Stories of Water Scarcity in Jordan

Hiba Abu Al Rob, Majd Jayyousi, Khaled Abu Ajwa, and Rashed Al Nasa’a

The water situation in Jordan is in need of dramatic changes to ensure positive outcomes in national water resource management. Already nearing crisis levels, it is estimated that any slight change in current levels or quality of water will have a significant effect on agriculture, industry, nutrition, health and ultimately the security of the Kingdom.

This is a story that everyone has heard before. It is a story at the heart of Jordan’s neighborhoods and villages where ramifications are felt every day, affecting the lives of thousands of individuals. Men and women, both young and old, have learned the meaning of water scarcity the hard way, as places and communities they call home have transformed into daily battlegrounds of uncertainty and disappointment. To tell the story of water in Jordan, one would travel far and wide, yet this is an attempt to tell the story through  three tales of struggle, determination, and success in facing one of the biggest challenges this century.

The fields surrounding the village of Al Mughayyir, in northen Jordan, bear witness to the effect of water scarcity which has created a shift in the social pattern of local villages, with many abandoning agriculture and farming and moving to neighboring cities. Photo Copyrights Mohammad Asfour

Chapter 1:    Water Wise Women Initiative
Location:  Zarqa, Sheikh Hussein, Kafrein, Salt and Madaba

In a country the ranked 4th poorest in water resources per capita, various initiatives are continuously created to tackle the issue of water scarcity. This story aims to shed light on one initiative which attempts to build women’s capacity as change agents in community and domestic water conservation and management and to stress on the importance of behavioral change.

The Water Wise Women Initiative (WWWI) was created in 2007 to develop a long-term sustainable mechanism of effective water use at household and community levels, through demonstrating the impacts of behavioral change campaigns and the contribution of women to enhance living conditions in their local communities and neighborhoods. The initiative’s main focus was to develop a sustainable mechanism for transform the knowledge of water scarcity challenges in Jordan to actual saving and management mechanisms. Its key challenge was to be able to create a non-monetary incentive system that will keep the women actively involved and positively influencing their community’s water issues on the long run.

10 to 15 water-wise women were identified and trained from each of the nine communities -with an actual total number of 135- each representing a distinctly different area with its specific water related needs and problems. The women were trained in a number of diverse modules or topics that cover areas that are relevant to the water sector in Jordan including:

  • Water saving and efficient use on the level of each household
  • The relationship between water users and governmental, non-governmental, and private sector providers
  • Grey-water reuse and rain water harvesting
  • Water for house- gardening and agriculture
  • Water resources protection
  • Plumbing and water storage
  • Marketing and communication

Between 1985 and 2004 Jordan’s total water use increased by more than 27%, from 639 Million Cubic Meters (MCM) to 810 MCM, yet water use for municipal or domestic purposes showed the highest increase in average annual water consumption growing by 71% from 153 to 262 MCM. Domestic and Municipal water use also accounted for more than 32% of total water use and 36% of fresh water use. Historically, the official approach towards water resources management in the Kingdom has tended to be supply driven; where in the occurrence of a shortage, the solution usually involved the capital investment in new water supply projects. A shift from the traditional supply oriented approach towards one of water conservation and demand management was deemed essential for the sustainability of water resources, as well as economic efficiency and social development.

In order to address this, a National Water Strategy was developed in 1997 which included water demand strategies across domestic, agricultural, and industrial sectors. The strategy’s program for the municipal sector aimed at achieving greater efficiency in residential, municipal, and commercial use of water through tariff structuring to promote water conservation, increasing water awareness through water media campaigns, private sector participation in management of supply systems, and promoting water conserving landscaping and the use of grey water. In response, many of the topics covered in the WWWI training helped promote domestic water demand management using an easily-replicable approach. The training modules were also continuously revised and updated to meet arising needs of communities. They were also documented, archived and made available for reference and training in other locations.

After completing the training, regular meetings were conducted with the WWWI to further work on the issue of sustainability. It was envisaged that for the WWWI Trainees to sustain their role as agents of change they must achieve a concrete benefit -either through heightened social standing in their community or additional income. Thus the sustainability of the initiative was designed to be achieved through water-related income-generating projects that empower the trained women (socially and financially) with respect to their work as agents of water awareness in their communities.

