Resilient water sectors needed in arid MENA region

Water scarcity is a challenge to security in the mostly arid Middle East.
Sunday 17/03/2019
Secretary General of the Arab Countries Water Utilities Association Khaldon Khashman speaks at the opening of the Fifth Arab Water Week in the Dead Sea. (ACWUA)
Looking for solutions. Secretary General of the Arab Countries Water Utilities Association Khaldon Khashman speaks at the opening of the Fifth Arab Water Week in the Dead Sea. (ACWUA)

DEAD SEA - What better place than Jordan, one of the most water-stressed countries, to host the Global Observatory for Water and Peace?

The international facility aimed at promoting and activating efforts to benefit from water for holistic peace chose Amman as its main hub during the Fifth Arab Water Week (AWW).

Organised by the Arab Countries Water Utilities Association (ACWUA), in partnership with the Jordanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation and the Arab Ministerial Water Council, AWW focused on sustainable development in water and sanitation in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which call for clean water and sanitation for all by 2030.

Water scarcity is a challenge to security in the mostly arid Middle East. In Jordan, water issues have become even more complex for many reasons, including lessening rainfall and greater demand for water.

“The AWW provides an excellent opportunity for Jordan and neighbouring countries to tackle such a complex subject and share experiences,” said water expert Mansor Zyoud.

“There are many reasons that placed additional pressure on Jordan’s water sector,” Zyoud said. “Struggle over limited groundwater resources by the different sectors of the economy and increasing demand for water by a growing population, further compounded by the large number of (Syrian) refugees in the country, have reduced freshwater availability for all.”

“There is definitely an urgent need for solutions to such issues,” he added.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) said population growth has reduced the average amount of fresh water available to Jordanians to less than 150 cubic metres per year — the average water availability in the United States is more than 9,000 cubic metres per year — and agriculture consumes 50% of the water supply but contributes only 3% of Jordan’s GDP.

More than 500 scientists and 225 water experts from 40 countries attended this year’s AWW sharing experiences, views and solutions in early March at the Dead Sea in Jordan.

At the meeting, ACWUA General Secretary Khaldon Khashman, warned that the “vital resource is increasingly under threat.”

“There is no doubt that water is a crucial issue in the region,” he said. “The AWW addresses the challenges and proposes solutions for water and wastewater management in the Arab region. It also provides a platform for exchanging knowledge and getting acquainted with new technologies for water problem solutions.”

Jordan’s “National Water Strategy 2016-2025,” which focuses on building a resilient sector based on a comprehensive social, economic and environmentally viable approach, was presented by Ali Soboh, secretary-general of the Water and Irrigation Ministry.

“Jordan has one of the lowest levels of water availability per capita in the world and is facing many challenges stemming from climate change, population growth and economic development needs and hosting several fluxes of refugees,” Soboh said.

“The strategy of the water sector seeks to preserve water resources and guarantee sustainability in addition to implementing new projects such as the Sea Water Desalination Project, Saline Subterranean Desalination Project and the deep groundwater project.”

Soboh said Jordan has been working on the expansion of sewage services, including networks and treatment plants to reach about 240 million cubic metres by 2025. It is seeking to reduce administrative and physical losses through rehabilitation of water networks, while continuing programmes to confront water theft.

Unaccountable water losses, such as leakage and theft, on average account for 50% of total water supplied by Jordan’s municipal networks, Soboh said, quoting USAID figures.

“Water for development is a common regional challenge with water deficit expected to reach 130 billion cubic metres in the Arab world by 2030,” Soboh said. “It necessitates investments at a higher scale especially in the infrastructure with a price tag of $300 billion-$400 billion to face the deficit. These challenges require extra effort by all countries and major players to find practical solutions.”

Despite Jordan’s severe water scarcity, more than 94% of Jordanians have access to safe drinking water and 93% have access to improved sanitation. These are some of the highest rates in the MENA region, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation 2018 report stated.

“The participation of a UAE delegation in the AWW reflects the support and interest of the UAE leadership in crucial water issues, a common concern for all countries of the Arab region,” said Shamma al-Malek, an official at Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority.

“We have shared the UAE’s experience in this sector which is at the core of the development the country is witnessing and at the same time we learn from others.”

Since 1990, the number of people globally gaining access to improved sanitation has risen from 54% to 68% but some 2.3 billion people still do not have toilets or improved latrines, the World Health Organisation said.