Water of the Middle East and North Africa

Water Infrastructure in Jordan

Yarmouk Water Company - Water Infrastructure in Jordan
Photo 1: Wastewater treatment plant of Yarmouk Water Company, Jordan. (Credit: Ruben Vermeer)

Traditional water collection and distribution systems

As outlined in Water Resources, Jordan’s main water resources come from surface water and groundwater. Traditionally, over thousands of years, these water sources were accessed locally by farmers using basic irrigation techniques, nomadic herders watering their herds and townspeople either extracting directly from the river or from wadis[1] (during the rainy seasons), natural springs (including oases) and hand-dug wells. As technology developed, harvesting and storing of water, including rainwater, was introduced. Rainwater was captured and stored in constructed underground cisterns. Dams and artificial pools were built to capture and retain water from the wadis to be available for use throughout the year. Even the water used in mosques for washing before prayer was captured and recycled for use in gardens. Interestingly, these traditional methods have only recently been re-examined and reintroduced in a more systematic way to increase the availability of water for local domestic and irrigation use.[2]

Over the last decades, Jordan has grown as a modern country with expanding urban centres, and domestic, agricultural and industrial demand for water has increased. To meet these needs, standard technologies used worldwide have been put in place. Large dams have been built to capture and control surface water. Large pumping and piping systems have been established to move water from the dams and groundwater sources to where it is needed in the big cities, for industrial use and for agricultural irrigation.

As water demand in Jordan continues to increase, so does stress on the country’s natural water resources, widening the gap between supply and demand. Jordan is therefore exploring how to increase supply, including by harnessing new sources of water. One of these sources is domestic wastewater, which is treated and reused as an alternative water supply, especially for agricultural irrigation.[3] As discussed in Water Use, the agricultural sector used around 45% of the country’s water supply in 2017. Between a fifth and a quarter of this amount is provided by treated wastewater (144.2 MCM out of 551.8 MCM). While this is a good start, more is needed to meet the growing demand for fresh water in the domestic sector.

Jordan plans to invest heavily in developing and maintaining the current water infrastructure, as the level of wastage of water resources is costly. For example, estimates of current losses through water supply network leakage are as high as 50%. The maintenance of storage dams, rehabilitation of wastewater treatment and reuse systems and water distribution systems as well as increase of urban water supply are all important priorities for the country.[4]

In addition, to meet growing needs, the government is considering expanding its water supplies by exploiting new resources (see Current and Planned Infrastructure Projects). Making better use of the limited water supply by using existing supplies more efficiently is crucial. This includes a focus on preserving water, reducing system leakages and increasing wastewater use.[5]

Current and planned infrastructure projects

To ensure water security, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation (MWI) has been building a series of dams as well as other infrastructure projects to pump water from different parts of the country towards the high-water-demand areas, mainly Amman. Table 1 shows the capacity, inflows, outflows and storage of Jordan’s main dams in 2017.

Table 1. Capacity, inflows, outflows and storage of Jordan’s main dams in 2017. Source: MWI, ‘Jordan Water Sector Facts and Figures 2017.’

DamDesign capacity MCMTotal inflows MCMTotal outflows MCMStorage end of 2017 MCM
Wadi Arab16.80.5811.2773.52
King Talal75115.809141.79128.215
Wadi Shueib1.46.3967.3440.472
Percentage of storage from design capacity18.6%

The two main projects to increase Jordan’s freshwater supply in the National Water Strategy 2016-2025 have been the Red Sea-Dead Sea Project (now in a new form, as discussed below) and the Disi Water Conveyance Project.

The Disi Water Conveyance Project transports water to Amman and other Jordanian cities in the north, including Zarqa, Ajloun, Irbid, Mafraq and Jerash, from Disi, a fossil aquifer located on the border with Saudi Arabia in the south-east. The project began in 2009 and became operational in 2013, at a cost of about $1.1 billion. Since 2013, the project has supplied about 100 MCM/yr to Amman.

The Disi aquifer is shared with Saudi Arabia, which also extracts water from the resource. The two countries signed an agreement in 2015, which underlines the need to use the aquifer for domestic purposes and not for agriculture (see Shared Water Resources).[6]

The Red Sea-Dead Sea Project (National Water Carrier): In 2013, Jordan signed an agreement with Israel and Palestine for the joint implementation of the Red Sea-Dead Sea Project, the aim of which was to increase water supply to the three countries through seawater desalination and replenish the Dead Sea with the brine from the desalination process. After the peace treaty in 1994, the implementation of a canal linking the Red Sea and the Dead Sea became the focal point of Israeli-Jordanian cooperation.[7]

Because of political disagreements between Jordan and Israel, however, Jordan’s MWI is proceeding with a National Water Carrier – without the regional dimension – for desalinating water in Aqaba and pumping it to the north of the country.

[1] Wadis are streambeds or gullies that are dry except in the rainy season.
[2] EDM Global, 2015. ‘Every drop matters: synthesis report.’
[3] Abu-Qudais, H et al., 2019. ‘Wastewater reuse in Jordan and its potential as an adaptation measure to climate change.’ Journal of Environmental Engineering and Science 14(4): 203-211.
[4] Al-Ansari, N et al., 2014. ‘Water supply network losses in Jordan’. Journal of Water Resource and Protection 6(2): 83-96.
[5] Hussein, H, 2019. ‘An analysis of the framings of water scarcity in the Jordanian national water strategy.’ Water International 44(1): 6-13.
[6] Hussein, H, 2019. ‘Yarmouk, Jordan and Disi basins: Examining the impact of the discourse of water scarcity in Jordan on transboundary water governance.’ Mediterranean Politics 24(3): 269-289.
[7] Hussein, H, 2017. ‘Politics of the Dead Sea Canal: A historical review of the evolving discourses, interests and plans.’ Water International 42(5): 527-542.