Experts urge COP28 action on water and agriculture

(File photo: Jordan News)
Jordan is one of the world’s most water-scare countries in the world. Being exacerbated by climate change, water scarcity is becoming one of the prominent issues in the country and the region. اضافة اعلان

This is attributed to changes in rainfall patterns, increased evaporation due to climate change, groundwater depletion, and growing water demand from population growth and economic activities.

Additionally, hosting a large number of refugees has further expanded the water scarcity crisis in the Kingdom.

The water scarcity crisis affects vital sectors such as agriculture, the economy, and public health, directly impacting food security, especially since the agricultural sector heavily relies on groundwater for sufficient food production. Moreover, climate change is expected to increasingly impact Jordan's water scarcity issue, particularly with rising evaporation rates and noticeable fluctuations in rainfall patterns due to climate change.

According to the farmer Basel Ramadneh, who works in the Jordan Valley, the situation for farmers in the region has worsened in recent years.

COVID-19 pandemic and the Russo-Ukrainian War have compounded the climate crises“Multiple factors, including global crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russo-Ukrainian War, have compounded with the climate crisis, exacerbating the challenges they face", Ramadneh told Jordan News.

This farmer said that the unusual heat waves that hit Jordan in the summer, and the unprecedented severe frost, snow, and heavy rain in the winter "lead to the destruction of crops that require moderate climatic conditions to mature".

Olive trees
Ramadneh noted that many farmers find themselves in dire straits, especially after the destruction of essential income sources such as olive trees.

This is expected to further strain natural water sources, as studies suggest an increased likelihood of more frequent droughts and reduced rainfall, intensifying the negative impact on water supplies in Jordan.

Water scarcity will affect the ability to farm effectively
Water, agriculture, and environmental experts interviewed by Jordan News stated that water scarcity will significantly affect the ability to farm effectively, posing a threat to meeting the population's food needs.

To address these challenges, comprehensive strategies are deemed necessary, including improving water management, raising awareness about water sustainability, investing in water desalination technologies, and developing alternative sources.

Given the continuous influx of refugees and increasing demand for food resources, the country's need for sustainable solutions to the water crisis and enhanced food resource management for food security is emphasized.

These remarks coincide with the 28th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCC in the United Arab Emirates, where a Jordanian delegation is participating in the Climate and Refugee Initiative launched by Jordan in the previous COP 27 conference in Sharm El Sheikh.

A global effort from Jordan
His Majesty King Abdullah initiated the Climate and Refugee Initiative at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 27) last year, leading a global effort from Jordan.

At that time, His Majesty emphasized the unique pressures faced by countries like Jordan, bearing the double burden of climate change and its resulting impacts, coupled with hosting a large number of refugees.

HM urged nations to endorse this initiative, aiming to prioritize support for host countries bearing the brunt of climate change, attracting around 60 participating countries.

Meanwhile, Minister of Agriculture Khaled Hneifat stated that climate change affects various aspects of livelihoods, particularly in Arab countries, including Jordan, situated on the edge of the desert.

A decrease in rainfall can contribute to an increase in disease and epidemics

The decrease in rainfall, according to the Minister, has broad implications for life in general, contributing to increased diseases and epidemics, affecting fodder and livestock.

He emphasized the government's efforts to mitigate these impacts, including expanding green spaces and the Million Trees Reforestation Project.

Furthermore, Hneifat highlighted the government's endeavors to revive pastures, unveiling an ambitious plan for water harvesting.

"Between 2022 and 2023, 115 earth dams were constructed, joined with the ongoing efforts involving financing water harvesting projects to secure water resources", the Minister told Jordan News.

"The government is actively seeking interest-free loans and grants for these initiatives", he added.

Jordan has witnessed an increase in floods, frost, and a sharp rise in temperaturesFurthermore, the Director-General of the National Center for Agricultural Research, Dr. Nizar Haddad, stated that Jordan has witnessed an increase in floods, frost, and a sharp rise in temperatures in recent years, placing significant burdens on the agricultural sector.

Haddad emphasized the need to increase water storage and alter soil composition, explaining that this would enhance water absorption within the soil.

He stressed that this approach would ensure the storage of a larger quantity of water, especially given the decrease in rainfall.

However, he noted that it would require substantial funding from international institutions, which prioritize financing studies rather than these types of projects.

