Abandoned reservoirs in Jordan’s increasingly parched summers

(Design: Jordan News)
AMMAN — Jordan ranks as the second water-poorest in the world, yet it fails to save the abundant amounts of rainwater that fall in winter to avoid thirst during its long dry summer. This past winter, the Kingdom recorded downpours reaching 79 percent of its annual rainfall average, that is approximately 6,436.3 million cubic meters. Despite this, Jordan’s Minister of Water and Irrigation Mohammad Najjar warned that “the summer of 2022 will not be safe in terms of water security”.اضافة اعلان

In an attempt to benefit from rainfalls, Article 33/E of the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) code organizing the construction of buildings in urban and rural areas set the conditions for obtaining building construction permits, requiring the inclusion of rainwater harvesting reservoirs in any residential or commercial building.

This, however, has not been implemented, and as a result, water kept getting cut off in different parts of the Kingdom and, often, wells slowly became merely abandoned holes in the ground.

Virtual wells

According to Bader Al-Khatib, a contractor at a housing development company, GAM is tasked with overseeing the implementation of the building codes as part of its cities and villages organization and management. GAM, Khatib said, carries out field inspections usually, ensuring that reservoirs are incorporated in the building construction, as required.

Khatib claims that the oversight task ends when the building is completed and delivered in line with the conditions set to obtain the permit. Operating the reservoirs and making use of them is the responsibility of apartment residents. Khatib attributes the failure to use water harvesting reservoirs to the citizens’ preference for individual water storage tanks that are private, instead of sharing the water harvesting reservoirs. He believes that, often, it is not possible to agree on a fair sharing mechanism of the harvested water among the residents. 

Zaid Rababa chose to operate the water harvesting reservoir he had built in his building, hoping to make it an enticing factor for potential buyers or tenants. He agreed with his neighbors that the largest share of the reservoir water would go to those who reside on the ground floor, because they need to water the green space surrounding the building. The same applies to the residents of the top floors, since the national water distribution system does not often reach their taps and storage tanks due to the weak pressure and slow pumping system.

Rabab’a believes that some people in the construction business add the water harvesting reservoir to the main construction plans, but rarely complete building them due to the high cost involved in the large quantities of iron and cement for insulation to prevent leakage. The total cost of constructing a water harvesting reservoir could reach JD6,000 when the price of a regular rooftop tank does not exceed JD50.

‘We do not know that there is a well’

A poll conducted on 58 people had a questionnaire to determine their level of awareness regarding water harvesting reservoirs; 74 percent of the respondents said they were not aware that they had water harvesting reservoirs in their buildings or that they could benefit from rainwater and 79 percent thought that there was an opportunity to harvest the water and use it through cleaning the rooftops and connecting the necessary infrastructure to benefit from the reservoirs (where available). The harvested water could then be filtered and used for drinking and irrigation purposes, especially if the public water company supplies were interrupted in the summer months.

Water management expert Rakad Taani believes that there is a failure to coordinate, among all concerned authorities, due to lack of qualified inspectors and of awareness-raising campaigns or guidelines about rationing water use in general.

Taani believes that water shortage in the Kingdom is due not to the scarce volumes of water available only, but also to its poor quality, which makes it unfit for human consumption.

Rainwater lost in Jordan due to evaporation reaches a staggering 92.5 percent, while annual underground water refill does not account for more than 3–5 percent of the total rainfall registered annually in the Kingdom. Therefore, Taani believes there is an urgent need to activate the system in place for rooftops water harvesting.

Water harvesting

Water harvesting entails collecting rainwater from rooftops and transferring it to tanks above or below the ground for domestic use after necessary basic treatment or simply boiling it (in some cases).

Studies on water drainage from rooftops in the Greater Amman area were conducted in 1997. According to Ta’ani, the estimates showed that an average rooftop area of 95 square meters is usually capable of providing an average of 16 liters of clean water per capita per day.

Taani is calling for the enforcement of existing laws regulating the use of rainwater gathered from rooftops through specific scientific methods under the supervision of specialists. Construction of buildings without operating water harvesting wells should not be allowed.

The percentage of rainfall in Jordan varies across the various regions every year. The period between December and March registers about 80 percent of the annual rainfall in the country, with an average of more than 8,500 million cubic meters over the total 92,000 square kilometers that make up Jordan.

Raghad Saber lives in Irbid with her family of three. She used to buy water from water purification stations despite the heavy downfalls registered annually in her region. She decided to think outside the box to secure the necessary water for her family consumption due to her concerns over irregular national water supply, poor cleanliness and storage issues.

She bought two water tanks with a capacity of 2,000 liters each to place them in her yard. She asked a professional plumber to drill two holes in the roof of the house and to install pipes leading to the tanks. She would clean the rooftop at the beginning of every rainy season.

“Often, during January and February, when there is a heavy cold front, I open the tanks, so they get filled with water. I place clean cotton fabric on the openings to filter the incoming water. The tanks fill up within a few hours usually, and as the water settles in the tank in few days, it is ready to drink as pure water,” Saber says.

GAM spared no efforts in publicizing its instructions for water reservoir construction. According to the director of buildings at GAM, Ziad Abu-Orabi, green construction and water harvesting have been highlighted in all meetings and discussions at conferences, and at the engineers’ syndicate.

Abu-Orabi stressed that the last resort was to penalize building owners for failing to construct and provide fully operational harvesting reservoirs. The fine could amount to 10 percent of the cost of a building permit fee, or a minimum penalty set at JD100.

Abu-Orabi says that the fines imposed are low in comparison to the cost of constructing a water harvesting reservoir, which is why many Amman inhabitants continue to suffer due to frequent water supply interruptions and await real solutions to solve the water shortage problems in the summer.

This article was contributed to Jordan News by Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ).

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