Water Scarcity in Jordan
Despite regional turmoil, Jordan enjoys relative stability compared to its neighbors in the Middle East. However, the Kingdom’s long-running issue of water scarcity, which ranked second globally, could threaten that continued stability. Water scarcity exacerbates existing systemic issues such as poverty and public health crises, which Jordan currently contends with. The Kingdom is suffering from an unprecedented youth employment rate of 48.1% as of November 2021 and is struggling to meet the pandemic-induced public health demands. As the effects of environmental changes continue to develop, Jordanians may increasingly feel the impacts of water scarcity in Jordan in the next decade.

7 Facts About Water Scarcity in Jordan

  1. Critical Water Insecurity by 2030: According to a March 2021 research study that Jim Yoon led, more than “90% of Jordan’s low-income population” will endure severe water insecurity by 2030. This water scarcity in Jordan will equate to impoverished households receiving less than 40 liters of water per capita per day.
  2. Demand is the Issue, Not Supply: About 93% of Jordanians have access to a safely-managed water source, according to UNICEF, reflecting adequate infrastructure. However, in 2017, Jordan’s yearly water supply equated to “less than 100m 3 per person, significantly below the United Nations’ threshold of 500m3 per person, which defines severe water scarcity,” reflecting the inability to meet population demand. This issue has worsened in recent years with the large influx of Syrian refugees.
  3. Rainfall: Jordan gets 110 mm of rainfall a year and ranked ninth in the top 10 countries with the lowest rainfall in 2017.
  4. Groundwater: Groundwater makes up 54% of Jordan’s water supply. There are 12 groundwater basins in Jordan. According to a 2021 research article by faculty members of Jordan-Jerash University, these basins experience overexploitation past their annual replenishable capacity. About 77.5% of the nation’s conserved water goes to the agricultural industry, which contributed only 5.6% of the country’s GDP in 2018.
  5. Treated Wastewater as an Alternative: Since building wastewater treatment plants in the 1980s, more than 64% of the population gained access to sewage systems, improving the overall sanitation level of the country. Jordan has a minimum of 26 wastewater treatment plants to treat and reuse raw wastewater. Projections have stated that the expansion of wastewater treatment plants will potentially offset the industrial demand for freshwater caused by water scarcity in Jordan in the Amman, Zarqa and Aqaba governorates.
  6. Mismanagement of Surface Water Resources: About 37% of Jordan’s total water supply comes from surface water resources. There are three major surface water sources in Jordan — the Jordan, Zarqa and Yarmouk rivers. Israel and Syria’s “upstream diversion and over-pumping” of the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers are drying up Jordan’s access to their stream due to the lack of regional environmental cooperation. Meanwhile, the Zarqa River is severely contaminated due to overflow from wastewater treatment plants and sewage leaks.
  7. Pollution: Pollution is exacerbating water shortages. The overflow of wastewater pumping stations, leaks from sewage systems and exposure to industrial and commercial waste are polluting Jordan’s surface river sources. This has resulted in nitrate and phosphorus contamination of water supplies. Researchers point to improper industrial discharges and lack of regulation as the leading cause of water pollution in Jordan.

Looking Ahead

To continue as an oasis of peace and stability in the Middle East, Jordan must address its long-standing water scarcity crisis. Investment in strategies, such as the effective use of recycled wastewater, will help improve the country’s capacity to meet its booming population’s demand.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is helping to improve water scarcity in Jordan with its operations in Jordan beginning as early as 1949 — three years after the nation’s independence. In 2020, USAID “installed 8,500 kilometers of water piping and 120,0000 high-accuracy smart meters” while securing “leak detection equipment and vehicles” for the nation and upgrading “water monitoring and control systems” across the country. Through these measures, USAID was able to save sufficient “water in 2020 to supply more than 215,000 people” in Jordan annually.

In addition to technological solutions, Jordan is pursuing regional diplomatic efforts, such as the water-for-energy deal. Signed in November 2021 by Jordan and Israel, the deal will see Jordan export 600 megawatts of solar energy to Israel in exchange for 200 million cubic meters of Israel’s desalinated water.

