x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Jordan enlists mass prayer to try to ease its water problem

Government has turned to rationing as dam levels fall to 30 per cent of capacity and farmers report a decrease in crop production.

Jordanian Muslim women take part in a special mass prayer for rain in Amman earlier this month.
Jordanian Muslim women take part in a special mass prayer for rain in Amman earlier this month.

AMMAN // The rows of plastic houses where Abdul Kareem Ramadneh grows cucumbers in the Jordan Valley are not producing as much as they did last year.

"At this time of the year, it would have usually rained at least once or twice, but now we are waiting for God's mercy. Each plastic house is producing five boxes instead of 10 to 15," the farmer said. "Each winter season is worse than the previous one."

Mr Ramadneh depends on water supplied by the government, which collects rainfall in dams. Because of the lack of precipitation, the government is collecting less and distributing less.

International organisations say Jordan, with a per capita water consumption of fewer than 145 cubic metres a year, is among the 10 most water-deficient countries in the world. This figure is well below the international water-poverty line of 1,000 cubic metres a year. Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE and Bahrain are among other countries on that list.

Now Jordan is bracing for a difficult winter as warm and dry weather exhausts the country's dwindling supplies.

The country's nine dams are now holding 30 per cent of their capacity, down from 67 per cent last year at this time, said an official from the Water Authority of Jordan.

Jordan depends on rainfall as its main source of renewable water. It gets less than 200 millimetres a year on average, according to 2004 figures compiled by Jordan's department of statistics. More than 70 per cent of the country receives less than 100 millimeters a year.

Abdul Halim Abu Hazim, director of the Jordan Meteorological Department, said: "This has been the driest season since 1998. But the season is not over and there have been years when we had belated rainfall, and the late precipitation compensated for the shortage."

The dry weather, however, is likely to continue, Mr Abu Hazim said, despite some rain this week in the country's northern region. He attributed the arid weather to increased temperatures originating from the east of the Mediterranean Sea.

The government has not declared a state of drought because it hopes rain will begin falling soon. But it is working on a contingency plan, including rationing water for farmers in the Jordan Valley to twice a week instead of three.

Mohammad Najar, the minister of water, said: "These are precautionary measures to deal with the water shortage because of the belated rains."

Jordan's annual water deficit stands at more than 500 million cubic metres. The country needs 1.5 billion cubic metres to sustain its population of 6.4 million people. The situation is exacerbated by the 500,000 to 700,00 refugees who have fled to Jordan from Iraq.

Earlier this month, the ministry of religious affairs called on Jordanians to pray for rain.

"People should head to the prayers asking for God's mercy and fast for three days prior to the prayer," a statement from the ministry said.

On December 2, Muslims in Amman participated in special prayers for rain, known as Salat al Istisqa.

Jordan, however, needs more than prayers to ease the shortage.

The Jordan Times, an English daily based in Amman, reported last week: "Unless the weather changes, the country could be facing a worrisome development - acute lack of water - not only for agriculture, but also for domestic use, a fear that never really leaves countries poor in this precious commodity.

"Besides praying for rain, we should all start thinking long and hard what to do until our prayers are answered."

smaayeh@thenational.ae