Located at the crossroads of Asia, Africa and Europe, Jordan is known for being one of the most politically stable countries in the Middle East and home to numerous historic sites, including Petra and the Dead Sea. Despite this rich cultural history, Jordan has suffered from poverty and underemployment, exacerbated in recent years by an influx of refugees from Syria — its neighbor to the north. Here are five facts about poverty in Jordan that give further context to this nation’s economic challenges. 

Five Facts About Poverty in Jordan

  1. With an arid climate and a paucity of water catchment systems, Jordan is the third most water scarce country in the world. An increasing majority of Jordan’s population inhabits urban areas. Yet large cities are often far from sources of water, necessitating costly water shipments. Furthermore, most of Jordan’s water resources go to its agriculture sector, which contributes minimally to Jordan’s GDP (despite its large intake of natural resources). As the population continues to swell, water scarcity will increasingly challenge farmers to improve food security through environmentally sustainable practices.
  2. The problem of water scarcity contributes to food insecurity. Dominated by a far-reaching steppic zone, only 1.97 percent of Jordan’s land is arable. Approximately 67 percent of the agricultural production relies on rain, leaving farmer’s vulnerable to drought. With limited production levels, Jordan must import 97 percent of its food. The resulting dynamic has made food security a common problem among Jordanians. A UNDP study found food insecurity in over one third of households, where families could not afford three meals a day. 
  3. Recently, faltering GDP growth represents another telling fact about poverty in Jordan. Jordan has suffered from an underperforming economy, stymied by the global economic crisis of 2007 and further exacerbated by the turmoil of the Arab Spring and ensuing conflict in Syria. The effect has been to depress Jordan’s GDP growth by hindering trade, industry and tourism. The GDP growth dropped from 8.2 to 2.8 percent between 2007 and 2013. Public debt reached 79 percent of GDP in 2014 and unemployment rose to 14 percent. Furthermore, women participate in the economy at lower rates than other nations in the region, despite comparatively higher educational outcomes
  4. An influx of refugees from Syria has put a further strain on Jordan’s stagnant economy and limited resources. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are 630,776 registered persons of concern and approximately 1.4 million Syrian refugees in Jordan. With only 20 percent of these asylum seekers located in camps, the majority are interspersed throughout the state, increasing the strain on Jordan’s water and food supplies, housing and energy.
  5. Regional Instability has exacted further costs on Jordan’s economy. Due to the low availability of domestic energy reserves, Jordan relies heavily on subsidized imports from its neighbors, such as natural gas piped in from Egypt. Since the 2011 uprising that resulted in the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, dozens of attacks by militants on energy pipelines have disrupted the supply chain to Jordan, incurring billions of dollars in losses as the country has had to substitute costlier heavy-fuel oils.

Though these facts about poverty in Jordan are troubling, Jordan’s government has launched major programs to stimulate the economy and protect against food insecurity. The World Bank projects Jordan to have a a 2.3 percent growth rate for 2017, and an average rate of growth of 2.6 percent between 2017 and 2019. 

Furthermore, with the support of the United Nations Development Programme and the World Food Programme, the Jordanian government has initiated anti-poverty policies aimed at improving sustainable agriculture and supporting citizens and refugees hit hardest by poverty in Jordan. 

– Whiting Tennis 

Photo: Flickr

Refugees In Jordan
In the past five years, the Syrian Civil War has turned into one of the biggest humanitarian crises of the 21st century. Millions of civilians have been displaced from their homes and forced to flee to other countries. This has created a refugee crisis the likes of which hasn’t been seen since World War II. Few countries have borne a greater brunt of this crisis then Jordan. Here are eight facts about refugees in Jordan.

