Jordan: still the good host

As I mentioned a few months ago, Jordan is a relatively responsible water manager in the Middle East, but political instability in its neighbors has been constantly disrupting its well-laid plans for years.  The most recent disruption is a flood of refugees from the Syrian conflict (civil war?  I’m no diplomat.).  Trying to be an ethical host, Jordan has been delivering water supplies to the refugees via water tankers all summer, but at the cost of its own people, many of whom do not have reliable water supplies in the interim.  In light of no tap water supplies, Jordanians have been lamenting that they don’t live in the well-stocked Syrian refugee camps, some protesting about the lack of water for the past two months by burning tires, blocking roads, and seizing a Water Authority tanker.

The real problem is that without government tap water, the local Jordanians are forced to purchase water from either the Water Authority, if they’re lucky, at roughly $0.011/gallon, or private suppliers at roughly $0.032/gallon, which is prohibitive to many.  They wait for sufficient water pressure to wash clothes and take showers, although blips in the electricity supply can prevent municipal pumping, causing locals to miss their window of opportunity.  The good hosts continue to go without, in order to grant their guests a minimum of water supply.

Jordan could be nearing the point of frustration with guests that leads to drastic measures: violence against the unwanted guests, perhaps.  But more likely is a push for nuclear power to drive desalination plants and produce power.  Just what the Middle East needs…

yes but what will they drink?

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.