Water Security in Jordan: A Key to the Future of the Middle East

Jordan’s water security is central to the country’s stabilizing role in the Middle East. Yet Jordan is extremely vulnerable as it is experiencing many freshwater challenges that include a long-term drought, transboundary water competition, and the influx of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. The Jordan Water Project is an international interdisciplinary effort aimed at developing a hydroeconomic systems model to quantitatively evaluate policies such as subsidies, water markets, and institutional changes. The project aims to provide sound analysis and practical solutions to help improve water security using Jordan as a model system.

The third Arab Water Week convened this week in Jordan to examine and explore innovative and sustainable solutions for the water sector in the region. As one of the four poorest countries in the world in terms of freshwater supply, Jordan is an appropriate setting to discuss the future of water security in the region. Jordan is experiencing many of the water challenges that are indicative of the Middle East, including severely limited water supplies, a long-term drought, rapid population growth and demographic shifts, climate change and variability, transboundary competition for shared freshwater resources, limited groundwater supplies, and institutional difficulties. Currently, much of the urban population receives only 12 hours of piped freshwater supply per week. 

While policy-makers as well as aid and development agencies seek solutions to alleviate poverty, resolve conflict, and improve conditions that are breeding grounds for extremism in the region, it is important that water security be a key part of the equation. His Excellency Dr. Hazim El-Naser, Jordan Minister of Water and Irrigation, recently spoke at Stanford University in California and remarked that the Arab Spring uprisings came about in part because of water scarcity and related issues such as high food prices that had little to do with freedom and democracy. In Jordan, the recent influx of several hundred thousand Syrian refugees has put undo stress on the provision of services, including supplying freshwater. There is mounting evidence that average rainfall in Jordan has been declining over the past few decades, and climate models predict a 2.5 degrees Celsius rise in temperatures by mid-century, making a dire situation even worse. 

The Jordan Water Project (JWP) was initiated to examine these challenges and provide sound analysis and evaluation of practical solutions to improve water security in the country. This effort is supported by an international consortium of scientific research agencies (including the U.S. National Science Foundation) with further assistance from USAID. Team members range from hydrologist to economists, and include experts from the U.S., Canada, Germany, the UK, and Jordan. The JWP is part of Stanford University’s Global Freshwater Initiative through Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment. With the cooperation and endorsement of Jordan’s Ministry of Water and Irrigation, we are developing an integrated framework to quantitatively evaluate water policy interventions in water-stressed countries using Jordan to demonstrate the systems approach. The team is building a hydroeconomic simulation tool to explore ways to enhance the sustainability of freshwater systems through such innovations as optimized allocation procedures, subsidies, tariffs, water-lease markets, infrastructural changes, technological enhancements, and improvements in transboundary institutions. Our team looks forward to providing useful information and a tool that offers practical guidance aimed at ensuring Jordan’s future water security.