East/West divide: The barriers that separate us

Part 3

(Photo: Jordan News)
AMMAN — Water is the source of all life, nature’s driving force, it makes up three-fifths of the human body, and 71 percent of our planet.

A commodity of the greatest importance, potable water is also among the scarcest. Our arid country is a profound example of water scarcity and insecurity.اضافة اعلان

In the 1950s, the capital city was home to around 90,000 inhabitants. Today, the population is 24 times that, an estimated 2.18 million who live in Amman.

The influx of migrants and refugees to Jordan, including the arrival of well over a million Syrian refugees within the past decade, settling in the Eastern part of the city, increased population density dramatically which impacted the city’s service infrastructure.

The East/West divide in the city further solidified socio-economic barriers. 

Furthermore, when you consider that Jordan is the second most water-poor country in the world, it is inevitable that the allocation of water resources would not be evenly distributed particularly in parts that have a higher population density than others.

It is important to note that since 1987, the water supply of Greater Amman has been based on a system of rationing. 

According to Unicef, 98 percent of the population of the country has access to improved water sources, while 93 percent have access a safely-managed water source, and 86 percent have access to a piped network. 

A report released in March of this year, by Laboratory News dubbed "Jordan's water crisis should be a warning for the world" said that the current water crises will hit low-income neighborhoods the hardest. 

The report predicted that by 2100, 91 percent of households will receive less than 40 liters daily 11 out of 12 months a year.

It stressed that Jordan's low-income population will be experiencing critical water insecurity by the end of the century. Currently, the country's renewable water supply only meets half of the population's water needs. 

The data conveys a broad snapshot of the problem the Kingdom faces, but given that in urban areas, water is usually available once a week, and less than once every two weeks in rural areas, according to Unicef, there can be a general belief that the more disadvantaged parts of the city are disproportionately affected. 

Omar Salamah, spokesperson for the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, said that the supply of water to all neighborhoods is the same. “East Amman's supply does not differ from West Amman's supply. Water is available, there is no shortage of capacity. We adopt the one-course system once every week in all areas. So West Amman and areas like Dabouq have the same water distribution as any area in East Amman." Salamah said.  

Fahad Nabulsi visits Amman every summer. He stays at his family home in Dabouq for three months during the summer, the home is located right next to the Dabouq Water Tank. To him, the idea that water cuts are even an issue is surprising. Maybe due to his proximity to the water tank, and being in a more exclusive neighborhood, Fahad finds water shortages do not affect his part of Amman.

This year has seen an increase in demand for water resources, given that the rainy season was so short and had a low yield. The added demand for water from refugees, high summer temperatures, and the COVID 19 pandemic all combined to put added strain on water supplies Salamah said. 

"As a result of the lack of (sufficient) quantities, any minor shortages are met with the assumption that there isn’t enough water supply, but this is not true. Through our water rotation, all areas are serviced," Salamah said.

He said that overconsumption is something very minor that “we address immediately, and if water in an area gets cut off for any reason, we address it and water supply is restored immediately.” Salamah said that the time any area is without water is very short, but when the water supplied is restored it is done so slowly, and is seen wrongly as a water shortage in an area.

He stressed that there is no favoritism between one area or another in water supply.

A paper on water supply in Amman published by the Department of Economics, Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in 2015, noted that Amman's piped water supply is highly intermittent, and that households only receive piped water for a limited number of days a week, depending on their location.

The paper said that the intermittent supply leads households to adopt a variety of coping strategies, such as collecting water in rooftop storage tanks or using alternative water sources, depending on their socio-economic and geographic situation.

Aya, whose name was changed for privacy concerns, finds herself at or near the bottom of that socio-economic scale.

Aya, a resident of Tabarbour, told Jordan News that buying water from tanker trucks is a financial burden, as she is unemployed, and her household relies on just one source of income. 

"The day that we are scheduled to get our water, it usually does come on time, it’s often late, but we wait. A lot of people in this neighborhood complain about the inconvenience," Aya said, adding that the reason for the delay perplexes her. 

An alternative for those experiencing prolonged water cuts, is to fill their own storage wells by buying water from private tanker truck operators. 

Delays in water supply are a problem, Aya said, adding that if the water is late one week, residents usually have to wait till the next week to get water. That is when it becomes necessary to resort to filling empty tanks by buying water from private tanker trucks. 

“This can become very expensive for those of us with limited incomes. Let's say I have two tanks and I need to fill both, it's going to cost me JD40 a week for those two tanks, and I cannot do that," Aya said, who lives on an income ranging from JD200 to JD250. The added expenditure would exhaust well over half of her household earnings. 

The 2015 paper noted that piped water and water bought from private tanker trucks are quantitatively, the most significant source of residential water in urban areas. While it said that in rural areas, many households have access to private wells.

The dichotomy is glaring when comparing Aya's adverse circumstances to Sherrihan Abutayeh’s, who has been living in Naur since she got married three years ago, and never once had an issue regarding water or lack of it. 

"I have been living here for almost three years now, and water cutoffs are not something I ever get worried about because it very rarely even occurs in this area," Abutayeh told Jordan News.

A study was conducted to investigate patterns and habits of water usage among low-income neighborhoods in 2010. The study, titled “Issues of water supply and contemporary urban society: the case of Greater Amman”, found 24 percent of high-income households had the means to regularly buy water from water tanker trucks compared to just four percent of low-income households. 

"Domestic water storage capacity is one of the most significant inequalities existing between households in Greater Amman,” the study noted, adding that “within the urban area, storage is broadly related to income levels.” Storage of water is what influences the water consumption of families, the study found.

It found that for poorer households, the situation is more difficult as they struggle with smaller quantities of water they are able to store. The study concluded that access to water in sufficient quantities is linked to social status and influence. 

The above, is the third part of a weekly series titled: The East/West Divide: The Borders That Separate Us, on Jordan News. The fourth and last installment of the series will be released the following week. 

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