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News Jordan: Declining rainfall, population growth spur search for water

Declining rainfall levels in water scarce and debt-ridden Jordan, the population of which is growing rapidly, have given further urgency to the search for alternative water sources.

Jordan captures and utilizes 90 percent of its rainfall, but climate change has led to decreasing levels of precipitation, particularly over the past two years, environmentalists say.

In 2008-2009, eastern areas of the kingdom saw sharp declines in rainfall, said an official at the Jordan Meteorological Department who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

"There is some evidence of climate change affecting levels of rain, but it is very difficult to say for sure as we need a longer period of time to compare rates of rainfall," the official told IRIN.

There are no major rivers in the country apart from the River Jordan, which has been steadily depleted over recent decades, leaving just a stream separating Jordan from the West Bank. As the kingdom has no lakes or renewable sources of water, the country relies on rain and non-renewable underground aquifers for two-thirds of its water.

One third of its water needs are pumped to it by Israel as part of the 1994 Wadi Araba Treaty (also known as the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace). The water is pumped to Zai plant before being treated and sent to Amman and nearby cities.

But after a scandal in the late 1990s when the government of former Prime Minister Fayes Tarawneh was sacked amid rising public fury over its mishandling of a water contamination scandal which originated from the Israeli supply, the authorities were forced to look into alternative and sustainable water resources.

Nedal Hadadin, a water scientist at Jordan's government-run University of Balqa, said the significant drop in rainfall levels was a result of climate change caused by humans. It is "triggered by a depleted ozone layer", he said.

Hadadin fears the reduction in rainfall will only get worse as a more unpredictable climate continues to change rain patterns.

One alternative proposed for years has been to pump water out of the Disi Aquifer in the south. Experts say the water basin has enough fresh water to satisfy Jordan for more than 100 years.

However, political and financial obstacles have stalled the idea until recently.

Saudi Arabia and Israel, which share the aquifer with Jordan, were concerned that taking water from it would reduce their water reserves.

But the project was given the go-ahead in 2008 after Jordan managed to persuade its neighbours of the importance of the initiative to the kingdom's water security. An agreement between the government and Turkish company Gama was reached to launch the Disi project at a cost of US$800 million, paid for through loans from various organizations, including the World Bank.

In August 2009, Gama started work on the project in the Wadi Rum area of southern Jordan.

Jordan's minister of water, Raed Abu Saud, said residents of Amman could receive fresh water from the Disi aquifer by 2012, much earlier than anticipated.

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News type Inbrief
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Source of information Irin News - © IRIN 2009.
Geographical coverage Jordan
News date 30/09/2009
Working language(s) ENGLISH