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June 30 2022 9:45 AM ˚
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Will the anti-corruption unit investigate the emptying of water dams?

Ruba Saqr
Ruba Saqr has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency. (File photo: Jordan News)
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The minute former minister of water and irrigation Hazem Al-Nasser came out to criticize the emptying of some of Jordan’s dams under the pretext that “water levels were low”, an investigation should have been launched.اضافة اعلان

Nasser’s statements this week point to the grave errors committed in the water dossier; he is a veteran water expert who started his career as a civil servant with the Water Ministry in 1991. He also served in different Cabinets as minister of water and, at some point, of agriculture. His last appointment as water minister concluded as recently as 2018. This makes him one of Jordan’s few expert eyewitnesses to the country’s complex water history, both technically and politically, over the course of 30 years.

The current Water Ministry has recently said Jordan was on the verge of a “harsher summer than the last one”. It then went ahead with the counterintuitive move of emptying a couple of dam reservoirs to the point of aridness, thinking Jordanians would be none the wiser.

Luckily for Jordan, the former official contradicted the ministry’s narrative with a concise, unemotional, and informed critique. In terms of strategy, he noted the apparent lack of strategic thinking when taking the decision, and told the local press that had the Water Ministry anticipated the water needs and challenges facing the country a mere two years ago, the emptied dams would have sustained reasonable levels of water this summer.

On the technical side, the former minister offered a clear and practical solution that would have avoided taking such a drastic measure as flushing out the dam water, at all costs. He said a bit of annual rationing of the dam water discharges meant for agriculture would have done the job.

Describing the situation as a “management error”, he said that even with the low reservoir levels (according to ministry claims), water should not have been drained from the dams, leaving them completely parched and out of service.

Notably, those are not “philosophical opinions”; the arguments presented come from the practical experience of someone who knows the water file inside out.
Because of the political sensitivity of the water file, only the most competent and experienced experts should be considered for government posts in the water and agricultural sectors (as well as in infrastructure).
Moreover, although not mentioned explicitly, this may be the first time ever in Jordan’s history that the water ministry drains a few of its dam reservoirs completely.

What the Water Ministry seems to have done is more than a marginal error in judgment. The damage is real and implies a worrying deterioration of competence, and possibly, ethics. Causing Jordanians such serious damage is unacceptable.

This is precisely the kind of case that should top the Jordanian Integrity and Anti-Corruption Commission’s (IACC) list of priorities, owing to its sensitive national security, economic, and political ramifications.

The commission needs to move on this with the swiftness it deserves, seeing how the water dossier is linked to people’s livelihoods and sense of security and stability, as well as Jordan’s overall economic wellbeing.

A “harsher-than-usual summer” could also negatively impact tourism. Tourists are already here, and in what seems like large numbers, swimming in hotel pools and using up critical water resources. Whose responsibility is it to balance out the water needs of tourists with those of Jordanian households and agricultural facilities?

For background, as soon as His Majesty King Abdullah decided to step up the fight against corruption, IACC was born, in 2006, as an independent body with the sole mandate to “fight and prevent corruption”. In recent years, it has uncovered some of the most outrageous corruption cases of embezzlement, abuse of power, conflict of interest, and public-sector professional misconduct.

A thorough investigation into the motives and circumstances that have led to the complete drainage of the dams should be launched to understand the full dimensions of this decision. Was it politically motivated? And was it intentional or unintentional for the decision to play against the best interests of Jordanians, both in the short and long terms?

On a related matter, a top water official said very recently that it would be difficult for the ministry to monitor the water thefts targeting the country’s water supply pipelines because of the area’s vastness. He also discounted the possibility of nationalizing privately owned water wells, saying that most private wells are out of reach in “far-away desert areas” (which is untrue). Israel, on the other hand, considers every water resource public property, as detailed in its Water Law issued in 1959.

For Jordan, solutions are within reach. The ministry could very easily cooperate with security forces to use their drones to perform periodic surveillance of Jordan’s water pipelines, much like the work the army does across our long border with Syria.

If this ends up being a logistical and financial burden, the ministry could always outsource this straightforward task to professional security firms. And in the absence of financial resources, it could at least purchase its own drones and hire a few security specialists to operate them to bring water thefts to a bare minimum.

This said, the real problem here is with the gloomy picture carefully being painted to put Jordanians in a state of panic by falsely claiming that there are no solutions to the water situation this summer, with an equally false premise that implies “our hands are tied”.

Jordanians have been speculating about the motives for the recent statements concerning the “critical” water situation. Some thought of last year’s proposed trilateral “water-for-energy” deal as a possible backdrop. Others said the decision to empty the dams was due to lack of vision and complete incompetence, one of the many staples of the public sector.

Because of the political sensitivity of the water file, only the most competent and experienced experts should be considered for government posts in the water and agricultural sectors (as well as in infrastructure). Weak or gullible public officials should have no place in government, especially when their actions end up dealing a heavy blow to the country’s water security.


Ruba Saqr has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency.


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