” he added.

The ministry is cracking down on water thefts and working on various fronts to address the challenges in the sector. 

“We are all in the same boat. Sustaining water supply is sustaining a lifeline for our economy and our life,” he said.


Reckless water use, climate change effects accelerate path to thirsty future – Jordan Times

Jul 16,2022

Washing cars with a hose rather than a bucket has become a common practice in some areas of Amman, wasting large quantities of a much-need precious resource that Jordan witnesses a dearth of, especially as the Kingdom is the second poorest country in terms of water in the world. 

Such a practice is irresponsible and reckless in a country whose per capita share of water is 90 cubic metres per year, representing less than one-tenth of the international water poverty line of 1,000 cubic metres annually.

Jordan’s water share per capita is expected to witness a further slight decline driven by growing demand, decline in precipitation and the ramifications of climate change, before the share is restored to current levels once the Aqaba-Amman Water Desalination and Conveyance Project comes into being, which is expected in 2027.

To ration water consumption amid critical shortages or heatwaves, countries and water companies at times resort to hosepipes ban as a means to control household water consumption. In fact, several countries across the world, such as Italy and the UK, have on several occasions imposed hosepipe bans, preventing households from using hoses to water their gardens or wash their cars and imposing hefty fines on violators. 

This month, a report by German broadcaster Deutsche Welle stated that southern European countries are increasingly feeling the impact of water scarcity amplified by climate change and over-consumption of water, forcing governments from Portugal to Italy to call for rationing water consumption, including the prohibition of  some practices, in some areas, such as washing cars or watering gardens with hosepipes .

Water is a scarce resource across the world and any careless water use in Jordan should not be tolerated, instead it should be fined. In Jordan, climate change is already taking its toll on the country’s water sector which is evident by a decline in precipitation and erratic rainfall with changing intensity.

Currently, the country’s 14 major dams hold only 25 per cent of their capacity of 280 million cubic metres, and most of the country’s 12 groundwater basins have been depleted due to over pumping. Demand for drinking water is growing by 8 per cent every year in Jordan while the agricultural sector consumes around 49 per cent of Jordan’s water resources, according to the Water Ministry.

One of the major challenges facing the water sector in Jordan is the large percentage of non-revenue water, which stands currently at 50 per cent. Although tremendous efforts have been exerted and several projects have been implemented, much more still needs to be done and Jordan needs the support of the international community in this regard. Ensuring a sustained water supply is vital for Jordan’s development goals and boosting the various economic sectors.

There is a lot of work ahead to address the challenges the water sector is facing and this requires continued international support, optimal utilisation of available water resources, changing water consumption habits and resorting to rationing. In addition, authorities should intensify crackdowns on water thefts and upgrade the worn-out networks.

The population of the Kingdom, where a good portion of the land is desert, is projected to reach around 16 million by 2040, which puts the concerned authorities in a race against time to meet the rising demand and address the challenges the sector is facing.

Experts believe that the key for addressing Jordan’s water needs is through the Red Sea water and increased reliance on treatment of wastewater. The country is working day and night to move ahead with the Aqaba-Amman water project, whose implementation is strategic to Jordan’s development and security, whose stability is crucial to regional peace.

Most of the country’s households get water once a week and some areas get water every three weeks and complaints are on the rise. To address the shortage in drinking water, Jordan has purchased 50 million cubic metres of water this year from Israel whose supply will be completed by September, and Jordan plans to buy an additional 50mcm of water from Israel in 2023.

Challenges are immense and being wasteful and careless about the water is something that should not be tolerated amid a recent warning by the Water Ministry that this year is the worst year for Jordan’s water sector.

The writer is editor-in-chief of The Jordan Times and regularly writes for international media outlets.


2022 ‘worst year’ for Jordan’s water sector — minister – Jordan Times

Jul 17,2022

AMMAN — This year is shaping up to be “the worst” for Jordan’s water sector, according to Water Minister Mohammad Al Najjar. 

Speaking to The Jordan Times in an exclusive interview, Najjar said that Jordan’s per capita share of water currently stands at 90 cubic metres per year, which is only 10 per cent of the water poverty line and 97.5 per cent lower when compared with Jordan’s per capita water share of 3,600 m3/year in 1946. (See full report on page 3) 

Dwindling water supplies amid a growing population coupled with the influx of refugees, lower than forecast precipitation and higher evaporation due to rising temperatures, as well as increased frequency and intensity of extreme rainfalls are all factors that have lowered Jordan’s per capita share of water to reach less than one-tenth of the water poverty line of 1,000 m3 per person per year, he said. 

“We expect the per capita share of water to witness a further drop as a result of climate change and its implications coupled with other factors,” Najjar said. 


Officials discuss plan to enhance climate change resilience – Jordan Times

Jul 17,2022

AMMAN — Concerned ministers, in the presence of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Representative in Jordan Nabil Assaf, on Sunday checked on the mechanisms and the  plans to implement a project to enhance climate change resilience in the Kingdom, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported. 

The project, titled “Building Resilience to Cope with Climate Change in Jordan through Improving Water Use Efficiency in the Agriculture Sector” (BRCCJ), seeks to improve the efficiency of water use in agriculture in the southern governorates, with a value of $33 million and funded by the Green Climate Fund in partnership with FAO and UNDP. 

Agriculture Minister Khalid Hneifat said that the ministry has established some 2,000 wells to collect rainwater in several governorates as part of a plan to establish 6,000 wells. 

Assaf highlighted the importance of the project and its executive action plan and achievement courses that last for seven years.