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News Jordan: Water contamination incidents highlight water shortage problem

Thousands of Jordanians have been rushed to hospitals over the past few months suffering from illnesses related to water contamination in villages and towns across the kingdom. Experts fear the worst is yet to come unless a lasting solution is found to the kingdom's water shortages.

Last July, nearly 1,000 people from a village near the northern city of Mafraq were rushed to hospital suffering from severe diarrhoea and high fever caused by a parasite, Cryptosporidium, which, specialists said, made its way into the local water system. Investigations showed the source of the disease was the worn out water network supplying the town. On 28 October, another town, Sakib, near the Roman city of Jerash, saw at least 400 people rushed to hospital complaining of the same symptoms. The government tried to blame a small local restaurant for selling spoiled food, but residents insisted the reason was contaminated water.

Jordan is one of the most water-impoverished countries in the world. An average Jordanian consumes 170 cu. m. a day compared to 1,000 cu. m. used by citizens in water-rich countries. With 92 percent of the land being desert, Jordan relies on rain and underground water to supply its 5.6 million people. In addition to the worn out water network, over-exploitation of some 2,000 wells, half of which were illegally constructed, is exacerbating the problem. Figures from the Ministry of Water and Irrigation show that at least 45 percent of the water in the supply network is lost due to leaks.

The government is implementing a strict water rationing programme, pumping water to households only once or twice a week. Water experts say a combination of the degenerated water supply network and irregular water pumping are the main reasons for water-borne illnesses. The government has an ambitious project to pump water from Disi Aquifer in the south to Amman. This project will see water pumped 300km from beneath the mountains of Wadi Rum to the capital, where it will be sold to citizens at "an affordable price”. But this project is still in its early stages. Studies show it will take at least five years to complete. Former Minister for Water Hazzem Nasser said the project was not practical and that the costs would be too high.

Another project involves linking the Dead Sea with the Red Sea by a 250-km long canal, and constructing a desalination station. Officials from the Ministry of Water say such a project is the only viable solution to end this conundrum. A feasibility study is being conducted by an international consortium funded by the World Bank to determine the US$5 billion project's feasibility and its impact on the environment.

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News type Inbrief
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Keyword(s) water shortage, water contamination
Geographical coverage Jordan
News date 19/11/2007
Working language(s) ENGLISH