A crumbling sewage system in the city of Zarqa, 30km east of Amman, could trigger the spread of diseases on a large scale, according to community leaders and residents.
[Read this report in Arabic]
"We warned officials at the Ministry of Water on several occasions that the city's sewage network is collapsing at a rapid pace under the mounting pressure of the population," city mayor Mohammad Ghweiri told IRIN.
The 20-year-old system can no longer effectively cater for Zarqa’s 1.2 million people, putting the lives of thousands at risk, he said.
"The situation here is a ticking bomb. Water supplies could be contaminated with dirty water at any moment and that would lead to a real catastrophe in this big city," said Ghweiri, who called for “immediate action”.
He criticised "the policy of temporary solutions to patch up broken pipes one at a time" and called for the revamping of the sewage network all around the city.
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Foul smells due to broken sewers - and perhaps also the lack of available water to keep systems flushed - have become common in various parts of the city, including the commercial area, where tens of thousands do their shopping.
Residents say streets flooded with effluent have become a common sight. Many say the situation has taken its toll on their children.
Sadiqa Zakout, a Palestinian refugee living in Gaana'a camp in the city centre, said many of her grandchildren had fallen ill: "When the children got ill with diarrhoea we thought it was the food, but the doctor told us the bacteria in their system was the kind that only lives in dirty areas." She said the camp's narrow streets were often flooded with sewage and her children were at risk of catching diseases.
Doctors in Al-Hawooz hospital, one of the biggest in the city, said the number of diarrhoea and fever cases among children was on the rise, but the same doctors refused to draw a connection between the symptoms and the sanitation problems.
"We have not done enough laboratory tests to determine if the cause of these cases is due to water contamination," said one of the doctors who refused to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the press.
Plans to replace sewage network
Officials at the Ministry of Water said a plan had been drawn up to replace the entire network by 2012 at a cost of US$275 million.
"The government has started implementing a project to renew the sewage network in the city. Currently a US$5 million renovation project is near completion," said Emad Moumani, head of Zarqa water department at the Ministry of Water.
The government also has a "hydraulic analysis" project designed to uncover leaks, he added.
Water experts say chronic water shortages and official policy to ration water are putting pressure on the sanitation system in general.
Elias Salameh, a professor at the University of Jordan who specialises in water issues, argued that the real problem is not so much the dilapidated sewage network, but rather the close proximity of the sewage network to domestic water supply lines, combined with irregular water pumping.
"If water is pumped nonstop, the pressure would not allow waste water to enter the network, but because the government is forced to cut water supply to twice a week, the network becomes vulnerable to waste water leakage," he told IRIN.
“The pressure on sanitation facilities is not only in Zarqa, but in all parts of the kingdom. Citizens are forced to use less water for cleaning, leading to the disposal of concentrated wastewater that… causes frequent blockages,” he said.
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