Jordan takes steps to overcome chronic water shortage

Published April 29th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Jordan, one of the world's 10 poorest countries in terms of water resources, is preparing to move forward with two major projects aimed at providing the country with self-sufficiency in water until 2020. 

 

Countries with annual water supply growth of less than 1,000 cubic meters (35,000 cubic feet) per capita are considered water poor by international standards. But since a drought began in Jordan in 1996, the figure for Jordan has been less than 200 cubic meters (7,000 cubic feet) a year. 

 

This largely desert kingdom annually needs about 1.1 billion cubic meters (38.8 billion cubic feet) of water, but the supply this year is forecast at only 850 million cubic meters (30 billion cubic feet). That is a deficit of nearly 25 percent, officials say, up from 19 percent last year. 

 

As it is, although farming accounts for only six percent of economic activity, it absorbs 70 percent of the country's water resources and is subject to the whims of rainfall for its needs. 

 

Jordan's reservoirs have a capacity of 160 million cubic meters (5.7 billion cubic feet). But with insufficient precipitation this past winter, the reservoirs grew by only 30 million cubic meters (1.1 billion cubic feet), and the government ordered farmers not to plant bumper crops this summer. 

 

Water Minister Hatem Halwani said recently the government will seek tenders before the end of the year for two projects: the Al-Wehda dam, a joint effort with Syria on the Yarmuk River, and the underground water table at Disi in the south of the country. 

 

"These two projects will permit an increase in water resources of around 180 million cubic meters (6.4 billion cubic feet) and assure the country's needs in drinking water until 2020," said Jordanian university professor Elias Salameh. 

 

The Yarmuk and Disi projects "are the only options available for avoiding the serious shortage resulting from demographic growth and from the limited rainfall in recent years," Salameh added. 

 

Jordan has a population of five million people, which is growing at 2.8 percent a year. 

 

The financing for the Disi project is still up in the air, but Halwani said funding for the Al-Wehda dam, estimated to cost $210 million, has been locked in. 

 

The government has recently concluded accords with three development funds in the Islamic world to cover 90 percent of the cost, Halwani said. 

 

The Yarmuk River has its source in Syria and flows into Jordan. The dam will create a reservoir with a capacity of 220 million cubic meters (7.8 billion cubic feet), which will be equally shared by the two countries. 

 

The Disi project foresees pumping 80 million cubic meters (2.9 billion cubic feet) of water to the capital, Amman, through a pipeline 320 kilometers (200 miles) after being drawn from 82 wells. 

 

Amman is still counting on a promise from Libya a year ago to provide the $600 million needed for the Disi project. Halwani said that if this falls through, the government "remains determined to carry out the project as quickly as possible with the collaboration of the (Jordanian) private sector." 

 

In addition to these two projects, which are expected to take two to three years to complete, Salameh said desalination projects in the Jordan Valley are being considered, which could provide another 80 million cubic meters (2.8 billion cubic feet). 

 

To deal with near-term shortages, the government has been drawing on underground reserves that provide 24 million cubic meters (840 million cubic feet) of supplemental water. 

 

At the same time, Jordan hopes to buy extra water from Syria. In the meantime, the owners of private wells are able to make a killing. They have been charging customers as much as 7 dollars a cubic meter (35 cubic feet.) — (AFP, Amman) 

 

© Agence France Presse 2001

© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)

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