Jordan: Water Scarcity

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Why is water so important to us? Firstly, it is one of the fundamental requirements for human physical survival along with oxygen, food, shelter and sleep. It is one of the basic human rights guaranteed by the United Nations. According to the UN Human Rights Council, "the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living and inextricably related to the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as well as the right to life and human dignity".[1]

For basic physical survival, a human requires something between 2 and 5 litres of water per day. If we add the water needed for cooking and washing, then a Bedouin tribe from the Middle East can make do on roughly 20-30 litres of water per day, while sedentary populations require an absolute minimum of 100 litres per person a day for safe hygiene and an adequate standard of living[2] Domestic households in developed countries typically require about 250-350 litres a person in Europe and over 500 litres in North America.

But it is not only a basic factor in the maintenance of our lives and the life of every organic life form on the planet, it is also essential to every other aspect of human life from cooking and cleaning, to transport and energy, to climate and food production, to carbon sequestration (the oceans act as a vital carbon sink and hence are becoming more and more acidified), to our religious rituals (think of the Catholic Church's use of holy water or the ablutions required of Islam before prayer), to our physical landscape (our coastlines, lakes, rivers, glacial valleys, etc) and to our mental landscape (our art, poetry and literature is full of water images, e.g. Stauss's The Blue Danube, Smetana's The Moldau, etc).

Earth's water distribution.svg

The human body itself is composed mainly of water: about 75 to 80% of babies, to between 50 and 65% of adults, while our brains are composed of up to 85% water.[3] The planet’s surface is made up of 71% water, but only 0.03% of this is available to us as fresh water. Of the 1.386 km3 of water on the Earth’s surface, 96.5% is made up of the oceans, another 1% is saline ground water, and only 2.5% is fresh water. Of that 2.5%, 68.7% is locked up in the polar ice caps, 30.1% is found in groundwater, and 1.2% is surface water.[4]

Globalisation aspects of access to water

In every corner of the modern globe, water is to a greater or lesser extent a crucial raw material for practically all economic activity. Around the planet, up to 92% of water is used for non-household purposes, mostly in the agricultural sector. Growing a sufficient amount of food for a human adult requires around 300 metric tons of water a year, i.e. nearly a ton a day.[2] If this water does not arrive through natural precipitation, then it has to come via human constructed irrigation conduits – irrigated agriculture is responsible for 69% of global water consumption.

Water Stress Around 2000 A.D. By WaterGAP

Industry also consumes enormous amounts of water for washing, diluting, cooling and production of steam. Highly industrialised economies therefore harness most of their water for such purposes where water often also provides an important source of energy via hydroelectric power generation in large-scale dams, as well as a vital means of transport. As the natural habitat for planetary piscine life all countries that are able heavily exploit their water resources as a source of food, and for the countries with the most highly developed economies, water is a natural draw card for recreational and tourism activities.

All these activities have a great impact on the world’s water reserves and in particular on its limited resources of fresh water. As the world economy becomes more and more globalised and integrated in order to meet the demands of an ever increasing population, water consumption increases accordingly, placing pressure on the drinking water supply. In “water poor” nations, competition increases between people and commercial activity over dwindling supplies of potable water – water is diverted toward irrigation for expanded food production, to upmarket hotels and golf courses to cater to rising numbers of wealthy tourists, and to new industries to provide the consumer products demanded by the global market. But the impact is not only on the increased volume of water used. Expanded agricultural activity not only consumes more water but also pollutes remaining water supplies with the run-off of chemical fertilisers, while large scale irrigation schemes can destroy natural water ecosystems; greater industrial consumption of water creates greater amounts of waste water that can overwhelm sewage and water purification plants; rapidly expanding populations in water stressed countries place overwhelming pressure on water delivery systems; and overpumping of groundwater supplies can dramatically increase salinity levels and render water unfit for human consumption.

