Farmers on the banks of the Zarqa River are irrigating their crops with polluted water, threatening the wellbeing of thousands of citizens, environment officials said on Sunday.
“The river has turned into a sewage canal, attracting flies and other insects. All forms of wildlife have disappeared, including fish and frogs,” said Ministry of Environment spokesman Eesa Shboul, who urged farmers to refrain from irrigating their crops with water from the river. “Communities now face appalling health conditions because the contaminated water enters the food-chain, while helpless farmers ignore the warnings.”
The 72km-long river passes through the capital Amman on its way to the eastern city of Zarqa –the kingdom’s two most populous cities – before reaching the King Talal Dam in the north. Along the way, thousands of acres of agricultural land are fed by the river’s polluted waters. Pollution in the river is attributed mainly to massive chemical spills from factories upstream and wastewater from sewage networks.
“Disease is spreading among citizens who live on the banks of the river because they eat food grown in nearby farms,” said Dr Abdul Rahman Agha, who has been treating cases of diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections, mostly among children, in a government-run hospital in Zarqa. The two ailments are the leading causes of child mortality in the world, according to the World Health Organization.
Agha went on to warn that children were particularly prone to catching the diseases through direct contact with water. “If we had access to clean water, the lives of many children could be saved,” he said.
Government officials, meanwhile, say they are working on a major campaign aimed at improving the river’s water quality. “We’ve recently documented the sources of pollution in order to tackle the problem,” said Shboul. “And we’ve also conducted field studies in order to install two water purification plants.”
Shboul added that the ministry had begun imposing a tough monitoring policy aimed at punishing factories that are found dumping toxic materials into the river. Last month, several factories were given final warnings, he explained, vowing to have the factories closed down in the event of repeated violations.
In the meantime, residents living close to the river must contend with foul odours virtually around the clock while keeping a close eye on their children. “We can’t open the windows or sit on the balcony anymore,” said Sadiqa Zaqat, a 65-year-old woman from Wadi al-Hajar on the bank of the river. “In the summer, the smell of sewage forces us to become prisoners in our own homes.”
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