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Yasser Mhairat, a collector of the Jordan Water Company (Miyahuna) displays a brochure to be given to a house keeper in Amman, Jordan.
Salah Malkawi
Yasser Mhairat, a collector of the Jordan Water Company (Miyahuna) displays a brochure to be given to a house keeper in Amman, Jordan.

Amman tackles maids' water waste

Jordan is trying to educate its 70,000 domestic helpers to limit water use in the latest effort to preserve the country's dwindling water supplies.

AMMAN // Jordan, one of the world's 10 most water impoverished countries, is trying to educate its 70,000 domestic helpers to limit water use in the latest effort to preserve the country's dwindling water supplies. The United Nations and other international bodies rate Jordan, with a per capita water consumption of 160 litres a day, as one of the world's 10 most water insecure countries in a list that includes Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE and Bahrain.

And many Jordanians blame the country's domestic helpers - around 30,000 Indonesians, 15,000 Filipinas and 25,000 Sri Lankans - who come from counties where water is abundant, for wastefully using water. Samia Issa, a retired teacher, said a part-time domestic helper used to leave the tap running at full capacity while rinsing and washing the dishes. "I used to tell her to be careful with water," she said. "It was even worse when I had guests for dinner, sometimes, the water tank becomes empty when she finishes work. I stopped using her services two months ago."

In the past few years Jordan's water resources have come under increased strain with the arrival of 500,000 to 700,000 Iraqi refugees since the US-led war in Iraq, an annual population growth of 2.3 per cent and massive infrastructure projects. Jordan has also been hit by drought - its nine dams hold 44 per cent of their total capacity of 217 million cubic metres, a 12 per cent drop from last year.

To exacerbate the shortage, 40 per cent of the kingdom's water is lost annually to worn out pipes, leakage and water theft. Jordan's annual water deficit stands at nearly 20 per cent of its 1.3 billion cubic metres needed to sustain a population of 5.8 million. The state-owned Jordan Water Company - Miyahuna - which is in charge of managing the capital's water services, launched a campaign over the summer that partly targets domestic helpers, hoping to raise their awareness on ways to conserve water through brochures printed in their own languages and distributed by the company's meter readers and bill collectors.

"More than a sixth of the families in Jordan have maids. They use water in a manner that does not suit our water condition. They are not aware of the country's critical water situation as they are from countries where water is abundant," said Kamal Zoubi, the company's chief executive. "For example, they open the tap at full capacity when there are only a few glasses that need to be washed, or run the washing machine without having a full load."

Misusing water is particularly alarming when the per capita share for residential use stands at 82 litres a day. Although Miyahuna did not conduct studies that gauge how the presence of a maid affects household water consumption, Mr Zoubi said the campaign could help decrease water consumption by 20 per cent in Amman. "Once families start having domestic helpers, the water bill increases," said Joumana al Ayed, the Miyahuna communications and marketing manager. "So far, the feedback about the campaign is positive and the domestic helpers like the fact that they receive information in their own language."

The brochures lists seven tips to conserve water ranging from instructing helpers not to leave water running when washing dishes, to washing all the vegetables at once, to not using the hose when washing the car. "It [the brochure] says that I must take care because there is no water. I didn't know that and I will start taking care," Sojata Malani, a Sri Lankan domestic helper, said in Arabic. While water is scarce, and water supplies are interrupted at times, it is common to see water tanks catering for houses in different neighbourhoods of the country. Citizens and janitors watering sidewalks, or using hoses to wash cars are also common sights, the latter a practice that is frowned upon and could lead Miyahuna to reduce the water supplies for three months following repeated warnings.

Miyahuna is also preparing educational magazines for school pupils to educate them about water scarcity in Jordan. @Email:smaayeh@thenational.ae

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