In terms of water stress levels, it is generally considered that countries with annual supplies of 1,000-2,000 m3 per person are water-stressed, with 1,000 m3 thought to be the minimum per capita requirement of a moderately developed country.[2] Societies with less than 500 m3 per capita are said to suffer from absolute scarcity, so this "lack of water then requires application of expensive technologies and becomes a constraint on food production, social and economic development, and protection of natural systems.”[2]

It is generally accepted that we face a global water crisis, elements of which can be summed up as follow:[5]

  • More than 2.4 billion people have no access to sanitation and more than 1.2 billion lack potable water.
  • Even under the best circumstances, the sanitation deficit could be reduced to only 1.9 billion people by 2015.
  • Conservation or efficient water management is not encouraged by the low price of water
  • Climate change will have a dramatic impact on water supplies in future, although there is huge uncertainty as to the effects it will have on individual regions, making it extremely difficult to plan adequately for the future

Water in the Middle East

The climate in the Middle East is classified as ‘arid’, with low precipitation and high evapotranspiration, i.e. a large swathe of the region receives less than 200mm of rainfall per annum and potential evaporation of surface water of over 2000mm. [6]

Map of Middle East

It has very few rivers: the Euphrates and the Tigris are very important sources of water for the whole region, while the shrinking levels of the Jordan and its tributaries are of use to the west of the region only.

Relative decline of water supplies due to more frequent droughts and the burgeoning population has increased political conflict. It is expected that the population of countries in the Arabian Peninsula, for example, will double over the next 50 years to 600 million. Some of these countries are already extracting over 75% of their total renewable water resources. [5] Israel has about 300 m3 of fresh water per person per year and Kuwait a mere 1 m3, while in the Gaza Strip in Palestine it is estimated that 90% of the local water supply is undrinkable as a result of pollution and increased salinity. [6] This problem is aggravated by the continuing historical tensions between the Arabs and the Israelis. Tensions over water even played a part in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967 due to a dispute over the diversion of the River Jordan and the sabotage of water pipelines[7]; the post-war gains of Israel provided it with control over the headwaters of the Jordan and the aquifers of the West Bank and hence strengthened its overall geostrategic position in the region. [6] But despite such conflicts, water can also serve as a point of agreement; the Israeli-Palestine water commission, for example, is the only joint committee created by the Oslo Agreement that still exists today, while Israel and Jordan have worked together for years on managing the Sea of Galilee located in Israel but near the Yarmuk River, which demarcates the border between the two countries. [7]

Water in Jordan

Water availability

Jordan is classified as a water scarce or water poor nation and is ranked number ten in the world in relation to its water shortage.[8] It has been facing water deficits since the 1960s. In 1996, Jordan had 175 m3/y per person, which was 20% of the world’s water poverty level (anything below 1,000 m3/y classifies a country as water-poor). If current trends continue, by 2025 the water supply per capita will fall to 91 m3.[2]

Jordan 2004 CIA map.jpg

Overall, about 80% of the country receives annual rainfall of less than 100mm, 12.5% receives between 100 and 200mm, 3.8% between 200 and 300mm, 1.8% between 300 and 500mm, and only 1.3% of Jordan receives more than 500mm per year. [8] Total rainfall in 2004/2005 was roughly 9,304million m3 of which between 85%[2] and 93.9%[8] evaporates, and only 3.9% of rain filters through to recharge groundwater.


The amount of rain that falls in Jordan in the north is mainly influenced by orography (the topographic relief of mountains), with rainfall in Galilee and Jerusalem (which are about 800m above sea level) exceeding 600mm per year, while rainfall in the Jordan Valley (in the range of -400 to 0m) is less than 200mm per year[7] (as a measure of how little water this is, a viable level of rain-fed agriculture is 400mm per year, i.e. it’s impossible to farm below that level).[5] By way of contrast, the south is exceedingly dry and rainfall is not influenced by mountain topography. Ma’an, for example, is 1,069m above sea level but receives less than 100mm of rain per year. [7] This north-south contrast is the result of the differences in trajectories of depressions that bring most of the winter rainfall to the Middle East: in the north they bring moist Mediterranean air and therefore cause it to rain, while in the south the same depressions bring dry desert air from the Sinai and hence almost no rain. [7]

Climate change will probably bring a reduction in rainfall at the peak of the rainy season by the end of the century.

