U.S. Water News Online
BASSA, Jordan -- Farmer Gandhi Ghaleb praises Allah for
this year's heavy rainfall, which sent water flowing again in a
spring that feeds his three acres.
"Many trees and crops died last year because there was no water,"
he said. "Look at the trees, the greenery and the strong flow of the
spring this year. It's all the works of Allah and His mercy."
A good rainfall is becoming increasingly precious in parched
Jordan, where groundwater is being depleted, water quality is
declining and oases are drying up. The amount of water available for
each person has plummeted 94 percent since the 1940s, according to
government statistics, and households only get pumped water one day a
This year's rainfall -- Jordan's only source for drinking,
irrigation and municipal use -- has filled 40 percent of the
country's eight main reservoirs, where water dwindled to a crisis
level of 3 percent last year, Water Minister Hazem al-Nasser said.
Still, the country remains thirsty.
"Water scarcity represents one of the major challenges facing
Jordan," said al-Nasser, whose planning and crackdown on water
violations has improved supplies to many parts of the kingdom.
Several projects al-Nasser initiated include wastewater treatment
plants, which increased the supply of drinking water to heavily
populated areas in central Jordan -- all with financial assistance
and expertise from the United States, Japan and Germany.
The Water Ministry has also cut water for irrigation in the
highlands by 50 percent, banned new licenses to pump groundwater and
urged farmers to use recycled water.
Repairs were completed on some parts of a 60-year-old, rusty
network of pipes said to lose 50 percent of pumped water nationwide.
New water meters have curbed cheating and helped the state detect
hundreds of illegal connections that had significantly reduced water
The government handed over water management to the French company
Lema three years ago, ending favoritism that had prevailed for
decades. Water officials have complained that some politicians had
previously refused to pay expensive bills -- mostly for water used in
their swimming pools.
Lema has levied premiums against heavy users, generating more
income needed to carry out repairs.
The importance of water is evident in Bassa, a village six miles
west of the Jordanian capital, Amman. There, the spring that feeds
Ghaleb's small farm has become an attraction for picnickers and a
source of drinking water.
Walid Abbadi, 11, and his sister Najwa, 9, make 20 rounds up and
down a hill to the spring each day to haul water on donkey back for
"Pumped water is weak and doesn't reach our home," Walid said.
"Somebody must do this job, otherwise we'd die of thirst."
In Bassa, as elsewhere in Jordan, residents store water in
cisterns dug underground or placed atop buildings. Under a rationing
program introduced 20 years ago, water is pumped once a week to
Jordanian households, each co mprising an average of seven people.
Jordanians can also buy water from private suppliers for eight times
the fee paid to Lema.
Yousef Abbas stores water each week in the underground cistern in
his back yard, but it's not enough for his 10-member family. "I buy a
similar quantity from private vendors and that costs me one-tenth of
my salary," he said.
Across the dusty street, Ibrahim Abul-Roz said he spends $100 each
week on water to mix cement for the construction of his one-story
"When I can't find water, this place becomes a picnic area for
construction workers who have no work to do," he said.
Because of the shortage of water, Abul-Roz has waited six months
-- the time it takes to build a six-story apartment block in the
capital -- for his modest home. He expects to wait several more
Each year, Jordan faces a 30 percent water deficit, mainly caused
by spreading cities, industrialization and a growing population. A
wave of immigrants caused by the Arab-Israeli wars and the Persian
Gulf War has added to the strain.
The 1994 peace treaty with Israel gave Jordan a glimpse of hope.
Despite a drought that has battered the Middle East since 1997,
Israel has complied with the treaty's provisions and supplied its
Arab neighbor with 875 million cubic feet of water each year. That is
10 percent of Jordan's annual drinking needs, or 3 percent of its
In a project seen crucial for Jordan's survival, the government
plans to begin pumping water from an aquifer under the southeastern
desert in 2005. It should supply water for at least 50 years.
Construction will also start next year on the $160 million Wihdeh
Dam near the northern border with Syria. The dam is expected to
provide Jordan with 3.8 billion cubic feet of water starting in early
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