Water of the Middle East and North Africa

Water Quality in Jordan

The Dead Sea - Water Quality in Jordan
Photo 1: People swimming in the Dead Sea, Jordan. (Credit: Ruben Vermeer)

As Jordan’s limited water resources are used to meet the demands of the rapidly growing population, water shortages are becoming a daily reality for many, and surface and groundwater resources are increasingly threatened with depletion. Water quality is also deteriorating.

As mentioned in the previous section, water quality in the lower part of the Jordan River and the Zarqa River has severely deteriorated over the last 70 years, and the water from these rivers is no longer fit for human consumption. For example, and as discussed in Water Resources, the flow of the Jordan River is constantly decreasing because of upstream abstractions. At the same time, untreated wastewater and agricultural fertilizer runoff continue to enter the Jordan River, which is affecting the quality of the relatively small amount of water that is left.

Another example is the contamination of the Zarqa River from industrial discharge and illegal dumping of sewage, the illegal extraction of concentrated wastewater by farmers for use on crops, and the runoff of fertilizer back into the river from these farms.[1]

The quality of groundwater is also decreasing, mainly due to over-pumping, which often leads to increased salinity.[2]

As demand for water continues to grow and supplies shrink, water quality is likely to continue to decrease. This reality highlights the need to address water quality issues throughout the country at all levels and in all sectors.

Improving surface and groundwater quality

The issue of water quality is both simple and complicated. It is simple because the causes are acknowledged and measurable. However, addressing these issues and finding a way to limit the negative impact on the quality of both freshwater and wastewater resources remains a complex challenge for the government.

To improve water quality in Jordan, the following steps needs to be taken:

  • Monitoring water quality.
  • Effective treatment of biological and other toxic contaminants at the source.
  • Better regulation and/or enforcement of industrial wastewater treatment before discharge and control of crop fertilization materials and volume.
  • Preventing overextraction of groundwater resources.
  • Improving wastewater treatment.

To understand the complexity of these challenges, it is interesting to look at the Ain Ghazal wastewater and sewage collection and treatment system that the government established in the 1960s near Amman. Ain Ghazal was designed to serve 300,000 individual households and around 60,000 m3 per day of wastewater, collected via a sewage network built throughout the city. Today, however, the treatment system is heavily overloaded for different reasons, notably rapid population increase, which has resulted in higher levels of wastewater production. Moreover, treatment methods at the plant are outdated and no longer adequately treat the water. The result is that water treated at Ain Ghazal is of poor quality, which in turn affects surface and groundwater resources near the plant. To address the issue, the Jordanian government, with the support of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, is working towards building a new wastewater treatment plant in the Al-Ghabawi region.[3]

[1] For more details, see pages 6 and 7 of Alshawabka, ZA, 2019. ‘Water availability and quality in the Jordan River Valley and the Zarqa River Basin: stakeholders’ perspectives.’ Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy. The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand.
[2] For more information, see Breulmann, M et al., 2020. ‘Vulnerable Water Resources in Jordan: Hot Spots.’ Ministry of Water and Irrigation with support from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR); Amman – Leipzig – Hannover. 39 p., ISBN 978-3-944280-09-7; MWI and BGR (Ministry of Water and Irrigation; Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe), 2019. ‘Groundwater Resource Assessment of Jordan 2017.’ 151 p., ISBN 978-9923-9769-0-6; MWI (Ministry of Water and Irrigation), 2018. ‘Water Year Book – Hydrological Year 2016-2017.’ 111 p.; Amman, Jordan.
[3] The Jordan Times, 2021. ‘Jordan, EBRD sign 30m-euro wastewater treatment plant financial agreement.’