Historically, water awareness campaigns in Jordan were generally short-term project-initiated activities, which did not focus on concrete behavioral change. Evaluation of campaign effectiveness were used to measure the change in awareness and knowledge achieved, rather than in concrete behavior. The Water Wise Women Initiative attempts to address the shortcomings of previous campaigns by establishing a community based pool of knowledge on efficient and protective water management at household and community levels.  The WWWI trainees act as agents and multipliers for behavioral change within their families and in their immediate social environment by becoming qualified to provide concrete, appropriate, and workable advice on water management and conservation issues to fellow women and other concerned members of their community. They also serve as a link to the government, to donors that support water initiatives, and to private sector providers of water saving, harvesting, and reuse technologies.

The WWWI initiative was made possible through the help and support of several local and international organizations including the Jordan Hashemite Fund for Human Development and the German International Cooperation.

Um Tareq from the Ein Rahoub Women Association explains the role of women in the village in promoting water conserving behavior and practices. As evident from her story and that of the Water Wise Women Initiative (WWWI), it is clear that women play a vital role in safeguarding one of the country’s most precious natural resources. Photo Copyrights: Mohammad Asfour

Chapter 2:     An Issue of Reuse – The Village of Wahadneh
Location:  Khirbet Wahadneh, Ajloun

Al Wahadneh village is yet another part of Jordan suffering the consequences of increasing water shortages. Located just a few kilometers away from Ajloun city, at a distance, one may observe a simple rural village, but on closer inspection; particularly if one examines the village’s school and the adjacent mosque, a micro model of a society adopting sustainability and optimizing their water usage can be found.

In 2009, the Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development in cooperation with the German International Cooperation targeted this village for developing a grey water treatment system to reuse the water produced by the girls’ school drinking and hand washing area in addition to the ablution water at the mosque nearby. The water consumed by approximately 700 students and faculty at the village girls schools and that of the mosque prayer attendees which averages around 70 per day and reaches 150 on Fridays, is channeled to irrigate the nearby school owned orchard. The approximate amount of water reused from the school was estimated at 200 cubic meters.

The water collected from the school and the mosque is run through a mesh filter where it is separated from particles and residuals. The water is then diverted to a 28 square meters wetland-like reed bed, which is filled with a two layers of gravel. The reed bed can receive an influx of 2-4 m3 a day depending on the extent of the pollution of the water. Reed is planted in every square meter on the surface of the wetland to improve the treatment process by encouraging nitrogen and other nutrients uptake and by transporting of oxygen into the bed. The reed bed is low cost,  low energy, and needs minimal operational handling. After the water has been treated, it flows into a perforated barrel that has a self-priming barrel fixed on top of it, which functions as a pump to direct water into the orchard for irrigation

As a result of this water treatment process, the amount of waste water discharged into the local cesspools decreased, thereby reducing their effects on public health, the surrounding environment, and biodiversity of the area. As a result of the process, the orchard is now considerably larger than it was before and the quantity and the quality of its produce is expected to improve due to increased quantities of irrigation, which may generate additional income to the school which sells the fig and olive produce. In addition to conservation of water through reusing approximately 200 cubic of school water, the school will save 25 Jordanian Dinars a month by saving 7 cubic meters of water that was previously purchased from the municipality. Furthermore, the school will also benefit from a reduction in operational expenses due to the decrease in the frequency at which the cesspools need to be emptied.

Historically, water conservation methods have been practiced in Jordan. Harvesting of rainwater was used to provide water that is suitable for various domestic and irrigation uses. A number of  historical examples that incorporate effective water harvesting systems have survived to this day. These include the cut-stone reservoirs of the Nabatean city of Petra, as well as the underground cisterns found in the country’s seventh and eighth century Umayyad desert palaces, the Crusader period castles such as those in Ajloun, Karak, and Shobak, and traditional village houses of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  More recently, a 1999 report by the Center for Development Research estimated that 60% of households in Amman and 30% in rural Jordan reused water within the household.

Due to low per capita water usage in Jordan, the overall potential for grey water reuse is more limited than in other countries since there is not as much grey water around to begin with. This is particularly the case for moderate to low income families whose household water is supplied from a 1 – 2 cubic meter storage tank which must serve the household for up to 6 days, and where municipal water supply only operates for a limited time each week. Overall, this leads to more concentrated grey water effluent, although insufficient water quality data for Jordan has been found to support this. The limited water supply is therefore one of the best sources of encouragement to water conservation, particularly for moderate to low income families, but it may preclude against the economically feasible reuse of grey water.

Jordan’s water shortage problem calls for the undertaking of sustainable water systems throughout the Kingdom, and enforcing regulations that would encourage the efficient use of water and preservation. The successful utilization of grey water treatment systems in Al-Wahadneh rural village, albeit limited to two buildings, demonstrated that it is technically feasible and econmically viable. It also suggests that it can be replicated and scaled to solve water issues on larger scales.

