The third-largest country in the Arab world, Jordan is home to more than 9 million people. As climate change continues, drought and water scarcity are becoming increasingly common in Jordan. The government is turning to its neighbours for help to alleviate the effects, but Syria has refused to accept Jordan’s offer to buy and sell, denying it 30 million cubic metres of water at a time when the Kingdom desperately needs it.
As temperatures increase and rainfall becomes less predictable, droughts have become more frequent in Jordan. According to the National Adaptation Plan, the average annual rainfall in the country has declined over the last three decades, resulting in reduced surface and groundwater recharge. Jordan is a small country with limited renewable water resources, as well as limited capacity to store water. As a result, water scarcity is a major challenge, especially during the summer and the desertification process that occurs when arable land is transformed into a desert. Without urgent action, climate change will likely exacerbate Jordan’s water scarcity and desertification, which could have devastating effects on the economy and society.
The Jordan Valley’s 13 million acres are the most fertile part of the country. Farmers grow 80% of Jordan’s food and about half of its fruits, vegetables, and flowers there. But the Valley’s sand dunes have been expanding steadily toward the cultivation areas, and have now begun to devour the land itself. Farmers have been trying to hold back the advancing dunes with earthen dikes and berms. But those structures have been deteriorating, and the sand keeps coming. The dunes already have buried about 3,000 acres of farmland, and the World Bank estimates that about $300 million worth of crops is at risk. “We estimate that desertification could lose us another 500,000 acres by 2030,” says Dr Maher Hjouj, a soil scientist at Jordan University. “That would be a disaster.”
A large portion of Jordan’s water comes from the Disi aquifer, which sits just underneath the soil. Unfortunately, the water table has been dropping steadily since the 1950s, and its quality has been declining due to increased salinity. Water losses due to contamination are estimated at about 11% and rising. The drop in the water table has led to shortages in both urban and rural areas. Water from the aquifer is being used more quickly than it can be replenished by rainwater and runoff. The government is working with development organizations and the private sector to expand the country’s water infrastructure. The Disi aquifer is being treated to reduce salinity and increase its capacity for holding water.
As water shortages occur, Jordanians have begun facing higher rates of water pollution, especially in urban areas. The cost of water and wastewater treatment is also rising, as is the amount of energy required to run water systems. These trends indicate that there is a growing strain on Jordan’s water resources and a reduction in the availability of clean water. In order to anticipate water resource problems and reduce water pollution, Jordan is upgrading its water supply and wastewater systems. The government is also working on sustainable water resource management, which includes ensuring reliable water sources and protecting the quality of water against pollution.
In 2008, the Jordanian government started working with the World Bank on a “National Program for Adapting to Climate Change.” The program’s goals were to assess the country’s vulnerability to climate change and to develop strategies for adapting to those changes. A large part of the program focused on the water since it’s the resource that most threatens Jordan. The country’s Water Authority has been working to protect the water supply and reduce pollution. And farmers have been installing new types of water-saving irrigation systems.
Jordan is one of the Arab world’s most important countries, both for its central position in the region and for its history and culture. The country has had to contend with a number of challenges in recent years, including increased desertification and drought, which have threatened its agriculture and water supply. As climate change continues, these and other threats to Jordan’s natural resources will only increase in severity and frequency. If the country is to remain viable in the long term, it will have to find ways to adapt to these challenges, and it will need the assistance of other countries and organizations to do so.
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