In previous years that I have attended the World Water Week in Stockholm I have never shed tears. This morning was the first time. Alongside the current media attention about Calais in France and the erection of fences to stop migration, or seeking of refuge in the UK, the people of Jordan face a situation on a completely different scale. Jordan’s problem deserves not only much more media attention, but also much more action – and not just short term action!
Having listened to Jordan’s Prime Minister Dr Abdulla Ensour speak yesterday, followed by the Minister of Water and Irrigation, Dr Hazim Elnaser today, talking with Emad Asyan from the Jordanian Government triggered the tears. Although I have never visited Jordan, I have admired the country from a distance for long. In particular for the immense hospitality of the Jordanians to those coming from other countries; those who have fled their homes in other nation states. Jordan has been taking in refugees and migrants for decades.
Over the last two days I have come to appreciate the scale of what is happening at the moment, and particularly what it means for water services, water resources and the people of Jordan. I am very afraid for the future if enough is not done now. The current Syrian crisis has increased Jordan’s population from 6.7 million to over 8.1 million people (perhaps more). That is an increase of 20%. Of these, 15% are estimated to live in camps, while the rest are hosted within communities in the country. And let us be reminded that Jordan has taken in an estimated 700,000 from Iraq since the 2003 conflict, not to mention those fleeing Yemen and Libya or before from Palestine.
OK, so why I am I writing a blog about Jordan on the Rural Water Supply Network’s site? And why the tears? It is because of the water scarcity and the danger of an unimaginable crisis. An increase of 20% of a country’s population in four years would strain the infrastructure of most places. But Jordan was not the wealthiest place in the world in the first place. The water infrastructure is buckling. I have been informed by the government that even in the beautiful city of Amman, that piped water is rationed. It flows down the pipes for 24 hours in one part of the city before being turned off and flowing to another. People get flowing water once a week, or one a fortnight. And not only in Amman.
Emad Asyan and Mohammad Al Dwairi of the Ministry of Water and Irrigation have explained to me that the people of Jordan know how to live with little water; how to wash a face with a tiny cup of water. And they have to know, because Jordan is the second most water scarce country in the world. Perhaps they will soon be in the number one spot. And now imagine a country with such water scarcity hosting so many refugees, so many migrants. The per capita water availability of this small country was 143m3 per person per year but is estimated to now be 120m3 per person per year. I am simply quoting the government.
The groundwater in many parts of the country is simply being over abstracted. More water is being taken out than is being replenished. There is no groundwater regulation, and I am told of parts of the country where borehole driling depths have gone from 250m to 500m in 20 years in order to keep on tapping sufficient water. Jordan’s Prime Minister and Minister for Water and Irrigation have clearly asked the international audience of the World Water Week in Stockholm for assistance. Not just help to feed or water those living in the refugee camps, but substantial support to build a “resilient water sector”; help to boost water infrastructure and rehabilitate networks. Not short term help or humanitarian assistance, but solid and reliable medium term support.
Who will take up the challenge? Who will support this country to avert a water crisis? Once the groundwater resources of the country are even further depleted what will become of Jordan, of this nation of hospitality? Will they be reduced to the next generation of migrants? What will they be called – “Jordan’s water migrants” or the “water refugees of Jordan”? I wait to see who gives this issue and this country the attention that it deserves, and I wait to see who will join hands to take action?
Will the voices from Jordan at the World Water Week in Stockholm in 2015 be heard and enable the country to build a “resilient water sector”?