Water Issues in Hashemite Jordon

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

THE WATER ISSUES THAT JORDAN has been facing and will face are outlined. Most of them stem from the imbalance in the population-water resources equation. The imbalance has been due to surges in population levels and a high rate of natural growth on the one hand, and to the trespassing of the neighbors against Jordan's rightful water share in international watercourses on the other. The impact of this imbalance is briefly reviewed in environmental, economic, social and public health dimensions, and viable options to augment the water resources of Jordan are presented. The impact of the historical developments in water legislation and institutional arrangements is presented and proposals made to enhance the institutional set up and the administration environment.

BACKGROUND

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, declared independent in 1946, is vastly arid territory. Bound by Iraq and Saudi Arabia to the east. Palestine and Israel to the west, Syria to the north and Saudi Arabia to the south, the country is about 92% arid, and the agricultural land does not exceed 400,000 hectares, with only half that area on the average cropped each year due to uncertainty of rainfall. The country receives about 8.5 BCM, [1] of which an estimated annual quantity of a little over half a billion can be economically harnessed.. Thus the loss to evaporation if substantial and is estimated at about 94% of the annual precipitation. However, part of that evaporation occurs in the form of transpiration yielding grass that benefits livestock for a short period in spring. Another quarter million is available to the Kingdom from an international watercourse, the Yarmouk, which is the largest tributary to the Jordan. The Jordan, an international river, is totally used upstream before it approaches the Kingdom's borders with Israel. It is more like a drain for agricultural drainage water and other wastewater.

The government has invested handsomely in the development of its water resources. Dams have been built with a total capacity of about 160 MCM, and more are under construction. It also invesd in the development of irrigation infrastructures in the Jordan Valley, north and south of the Dead Sea, bringing some 35,000 hectares under perennial irrigation. The waters of the tributaries to the Jordan River and the Dead Sea are being utilized almost to their limits. No part of the Jordan River flow has been used by the Kingdom since 1964, the year that Israel began to control the outflow of the river from Lake Tiberias.

One wonders why the Kingdom, named after the holy and eternal Jordan River, does not use any of its water; and the answer to that is simple. The Kingdom draws its water rights on the Jordan directly from its tributaries before they discharge into the river. There is convenience in such an arrangement. It saves on energy cost that would otherwise be incurred if the water were to be pumped from the river, and, more importantly, the water, tapped from the tributaries, is of a superior quality to that of the Jordan river itself. The water quality in the course of the Jordan River after it leaves Lake Tiberias has deteriorated progressively since 1964, the year the flow out of Tiberias was stopped under the Israeli plan that diverted a good part of the river flow to the coastal areas and the Negev in Israel. The deterioration of the water quality is due to two reasons with cumulative effect. The first is the depletion of the freshwater flow in the river out of Lake Tiberias by virtue of Israel's diversion and oth er consumptive uses, and the second is the diversion to it of water of degraded quality. Saline water springs, naturally discharging into Lake Tiberias, and municipal and industrial wastewater, have all been diverted by Israel to discharge into the river course south of the lake. Additionally, the agricultural drainage water in the river basin on both the Jordanian and the Israeli sides, finds its way to the river course, thus adding to the environmental degradation of its waters. …