Jordan: Tackling water shortages

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With a growing population and increasing demands on scarce natural resources, Jordan is hoping that a major desalination project will be instrumental in helping the Kingdom tackle its water shortages.

The government is currently choosing a developer to oversee the Jordan Red Sea Project (JRSP), an undertaking that will transport water from the Red Sea inland via a massive pipeline. The project, which Jordan hopes will get under way next year, is also set to pump water into the Dead Sea, helping to replenish its falling levels.

The Kingdom’s efforts to improve agricultural output and step up industrialisation, combined with a large influx of refugees from Iran and now Syria, have put its limited natural water supplies under increasing pressure. With the population expected to rise from 6.1m to 7.8m over the next 10 years, resources look set to be stretched even further. Jordan currently ranks fourth lowest in the world for water availability, while its current water deficit, estimated at 457m cu metres per year, is forecast to rise to more than 655m by 2022.

Speaking on March 27 in Amman, the minister of water and irrigation, Mousa Jamani, said work would begin on the first phase of the JRSP in 2013, with completion slated for 2022. He told a gathering of engineers and specialists that desalination was vital to securing water supplies for the nation. “Water is a sovereign sector to Jordan,” he said. “The country’s water security is dependent on the desalination of seawater in the future.”

The Ministry of Water and Irrigation announced earlier in March that it had narrowed down contenders to head the development of the project to two consortia from the six original applicants. When completed, the JRSP will take more than 2m tonnes of water from the Red Sea each year. Around half will be purified and pumped to communities throughout the Kingdom, while the remaining water will be used to replenish the Dead Sea. The practice of siphoning off water upstream by Jordan and other countries has taken its toll on the sea’s levels, which are estimated to have fallen 30 metres during the past 20 years.

Jordan also plans to use the desalination project to harness additional electricity by building up to three hydroelectric power stations along the route of the pipeline. The venture would form a key component in the Kingdom’s efforts to step up its economic expansion by generating around 180 megawatts of electricity.

Other developments under consideration aimed at helping Jordan address its water shortages include the Red-Dead Project, which also proposes pumping water from the Red Sea to its inland counterpart. A preliminary study into the initiative, which is being spearheaded by the World Bank, concluded that the proposal was feasible, provided strict controls are put in place to prevent damage to the environment. The global lender said in a statement on March 11 that a final report on the scheme would be released in May. Israel, meanwhile, has floated a plan to link the two seas by a canal.

The Disi Water Conveyance Project, which is being developed by the Turkish company GAMA, is another high-profile initiative that aims to help ease Jordan’s water shortages, particularly in Amman. The build-operate-transfer initiative, which should be up and running by 2013, will pump 110m cu metres annually to the capital by tapping into the Disi aquifer in southern Jordan.

The Kingdom’s water projects are not without their critics, however, with the JRSP in particular coming under fire from campaigners who fear that removing water from the Red Sea will disturb the region’s natural environment. In addition, experts have warned there could be a risk of increased seismic activity if more water enters the substrata and pointed out that the new project had the potential to damage existing aquifers.

Supporters of the JRSP are reiterating the findings of the initial World Bank study for the Red-Dead scheme, which states that possible threats to the environment can be negated as long as sound engineering and management practices are adopted. They add that while environmental concerns should not be overlooked, Jordan’s acute water shortages heighten the need for long-term solutions to be sought without delay.

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