Jordan’s water shortage made worse by refugee crisis

Sunday 19/03/2017
Increasing demand. Syrian refugee children play with water at Azraq refugee camp in Jordan. (Reuters)

Amman - Water scarcity has long been a chal­lenge in the Arab region, aggravated by climate change, population growth, conflicts and refugee crises. Jordan, the venue for the Fourth Arab Water Week, serves as prime example of the bat­tle.
The desert kingdom has one of the lowest levels of water availabili­ty in the world and hosts the second largest number of Syrian refugees per person, following Lebanon. That places tremendous stress on its limited water resources.
“The water situation in Jordan is facing continuous challenges due to the unexpected population in­crease in the past few years, as the kingdom is hosting more than 1.4 million Syrian refugees, leading to more than a 22% increase in water demand,” said Omar Salameh, com­munications director at the Minis­try of Water and Irrigation.
“Shortage in clean water has reached more than 30% and the in­dividual share dropped to around 70-80 litres daily,” he said.
The ministry said that water per person in Jordan is 88% less than the international water poverty line of 1,000 cubic metres annually. Available resources provide 800 million-900 million cubic metres (mcm) of water annually, which meets the needs of 3 million of the country’s population of 7.8 million.
The northern governorates, which host the most refugees, have particularly suffered from water scarcity, Salameh said.
“There are thousands of refugees living among locals in the north, placing tremendous pressure on resources and increasing demand for water in that area by more than 40%,” he said.
Salameh said the cost for water for Syrian refugees is about $848 million a year.
In 2015, national water demand in Jordan stood at 1.205 billion cubic metres (bcm) but supply stood at 972mcm, a water deficit of 233mcm.
Experts say the kingdom can ex­pect a 15-60% decrease in precipi­tation and a 1-4 degree Celsius in­crease in temperatures as a result of climate change, which could have damaging effects on ecosystems, river basins, watersheds and biodi­versity.
In 2016, the government an­nounced a 10-year water strategy to bridge the growing gap between supply and demand.
The government hopes to explore new resources to generate 187mcm of fresh water and increase the stor­age of the country’s dams by 25% to about 400mcm, provide 36mcm of surface water for irrigation and generate an additional 94mcm of treated waste water.
The ministry said the per person water share dropped from 147 cubic metres per year to 123 cubic metres since the start of the Syrian refugee crisis. The cost of electricity used in water pumping increased 220%.
Salameh said the ministry ex­pected water demand to rise to 1.328bcm and supply to increase to 1.148bcm in 2020, while demand would stand at 1.698bcm and water supply at 1.558bcm in 2025.
This year, the government is planning water projects in Ma’an, a city in southern Jordan, at a cost of $6.5 million, funded by the grant from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and the French Development Agency.
The Conference and Exhibition, part of the Fourth Arab Water Week, which is scheduled for March 19th- 23rd, will tackle water resources management policies and gov­ernance, political unrest and the effects on water utilities perfor­mance, energy efficiency tools for water utilities and electricity gener­ation from dams and hydroelectric power stations, Salameh said.
“We are expecting around 400 participants from the region and the world and more than 35 exhibi­tors to attend,” he said.
The Third Arab Water Week was also in Jordan with Arab Countries Water Utilities Association Secre­tary-General Khaldoun Kashman stating that access to clean and sufficient water is a basic human right.