Anyone out there ever had unexpected house guests? You’ve got your plan for the evening, maybe just enough food for yourself or your family, and surprise, there’s an old friend at the door. You try to play it cool and look like it’s no inconvenience, praying that you have enough in the fridge and maybe an extra bottle of wine or couple of beers to be hospitable. It’s a tight position.
In the Middle East, Jordan is a relatively responsible water manager. Limited in water supplies, the country’s population growth has stalled and development has been relatively well planned to balance ecological needs with human needs. But Jordan has a lot of unstable neighbors, and therefore tons of unexpected, unplanned-for guests in the form of refugees. Palestinians escaping Israel account for one third of the country’s 6.5 million people, plus they took on influxes of Iraqis in 1990 and 2003 (roughly 450,000 remain), and today, they are the refuge for many Syrians. In an effort to meet the unexpected extra demand, the country started tapping its main aquifer in the 1980s for the Palestinians, and briefly stopped the extraction for ecological purposes (save the wetlands!) but could not supply the refugees without it.
Now the Azraq aquifer declines approximately 1 m annually, as about 56 million cubic meters are annually withdrawn; the aquifer can only naturally support 20 million cubic meters of annual withdrawal. Taps in Amman run dry in the summer, and the declining levels are increasing the groundwater’s mixing with a deeper saline reservoir, so that the remaining groundwater is saltier and saltier. Jordan is trying its best to do the right thing — take care of the refugees, preserve the wetlands, supply everyone with water, and get the withdrawals back in balance with natural recharge. Jordan already recycles its wastewater for indirect potable reuse, it has plans for desalination, and it’s trying to get local people and neighbors on board with water plans. So type A. But it won’t last forever if these refugee surges keep coming…I’m guessing they wish their neighbors would all just get along.