The young always have a story to tell, and it is usually one of struggle and hope at the same time. In Al Mughayyir village, water scarcity has had its toll on the future of many of the village’s younger generation, who have been forced to move to nearby cities in search of more secure jobs and career opportunities away from agriculture. Photo copyrights: Mohammad Asfour

Chapter 3:     Ein Rahoub – When Springs Fail
Location:  Al Mughayyir Village, Irbid

Located about 5km northeast of the city of Irbid in the north of Jordan, Ein Rahoub spring has a discharge of approximately 200,000 m3 per year. The spring is a vital source of drinking water supply of the hilly village of Mughayyir which has a population of 16,000 people and an average family size of 7 persons. Over the past few years, the spring has experienced several incidents of bacteriological contamination from farms located just 1 km upstream, which necessitated that the spring was to be shut down. Those incidents have also had detrimental environmental effects on the surrounding environment and posed a serious health threats in a community already strained by water shortages.

Water delivery from the spring to the village is currently limited to one delivery per week compared to three days per week almost ten years ago. This was compounded by a general lack of awareness about water saving techniques and appropriate water conservation behavior. Furthermore, the shortage of water in the village over the past few years has had a direct effect on the size of agricultural land compared to what existed decades ago, forcing farmers to change cropping patterns or abandon agriculture altogether and seek other opportunities in cities like Irbid, Jarash, and Amman.

With agriculture consuming 64% of Jordan’s water resources, it is by far the main water consumer in Jordan. Yet agriculture is only sustainable in the rain fed areas of the highland and the Jordan Valley. Agricultural activities in the remaining cultivated land in the highlands (Approximately 60,000 hectares) and the Jordan Valley (Approximately 40,000 hectares) consumed 600 MCM of irrigation water in 2005. Currently, surface water and groundwater each provide 40% of irrigation needs with the remaining 20% sourced from treated waste water.

Jordan’s water requirement ratio, an overall measure for water efficiency, currently stands at 38%, a low figure that can be attributed to inefficient irrigation methods as well as growing low-value water intensive crops, resulting in higher consumption rates and lower contribution to the economy. In 2010 agriculture contributed a mere 3% to Jordan’s gross domestic product.

Nowadays, and despite all the hardships due to water shortages, the community of Mughayyir has a high sense of responsibility towards water and is willing to cooperate with institutions to increase their level of knowledge about water conservation. Approximately 10% of the residents have already constructed water harvesting wells to store water during the rainy season for use later during times when water supply is rationed or shut down due to lack of sufficient quantities of water or deteriorated water quality due to contamination. The local women association is playing a key role in the local community by promoting water conserving behavior and the use of underground water harvesting wells in each household, starting as early as the elementary schools in the area where students engage in activities to raise awareness towards the importance of water conservation.

Dirdah Al Odat, an elder of the village of Al Mughayyir in the north of Jordan reflects and engages in discussion with stakeholders about the future of his village which suffers from scarcity and pollution problems affecting the main ground spring, Ein Rahoub, the main water lifeline for 16,000 of the village’s inhabitants. Photo copyrights: Mohammad Asfour

The Next Chapter

Our journey in this story took us to three quite different places with one common denominator and one lesson learned: the challenge of water scarcity in Jordan is one that requires the effort and initiative of every citizen at all levels, creating simple success stories that could be replicated on a larger scale to address one of the most pressing environmental challenges of the century. This challenge has recently been compounded by a complex regional geopolitical situation and requires more stories to be told to highlight other environmental, economic, social and cultural issues that may hold the key to its mitigation. The next chapter in Jordan’s water story is yet to be written and one can only hope that it will bring it a light of hope for tomorrow’s generations.

Hiba Abu Al Rob is a senior water and environment specialist with a Master’s degree from the University of Jordan. Majd Jayyousi holds a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering and is about to commence Masters studies in Engineering Systems and Managementat at the Masdar Institute. Khaled Abu Ajwa holds a B.Eng in Electrical Engineering from McGill University. Hiba Abu Al Rob, Majd Jayyousi, and Khaled Abu Ajwa are all Carboun Ambassadors in Jordan. Rashed Al Nasa’a is a senior architect and sustainable design consultant based in Amman. He is the National Coordinator for the Carboun Initiative in Jordan.

To discuss this article please join Carboun’s vibrant discussion group on Linkedin. For news and updates on sustainability from around the region, join Carboun’s Facebook page or follow its Twitter feed

Comments are closed.