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Jordan

 
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Jordan

Water

The government was concerned that scarcity of water could ultimately place a cap on both agricultural and industrial development. Although no comprehensive hydrological survey had been conducted by the late 1980s, some experts believed that demand for water could outstrip supply by the early 1990s. Average annual rainfall was about 8 billion cubic meters, most of which evaporated; the remainder flowed into rivers and other catchments or seeped into the ground to replenish large underground aquifers of fossil water that could be tapped by wells. Annual renewable surface and subterranean water supply was placed at 1.2 billion cubic meters. Total demand was more difficult to project. In 1985 Jordan consumed about 520 million cubic meters of water, of which 111 million cubic meters went for industrial and domestic use, and 409 million cubic meters went for agricultural use. By 1995 it was estimated that domestic and industrial consumption would almost double and agricultural demand would increase by 50 percent, so that total demand would be about 820 million cubic meters. By the year 2000, projected demand was estimated at 934 million cubic meters. Jordan, therefore, would need to harness almost all of its annual renewable water resources of 1.2 billion cubic meters to meet future demand, a process that would inevitably be marked by diminishing marginal returns as ever more expensive and remotely situated projects yielded less and less added water. The process also could spark regional disputes--especially with Israel--over riparian rights.

The government had completed several major infrastructure projects in an effort to make maximum use of limited water supplies, and was considering numerous other projects in the late 1980s. The King Talal Dam, built in 1978 on the Az Zarqa River, formed Jordan's major reservoir. In the late 1980s, a project to raise the height of the dam by ten meters so as to increase the reservoir's capacity from 56 million cubic meters to 90 million cubic meters was almost complete. A second major construction project underway in 1989 was the Wadi al Arabah Dam to capture flood waters of the Yarmuk River and the Wadi al Jayb (also known as Wadi al Arabah) in a 17 million cubic meter reservoir. These two dams and innumerable other catchments and tunnels collected water from tributaries that flowed toward the Jordan River and fed the 50-kilometer-long East Ghor Canal (see Jordan - fig. 4). Plans called for the eventual extension of the East Ghor Canal to the Dead Sea region, which would almost double its length. In 1989 about fifteen dams were in various stages of design or construction, at a total projected cost of JD64 million.

By far the largest of these projects was a joint JordanianSyrian endeavor to build a 100-meter-high dam on the Yarmuk River. The project, which had been contemplated since the 1950s but had foundered repeatedly because of political disputes, was revived in 1988 after the thaw in Jordanian-Syrian relations and appeared to be progressing in early 1989. Called the Maqarin Dam in previous development plans, it was renamed the Al Wahdah Dam to reflect the political rapprochement that made construction feasible (Al Wahdah mean unity). The dam was to create a reservoir of 250 million cubic meters. The Jordanian estimate of the cost, which Jordan was to bear alone, was US$397 million. Independent estimates placed the figure at more than US$500 million. Building time was estimated at two years after the planned 1989 starting date, but new political problems threatened to stall construction. In 1988 the United States attempted to mediate between Jordan and Israel, which feared the dam would limit its own potential water supply; Syria, however, refused to join any tripartite negotiations.

In 1989 serious consideration was being given to two proposals to construct major pipelines to import water. Completion of either project could be a partial solution to Jordan's water scarcity. Because of cost, however, neither project was likely to be constructed in the near future. One project was to construct a multibillion dollar 650-kilometer-long pipeline from the Euphrates River in Iraq. The pipeline would supply Jordan with about 160 million cubic meters of water per year. The other project, on which feasibility studies had been conducted, was to construct a 2,700- kilometer-long pipeline from rivers in Turkey, through Syria and Jordan, to Saudi Arabia. Jordan could draw an allotment of about 220 million cubic meters per year from this second pipeline. The estimated US$20 billion cost of the latter project was thought to be prohibitive.

Data as of December 1989


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