Olive cultivation is a crucial source of income for Jordan’s agricultural sector

"Olive cultivation is a crucial source of income for Jordan's agricultural sector, and the country is self-sufficient in olive production. However, it has been notably affected by the decline in rainfall rates", Haddad told Jordan News.

He mentioned that the olive oil yield for this year was lower than in previous years, contributing to price increases.

"This has a direct impact on food security, particularly considering that olive oil is a staple for citizens", he said.

He cautioned against food security imbalances, highlighting that it's not only olive oil but also wheat, another essential and indispensable commodity, that has been affected according to his analysis.

Furthermore, Maysoon Al-Zoubi, who is the former Secretary-General of the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, told Jordan News that food insecurity has been on the rise, attributing a significant part of it to climate phenomena.

"Global warming affects weather patterns, leading to heatwaves, heavy rainfall, and droughts", she explained.

Zoubi noted that current methods of food production contribute significantly to this problem.

Recent estimates indicate that the global food system is responsible for about one-third of greenhouse gas emissions, second only to the energy sector.

It is also the leading source of methane and biodiversity loss. While increased temperatures and carbon dioxide can be beneficial to crops to a certain extent, rising temperatures also accelerate plant and soil evaporation. Additionally, sufficient water must be available for crop growth.

In regions already facing water scarcity, such as Jordan, Zoubi mentioned that the negative effects of climate change on agricultural production are increasing due to declining water supplies and an increase in extreme events like floods, severe storms, heat stress, and the spread of pests and diseases.

Zoubi emphasized that if this issue is not addressed, "the decline in crop yields will lead more people into the clutches of poverty".

Regarding proposed solutions, the former Secretary-General mentioned that it is possible to reduce emissions and enhance resilience, but doing so often requires significant social, economic, and technological changes.

One of these changes, according to Zoubi, is the more efficient and effective use of water, coupled with implementing policies to manage demand.

Additionally, utilizing advanced water accounting systems and technologies to assess available water, including soil moisture sensors and measurements of evaporation using satellite data, and transitioning to crops with lower water consumption to improve soil health, are key strategies.

When asked if Jordan has presented valuable initiatives at the ongoing COP28 in Dubai, Zoubi stated, "Jordan has presented initiatives, but not at the required level, although the need for it is high."

"In my opinion, we lack the knowledge and skills in Jordan needed to submit projects that meet all the requirements to secure appropriate funding from climate funds such as the Green Climate Fund and Adaptation Fund, among others related to climate change," Zoubi explained.

The former Secretary-General emphasized that maintaining food security remains a fundamental issue with deep structural roots.

Given Jordan's limited financial capabilities, it needs to reassess its strategies related to food supplies and accessibility.

Agricultural policies should consider available and sustainable resources, focusing on local agricultural production for domestic consumption and self-sufficiency rather than cash crops and excessive reliance on a narrow range of imports.

Simultaneously, according to Zoubi, restructuring the unsustainable support system is necessary, shifting the focus to needy categories rather than higher-income segments.

Cooperation between regional countries should be an integral part of these efforts, translating into mutual agreements on water consumption and other shared resources to ensure fair access and prevent conflicts.

The expert stressed the importance of increasing Jordan's research capacity through partnerships with regional and international organizations to adopt sustainable and innovative solutions.

This includes using clean technology to maximize crop yields, modern practices to enhance resource efficiency, reduce waste and costs, ultimately promoting food security, and creating demand for new technological jobs.

It is worth mentioning that Jordan is among the countries facing severe water scarcity globally, with an annual per capita water share of around 61 cubic meters.

Returning to the agricultural reality and farmers in Jordan, farmer Bassel Ramadneh emphasized that the government is obligated to implement long-term solutions to assist farmers, who are ultimately citizens.

Many of them can no longer bear the burdens of life or meet their commitments.

Supporting farmers and helping them continue their work and production is crucial, especially given the continuous challenging climatic conditions that lead many farmers to abandon agriculture.

The impacts of climate change not only affect farmers but also impact all citizens. As a result, vegetable and fruit prices will rise, making it difficult for many citizens, especially those with limited income, to afford essential goods like tomatoes.

 These economic challenges, combined with water scarcity, create a real challenge for citizens.

Ramadneh concluded, "We have always suffered from water scarcity, but I see that it has worsened in recent years, becoming a real challenge in the absence of serious solutions that could ease the lives of citizens, including those working in agriculture who may not be able to continue their work at all, necessitating long-term solutions."

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