This deal, and other efforts, could make way for sustainable, regional improvements in water conservation and accelerate the development of renewable energy infrastructure.

Majeed Malhas
Photo: Flickr

The country of Jordan is the fifth most water-scarce country in the world, following Iran, and is labeled at an “extremely high” risk level. With water scarcity comes multiple risk factors, including water-borne illnesses caused by unsafe drinking water, diseases from a lack of sanitation and death by dehydration. In addition, water scarcity contributes to an increase in sexual exploitation and rape, as children, especially young girls, need to physically travel miles every day through deserts and dangerous terrain to retrieve water for their families. This then contributes to a decrease in education among girls and perpetuates the cycle of poverty in areas in Jordan and globally. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Jordan.

10 Facts About Sanitation in Jordan

  1. Climate change affects sanitation in Jordan. In most areas of the country, populations are not located near major water sources and water must be transported from distances up to 325 kilometers away. With the rise of climate change causing flash floods, unpredictable and extreme weather patterns and increased temperatures, Jordan faces difficulties accessing necessary sanitation services.
  2. Jordan faces severe water scarcity. According to UNICEF, “Jordan’s annual renewable water resources are less than 100m3 [meters cubed] per person.” This is 400 meters cubed below the threshold of 500 meters cubed, which defines water scarcity.

  3. As a result of an increase in population and industrial and agricultural capacity, Jordan is dealing with severe aquifer depletion. All 12 of Jordan’s main aquifers are declining at rates exceeding 20 meters per year, well beyond their rechargeable volumes. This is especially alarming as 60% of Jordan’s water comes from the ground.

  4. Those in vulnerable and rural areas lack sanitation resources. Proper hygiene norms, such as handwashing and showering, are taught and practiced in households. However, those in more vulnerable and rural areas often lack soap and body wash to stay clean and healthy.

  5. A large percentage of the population in Jordan don’t have access to water. Only 58% of households have direct access to a sewer connection. In comparison to the nearly half of the population in Jordan, only 0.46% of the United States population does not have access to proper plumbing services. This is an especially prevalent issue in rural areas in Jordan, where only 6% of households have a sewer connection.

  6. The Syrian refugee crisis has greatly increased the population in Jordan. As Jordan borders Syria, it has become a safe haven for more than 670,000 refugees of the Syrian civil war. Having accepted the second-highest amount of refugees in the world compared to its population in 2018, this sudden increase in population means added pressure on resources and infrastructure, as well as an increase in air pollution and waste production.

  7. The water network in Jordan has inadequate infrastructure, needing major rehabilitation. Pumps and sewer lines are old and aging. Unfortunately, Jordan’s already scarce water supply is paying the price, with up to 70% of water transported from aquifers through old pumps being lost in the northern areas of Jordan due to water leakage.
  8. The increase in population, agriculture and industry in Jordan has led to an increase in pollution and toxicity in Jordan’s water supply. Upstream abstractions of groundwater have led to an increase in salinity. Unregulated pesticides and fertilizers used for farming have exposed the water supply to dangerous nitrates and phosphorus through runoff. In addition, it is reported that about 70% of Jordan’s spring water is biologically contaminated.

  9. Foreign aid plays a positive role in improving sanitation in Jordan. To mitigate the aforementioned effects threatening Jordan’s water supply and working towards achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 6, USAID works in conjunction with the government of Jordan to build sustainable water and wastewater infrastructure, train hundreds of water experts in Jordan, promote water conservation and strengthen water governance.

  10. Profound progress is seen in the increase in access to water, hygiene services and sanitation in Jordan. From 2000 to 2015, 2,595,670 people gained access to safely managed water services and 2,212,419 people gained access to safely managed sanitation services. In addition, homelessness in Jordan is very rare, meaning open defecation and the illnesses associated with homelessness are less prevalent.

Despite Jordan’s desert climate, clean water and efficient sanitation are achievable and make up the groundwork of global prosperity. Sanitation in Jordan is of the utmost priority in ensuring that Jordan can become a durable consumer and competitor of leading nations.

 Sharon Shenderovskiy
Photo: Flickr

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