Surface water resources

Jordan has three large rivers, the Jordan, the Zarqa and the Yarmouk, but all have become highly undependable. The River Jordan is the main water source for both Jordan and Israel, but as it is saline (salty), it is not suitable for drinking or irrigation without undergoing filtration first. It is also small in comparison to other major rivers – the natural

Jordan River, Jordan

discharge of the Jordan river basin of approximately 1,500 million m3 is 65 times less than the Nile’s and 400 times less than the Mississippi’s.[7] There is also huge variability in discharge year on year from the River Jordan, with reductions of up to 40% in drought periods. It has also been reduced to “nothing more than a creek” [8] as a result of upstream

King Talal Dam

diversions and over-pumping by Syria and Israel.[2] The River Zarqa meanwhile receives large amounts of municipal, industrial and agricultural effluent, making it close to unusable for domestic and irrigation purposes during the dry season, while the River Yarmouk, while less stressed, is also a receptacle for municipal wastewater. [8]

With relatively few surface water resources available, there are not surprisingly few dams and reservoirs in Jordan. The largest reservoir is the King Talal Dam, but it faces the dual problems of erratic river flows that reduce the trapped water level below the dam's capacity of 86 MCM, while pollution from factories dumping wastewater into tributaries leading to the dam raises it salinity and chemical and metal levels.[2]

Groundwater resources

It is groundwater stored in aquifers rather than surface water that provides Jordan with most of its domestic water supply. It is the only source of water in some areas of the country. The depth of groundwater is highly variable, ranging from 2 to 1,000m, and the main reserves are found in the south with a long-term safe yield estimate of about 90 MCM per year for 100 years.[6] The total long-term safe yield of all renewable groundwater resources in Jordan from 12 groundwater basins comprising several groundwater aquifer systems has been estimated at 275 MCM.[2] However, exploitation of this water resource is not without its problems, as salt levels vary between aquifers from 170 to 3,000 parts per million as a result of surrounding geological formations (calcium, magnesium and sodium leech into the water to various degrees, making the water “brackish”).[6] “Each source of groundwater needs to be considered independently in order to achieve effective management of the risk of salinity associated with each formation’s chemistry.”[6] There are also non-renewable fossil water supplies (i.e. resources that are not recharged through rainfall) that are being extracted at a rate of 77 MCM.[9]

Waste water resources

As of 2006, there were 16 wastewater treatment plants in Jordan, which provide an additional water resource for the country’s use. Because of Jordan’s topography and the location of the vast majority of its urban population above the Jordan Valley, most treated wastewater flows downstream into the Valley, where it is used for irrigation purposes.[2]. Currently, around 80 MCM is used for irrigation[9], but the Jordanian government envisages 232 MCM of wastewater used for irrigation by 2020. [2]

Supply and demand

There are three main uses for water in Jordan: municipal, industrial and agricultural. Agriculture is the single largest user of water, both from surface and aquifer resources. Irrigation water consumes 77.5% of the total water demand, while municipal and industry requirements make up the rest.[8] This is despite the fact that agriculture represents only 3% of Jordanian GDP.[9]

Impact of water scarcity


Documentary Films

Web sites

There are many websites dedicated to water shortage issues. Here is a small sample:

Academic Articles

The following academic papers can be found by using academic search engines or databases like, or, etc.

