Aug 29,2022

Jordan is preparing plans for Economic Modernisation Vision 2033: A roadmap for establishing a diversified, resilient economy with a 3 per cent annual increase in per capita income and one million new jobs over the next 10 years. This will require attracting investments, implementing public-private partnerships (PPPs), and directing JD41 billion for hundreds of initiatives in a variety of sectors. 

These targets cannot be achieved without guaranteeing the country’s water security. To address this, the vision prioritises the development of a sustainable model for water management.

The new model will need to include provisions for restructuring the Water Authority of Jordan (WAJ), the corporatised agency in charge of municipal water supply and wastewater services. Traditionally, the WAJ was responsible for delivering all water and wastewater services, which led to many hidden inefficiencies in the value chain. Now, WAJ has delegated its retail service component to three water and sewerage companies in the northern, central and southern regions. It now needs to be restructured so that its main focuses are on water resource management and development, implementing major capital investments, and monitoring the performance of the three companies.   

The model will also need to include action plans for PPP financing and construction of large-scale non-conventional water resource projects. These should primarily depend on seawater desalination and deep fossil groundwater wells for meeting basic municipal needs. Surface water, such as shared rivers, and shallower groundwater aquifers, should be strategic reservoirs for meeting peak demand. Using groundwater aquifers as a secondary source will help reduce their overexploitation and restore them to safe yield levels. 

A national bulk water conveyor system would link all major water sources from south to north and regulate water use depending on hydrological conditions and seasonal variation. It will also ensure operational management flexibility by conveying surplus or emergency water supplies from one location to another to meet demand. 

Infrastructure of this scale and strategic importance will need to be owned by the government and operated by a corporatised public water company. Its financial resources should be raised through long-term bonds and other financing instruments to alleviate fiscal pressure on the budget. 

The water sector will also need to control and monitor water consumption and allocation through a centralised decision-making system. Real-time data processing will support decision-making about water resource allocation to satisfy the demands of competing domestic, irrigation and industrial uses. 

Decision makers will need to consider parameters such as demand, pumping costs, the economic value of water, and resource availability. This will help to define and prioritise new investment needs and determine their impact. This system  can be used to explain past events, and for forecasting and advising on the best options for solving a particular problem or constraint.

Artificial intelligence applications can automate systems and support digital transformation in water utility operations. This will improve performance, efficiency and financial recovery, for example by helping to detect water leaks. 

Advanced smart metering solutions will improve billing accuracy, generate data that provides insight to end-users on their water usage, and help utility companies improve messaging on water conservation. Data access will also support proactive asset management by defining optimal schedules for monitoring and replacement. 

In parallel, a unique, collaborative ecosystem should be established that encourages the development and testing of innovative and smart water technologies. This ecosystem could be supported through startup funds, international donor support, or research and partnership programmes. This would help improve water security and raise national income by exporting products and services developed and tested in one of the most challenging water-scarce environments.

It will also be critical to build bulk wastewater conveyor systems with state-of-the-art tertiary treatment technologies for high-quality treatment of reclaimed and industrial wastewater for use in agricultural irrigation, reducing reliance on freshwater sources.  

Finally, Jordan should investigate ways to supplement its water supply through regional water cooperation and diplomacy with neighbouring countries, as the impending water crisis threatens the entire region. Jordan has limited policy leverage to enforce its rights over these surface waters. Efforts to advance regional and transboundary cooperation, if managed correctly, could lead to broader cooperation and beneficial trade-offs in the water-food-energy-transport nexus. 

Jordan’s government will need to institutionalise these new model management approaches and implement an action plan with clear, measurable interventions that span the short, medium and long terms. This will require involving all stakeholders in the process of preparing an action plan for the model, raising capital and operational budgets from different sources, and developing clear monitoring and evaluation frameworks with key performance indicators.

Iyad Dahiyat is the former secretary general of the Water Authority of Jordan and the Ministry of Water and Irrigation in Jordan from 2016 to 2019.