Jordan's water crisis strained by climate change and refugees


Published: 2017-09-03 14:52

Last Updated: 2017-09-03 15:51

A tanker truck illegally takes water from a river in Jordan. (Image credit: Steven Gorelick)
A tanker truck illegally takes water from a river in Jordan. (Image credit: Steven Gorelick)

While Jordan’s resources are heavily strained under the refugee influx from neighbouring Syria, the pressure is only expected to increase with the hot, dry Kingdom facing several severe water shortages due to climate change, Stanford University scientists said in a study published on Wednesday.

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current pace, Jordan is expected to experience a one-third drop in annual winter rainfall, alongside a 4.5 degree Celsius rise in average annual temperatures by 2100, according to the study.

The number of droughts in Jordan and their duration are expected to double between 2071 and 2100, causing a “huge problem”, according to the report. Alongside water stress, social tensions in the Kingdom are expected to intensify, particularly given its status as one of the most water poor countries in the world.

"Jordan is currently one of the most water-poor countries in the world," said Stanford professor Steven Gorelick, one of the study's authors.

"Beyond 2100, in the absence of additional fresh water supplies - a likely scenario is... groundwater is depleted, agriculture depends solely on treated waste-water and rapid population growth through future adoption of refugees becomes an enormous challenge," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Gorelick leads the Jordan Water Project, which is exploring water management and policy in the kingdom with the hope to imrpove water security in the water-poor nation and develop tools to improve water availability in other drought-prone regions.

With Jordan currently home to an estimated 1.4 million Syrian refugees, according to 2015 estimated by the Jordanian government, the tenuous water resources have been cause for concern.

The increasing demand for water from Jordan’s refugee crisis is futher intensified by the conflict in Syria, which has disrupted water management infrastructure in the Yarmouk-Jordan River system.

Flow in the river is expected to decrease by up to 75 percent by 2050 compared to its historical average, as a result of human and natural influences in Syria, the study reports.

According to Gorelick, Jordan’s government is working to crack down on water theft from pipelines, while improving water management infrastructure. He added that Amman, the capital, recycles the vast majority of its waste-water and uses this treated water for irrigation.

What’s more, Jordan is moving ahead with new pipelines for groundwater and projects to desalinate water from the Red Sea.

However, despite attempts to improve the situation, the “long-term physical constraints on supply are likely to get much worse”, Gorelick warned.