  • Abdulla, Fayez A., and A. W. Al-Shareef. "Roof rainwater harvesting systems for household water supply in Jordan." Desalination 243.1 (2009): 195-207.
  • Al-Adamat, Rida, Abdullah Diabat, and Ghada Shatnawi. "Combining GIS with multicriteria decision making for siting water harvesting ponds in Northern Jordan." Journal of Arid Environments 74.11 (2010): 1471-1477.
  • Alqadi, Khaled A., and Lalit Kumar. "Water issues in the Kingdom of Jordan: A brief review with reasons for declining quality." Journal of Food, Agriculture & Environment 9.3&4 (2011): 1019-1023.
  • Assayed, Almoayied, et al. "On-site rainwater harvesting to achieve household water security among rural and peri-urban communities in Jordan." Resources, Conservation and Recycling 73 (2013): 72-77.
  • Barham, Nasim. "Is Good Water Governance Possible in a Rentier State? The Case of Jordan." ANALYSIS (2012).
  • Black, Emily. "Water and society in Jordan and Israel today: an introductory overview." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 368.1931 (2010): 5111-5116.
  • Hadadin, Nidal, et al. "Water shortage in Jordan—Sustainable solutions." Desalination 250.1 (2010): 197-202.
  • Hadadin, Nidal A., and Zeyad S. Tarawneh. "Environmental issues in Jordan, solutions and recommendations." American Journal of Environmental Sciences 3.1 (2007): 30.
  • Kubursi, Atif, et al. "Water scarcity in Jordan: Economic instruments, issues and options." Economic Research Forum Working Paper Series. No. 599. 2011.
  • Libiszewski, Stephan. Water disputes in the Jordan basin region and their role in the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Center for Security Studies (CSS), ETH Zurich, 2009.
  • Medina Jr, Miguel A. "Global water crisis and climate change." Journal of Hydrologic Engineering 15.3 (2010): 167-170.
  • Mohsen, Mousa S. "Water strategies and potential of desalination in Jordan." Desalination 203.1 (2007): 27-46.
  • Mourad, Khaldoon A., Ronny Berndtsson, and Karin Aggestam. "Can Integrated Water Resources Management Contribute to Sustainable Peace in the Middle East?." Journal of Geoscience and Environment Protection 1.1 (2013): 1-8.
  • Mourad, Khaldoon Abdalah, Hartmut Gaese, and Amer S. Jabarin. "Economic value of tree fruit production in Jordan Valley from a virtual water perspective." Water resources management 24.10 (2010): 2021-2034.
  • Potter, Robert B., Khadija Darmame, and Stephen Nortcliff. "Issues of water supply and contemporary urban society: the case of Greater Amman, Jordan." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 368.1931 (2010): 5299-5313.
  • Ray, P. A., P. H. Kirshen, and D. W. Watkins Jr. "Staged climate change adaptation planning for water supply in Amman, Jordan." Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management 138.5 (2011): 403-411.
  • Samuels, Rana, et al. "Climate change impacts on Jordan River flow: downscaling application from a regional climate model." Journal of Hydrometeorology 11.4 (2010): 860-879.
  • Scott, Christopher A., et al. "Facing water scarcity in Jordan: reuse, demand reduction, energy, and transboundary approaches to assure future water supplies." Water International 28.2 (2003): 209-216.
  • Sowers, Jeannie, Avner Vengosh, and Erika Weinthal. "Climate change, water resources, and the politics of adaptation in the Middle East and North Africa." Climatic Change 104.3-4 (2011): 599-627.
  • Srinivasan, V., et al. "The nature and causes of the global water crisis: Syndromes from a meta‐analysis of coupled human‐water studies." Water Resources Research 48.10 (2012).
  • Zeitoun, Mark, et al. "Water demand management in Yemen and Jordan: addressing power and interests." The Geographical Journal 178.1 (2012): 54-66.


  1. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: The Right to Water and Sanitation Toolkit [online] [cit 1.11.2013]
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 Mohsen, Mousa S. "Water strategies and potential of desalination in Jordan." Desalination 203.1 (2007)
  3. Chemcraft, “Water in the Body” [online] [cit 1.11.2013]
  4., Amount and composition of global water [online] [cit 1.11.2013]
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Medina Jr, Miguel A. "Global water crisis and climate change." Journal of Hydrologic Engineering 15.3 (2010): 167-170.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Alqadi, Khaled A., and Lalit Kumar. "Water issues in the Kingdom of Jordan: A brief review with reasons for declining quality." Journal of Food, Agriculture & Environment 9.3&4 (2011): 1019-1023.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Black, Emily. "Water and society in Jordan and Israel today: an introductory overview." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 368.1931 (2010): 5111-5116. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Black" defined multiple times with different content
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 Hadadin, Nidal, et al. "Water shortage in Jordan—Sustainable solutions." Desalination 250.1 (2010): 197-202.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Kubursi, Atif, et al. "Water scarcity in Jordan: Economic instruments, issues and options." Economic Research Forum Working Paper Series. No. 599. 2011.
Creative Commons Author: Andrew Barton. This article was published under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. How to cite the article: Andrew Barton. (2. 10. 2022). Jordan: Water Scarcity. VCSEWiki. Retrieved 11:59 2. 10. 2022) from: <>.