Jordan needs disciplined strategy to address water scarcity, says expert to Rotarians

WhatsApp Image 2023-05-07 at 11.02.09
(Photos: Amman International Rotary Club)
AMMAN — Water and agriculture expert, Theib Oweis, called on the government to implement a well-disciplined national strategy to combat the effects of the Kingdom’s difficult water situation. اضافة اعلان

Speaking at the Amman International Rotary Club on May 3rd, Oweis warned that Jordan is facing water scarcity difficulties that require immediate action.

Water scarcity and its impactDespite Jordan receiving an average of 8 billion cubic meters of rainwater annually, most of it is lost in evaporation, with over 80 percent lost this way. Only 500 million cubic meters of water recharge groundwater aquifers, and 400 million cubic meters flow as surface runoff.

Per capita, Jordan's annual water availability is now below 100 cubic meters, making it one of the lowest four globally in terms of water availability. Irrigated agriculture is losing about 1 percent of its share of water every year, with over one-third of it being treated sewage.

Climate change is exacerbating the situation, he said, and the expected decline in precipitation in Jordan could be up to 25 percent by the end of the century. The continued over-pumping of groundwater resources will lead to even more losses.

However, it is possible to recover 2–3 billion cubic meters of the lost rainwater in evaporation annually in the rainfed areas and the Badia by adopting in-situ rainwater harvesting on a large scale.

The more relevant in-situ techniques allow crops to use rainwater directly and prevent most of it from evaporating while supporting improved field crops, trees, and forests and can rehabilitate the Badia with grasses and shrubs for livestock.

Gov’t strategy is ‘confused’While welcoming the government's recent decisions to begin the desalination process and build the National Water Carrier, Oweis noted the government's current strategy saying it is "confused."

He said: “many years were wasted as the government put all its eggs in the now failed basket of the Red Sea-Dead Sea project hoping that it could produce the needed energy to desalinate seawater.”

He added that the government did not properly calculate the external risks when making its plans. “They did not give enough consideration to an obvious risk that Israel, due to its accessibility to the dead sea, would veto the Red Sea-Dead Sea project. Neither did they consider a parallel backup plan to avoid losing many years of planning for an alternative.”

“The government has regularly allowed political consideration to cloud the sustainability of national resources,” he said.

As an example, he said that huge sums were invested in projects that remained with little usage. “Badia livestock water harvesting ponds (hafaer) are not well planned for the beneficial use of all collected water. Livestock needs 5–10 million cubic meters in total and ministries have constructed ponds with a capacity of 125 million cubic meters.

Meanwhile a “full few million cubic meters may recharge groundwater but nearly 90 percent of the collected water evaporates with no benefits”.

“Poor capacity and knowledge for planning and implementing water supply initiatives are prevalent.”

What needs to be doneConventional water-saving practices such as focusing on increasing land yields, which requires more of the non-available water, or demand management, which is not working, and modern irrigation systems that proved not effective but were still the only ones adopted.

Government policies applying economic instruments such as subsidies are either lacking or harmful, he said. For example, barley subsidies resulted in huge increases in livestock which overgrazed the Badia and contributed to its severe degradation and further losses of its rainwater.

Heavily subsidizing irrigation water led to a slow transformation to more water-use-efficient practices and cropping patterns.

Oweis suggested that instead of subsidizing irrigation water, the government should support farmers and create an enabling environment for investment in higher technologies such as greenhouses or hydroponics which produces 4 to 20-times higher yields for the same amount of water, respectively.

He said continuing groundwater mining can deprive future generations of sustainable fresh groundwater resources and damage the environment. Oweis said that, on this critical issue, the Jordanian government lacks transparency and has shown little determination to stop this misuse of precious water.

Oweis was critical of the calls for self-sufficiency in terms of food security saying that “producing wheat and barley using fresh groundwater is irrelevant to current water crises.”

Oweis suggests changing strategies and associated policies to cope with agricultural water scarcity in Jordan.

Desalination, he said, is preferred to secure water for domestic, industry, and tourism. This will allow the allocation of low-cost surface and groundwater water for agriculture.

 He also suggested changing the focus from land productivity to water productivity (returns to a cubic meter of water) with new policies and measures to encourage investment in advanced technologies and provide incentives for changing cropping patterns and adopting precision agriculture.

Crops like the Medjool date palm and protected vegetables are highly water productive and should get priority in water allocation but also the government should help small farmers to adopt such practices.

Read more National news
Jordan News