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US$600 million project to end water shortage

A map of Jordan and the surrounding region highlighting Desi Aquifer and the Red-Dead project. Google Maps

Jordan has launched a US$600 million project to pump water from its Disi aquifer in the south, signaling an end in sight to the kingdom's chronic water shortage, experts and government officials say.

[Read this story in Arabic]

A Turkish company named Gama was declared the winner of the project's bid, floated by the government to build pipelines and pumping stations to bring water up to 250km from Disi, on the Jordan-Saudi Arabia border, to Amman , the capital, and other cities.

The project will be executed on a BOT (build operate and transfer) basis, whereby the Turkish firm will sell water to Jordan for 40 years before handing the project to the Jordanian government.

The Disi water pipeline, to be completed within three years, will provide the kingdom with most of its water needs for decades, said a specialist.

"This is a very important moment in the history of the kingdom. We can say our problem with water, for now, is over," said Elias Salameh, a professor at the University of Jordan and a water specialist.

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Water experts have been urging the government to tap into the abundant resources of Disi aquifer in order to tackle Jordan's water shortage. This shortage has caused numerous humanitarian and environmental problems for the nation, such as crop failure and insufficient water supplies for citizen's personal needs. But the high cost of the project had deterred previous governments from taking action.

More action needed

Now, with the project green-lighted, Jordan's water problems will soon be solved but Salameh believes more action needs to be taken to end the crisis once and for all.

"By the time the Disi aquifer is emptied, a permanent solution to our water problem must be found," said Salameh. "The Disi project is a temporary solution. We must not relax; otherwise our water problem will increase with the swell in the population over the coming 20 years."

Jordan is already considering a number of costly projects to address its water shortage, including a multi-billion project to link the Dead Sea and the Red Sea with a 325km canal, water ministry officials have said.

''This is a very important moment in the history of the kingdom. We can say our problem with water, for now, is over.''

The Red-Dead project includes the establishment of a hydroelectric power generation plant and a desalination plant to provide the country with 850mcm (million cubic metres) of potable water a year. However, political and economic hurdles - such as the high cost of the project, around US$3 billion, and the fluctuating peace process between Israel and the Arab world - could prove difficult to overcome.

"If the Dead Sea-Red Sea canal fails, it would be best to build desalination plants on the Red Sea and pump it [water] to Amman," Salameh told IRIN.

Jordan's water problem

Jordan is considered among the 10 most water impoverished countries in the world, with per capita water consumption estimated at 170 cubic metres per annum, compared to an average of 1,000 cubic metres per annum in other countries, such as those in Europe.

There are no big rivers or lakes; the Jordan River and rain are the only sources of running water. According to Salameh, the Biblical river lost most of its water over the past three decades due to measures by Israel and Jordan to divert its tributaries for industrial use.

Photo: Maria Font de Matas/IRIN
Public officials say Jordan has been robbed of its fair share of surface water because neighbouring countries have helped themselves to the lion’s share of water from the Yarmouk and Jordan rivers
Salameh is relieved that the project has started, but he fears it will not be successful if existing large-scale farms in the area are not uprooted. There are tens of farms owned by former high-ranking officials with thousands of employees, the majority of them expatriates. The farms produce all kinds of fruits and vegetables on a large scale exporting most of their products to the Saudi and European markets.

"We will not be able to extract water from Disi with farms siphoning off the water. Scientifically speaking, we cannot do that because of underground pressure. We might end up losing everything," he said.

An official at the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, who preferred anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the government is considering revoking licenses for many farms in the area, but no decision has yet been taken.

Farms in the Disi area consume more than 80mcm a year, almost a third of Jordan's total consumption of 260mcm a year, according to research conducted by the water ministry.

''In Jordan, people use water less, meaning they clean themselves and their houses less than expected, which could lead to many illnesses.''
Citizens suffer

Because of Jordan's shortage of water, the government has resorted to several rationing programmes under which citizens receive water only one or two times a week.

These initiatives, which saw the government double the cost of water for citizens if they consumed more than a predetermined limit, is taking its toll on the health of the population, doctors say.

"Water is fundamental to the wellbeing of humans. In Jordan, people use water less, meaning they clean themselves and their houses less than expected, which could lead to many illnesses," said Salem Abdul Jabar, a pediatrician in Sweileh, one of the highly populated areas of Amman.

"After the water arrives in people's tanks, I believe many health issues that exist among children and others will vanish."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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