  1. There was a massive flow of Syrian refugees into Jordan. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, there were over 620,000 Syrians living in Jordan as of June 2015.
  2. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, 80 percent of refugees in the country have adequate housing/shelter.
  3. A majority of Syrian refugees are being hosted by some of Jordan’s poorest communities with Amman, Irbid and Mafraq taking on over 76 percent of all Syrian refugees in Jordan. This is causing strain on public services and infrastructure and is creating tension between Jordanians and refugees.
  4. Many Syrian refugees lack basic services. Only 22 percent of refugee households have their basic domestic and hygiene needs meet. Additionally, 20 percent of refugee households do not have access to primary health care and 30 percent do not have access to tertiary health care.
  5. A large number of Syrian refugee children in Jordan are not receiving a proper education. Over 80,000 out of 226,000 children did not receive a formal education last year.
  6. Human Rights Watch explains that most of the barriers to children receiving education stem from unnecessary restrictions placed by the Jordanian government. These include unattainable registration requirements, bans on enrollment for children who haven’t been to school in three or more years and sanctions for refugees working without proper permits. By easing these restrictions, more children will be able to attend school.
  7. Syrian refugees are legally banned from participating in the formal Jordanian economy. Despite this, hundreds of thousands of refugees participate in informal jobs often in the construction or agricultural sectors.
  8. Despite the focus on the negative aspects of Syrian refugees in Jordan, there are a number of positive aspects as well. The influx of refugees has led to an increase in public investment in addition to a growth in the communication, manufacturing and construction sectors; all of which has led to a real GDP growth rate increase of 2.7 percent according to the World Bank.

While the situation in Jordan is problematic, it is by no means hopeless. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace outlines a number of measures that can be taken to help improve the lives of both Syrian refugees and Jordanian citizens. Increased humanitarian and developmental aid can be implemented to help meet the basic needs of refugees.

Allowing refugees access to formal employment will help create a more sustainable situation by allowing refugees to become more self-sufficient. Greater governmental aid can be provided to the Jordanian government to improve their capacity to manage the situation.

James Long

Photo: Flickr

 Refugees in Jordan
When the Syrian Civil War broke out, Jordan seemed a logical place to migrate. Because of its close proximity, many migrants had relatives to stay with across the border. Unfortunately, as Syria became less hospitable, the small country of Jordan became host for a massive refugee population, 664,000 people.

Newcomers struggled to integrate, and the high cost of work permits was an immense burden. In order to alleviate this, work permit fees were waived for three months, providing 20,000 refugees in Jordan with legal employment, and quotas were implemented for Syrian employment. While 80% of the 664,000 refugees in Jordan live in cities, 20% live in the city of Zaatari. According to the Wall Street Journal, Zaatari, Jordan’s fourth-largest city, is home to the fourth-largest refugee camp in the world. To a certain extent, life goes on for refugees. Those who can attend school do, and those who can work try to find jobs. However, Zaatari suffers from a lack of amenities like water and infrastructure, and many refugees work illegally, living in constant fear of discovery.

Before the grace period, work permit costs ranged from $170 to $1,270. From April to July, work permits were free for refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees told the story of Khaled, a Syrian man who, as his family’s sole financial provider, is proud to finally be working legally in his new home at a farm. BBC wrote about a Jordanian farmer who is happy to finally have a consistent source of legal labor.

The reception of free work permits for refugees was not entirely positive. Work permits are sponsored by fixed employers, and many employers are hesitant to make the commitment. Refugees in Jordan working odd, short-term jobs are not eligible. Furthermore, many Jordanians are frustrated by the program due to lingering unemployment rates. Between the influx of refugees and the loss of trade from neighboring countries, Jordan’s economy is lagging. These factors resulted in the number of Syrian permit recipients falling short of the country’s expectations. However, the BBC remains optimistic. Just last month, an agreement was reached permitting Jordan to sell to the European Union duty-free in exchange for fulfilling Syrian employment quotas.

The previously mentioned farmer is proud of his 350 workers and happy that they can “live with dignity.” While less than half of the expected work permits were distributed, UNHCR is still calling the initiative a success. Twenty thousand Syrian workers are now protected under Jordanian law, and recent measures should continue to encourage employment.

Jeanette I. Burke

Photo: Flickr