Thursday, 9 February 2012

Jordan And The Water Wars


   I took notes in shorthand to back up the tape, finishing the sentence before I looked up into Saunders’ blue-eyed, frank stare. ‘What’s the scale of the problem?’ I asked.
   ‘Massive. Jordan has one of the world’s lowest levels of water resources. The country’s supply stands at less than a quarter of the accepted global water poverty level. And a huge amount, something like twenty-five per cent of that water, is currently coming from over-pumping unsustainable resources. Experts are forecasting the water supply will be a potential humanitarian disaster within fifteen years or so. Personally, I think it’ll come sooner.’
   ‘What’s the government doing?’
   Saunders reached behind him and pulled out a thick, spiral bound document. ‘This is the National Water Strategy. It was adopted in the late nineties and outlined any number of approaches to the problem but at the end of the day it didn’t result in concrete action. That’s one of the reasons the Ministry of Natural Resources was formed, to unify the government’s response. And that’s why they’re going into this privatisation process. It’ll likely be the single largest privatisation the country’s ever seen. It’s critical to Jordan’s future.’
   Saunders paused and some journalistic instinct in me sensed the inevitable spiel to come. I wasn’t disappointed. He laid his hands flat on the desk and leaned forwards, brows knit in intense sincerity. ‘And we at Anglo-Jordanian believe we have the solutions Jordan needs.’
Olives, Page 60

Paul’s interview with the manager at the potash extraction works on the Dead Sea, Clive Saunders, is where the water issue starts to become a prominent element of Olives - A Violent Romance. As I pointed out in my last post, water is a very real problem, not only for Jordan but all of the surrounding states – Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and yes, Israel.

The gravest environmental challenge that Jordan faces today is the scarcity of water. Indeed, water is the decisive factor in the population/resources equation.
King Hussein.gov website

It's that equation that's highlighted in Olives, the lack of water resources is actually critical and increasingly so.The Wadi Rumm pipeline will provide much-needed relief for Amman, but Jordan's an agrarian country and its valuable vegetable crops constantly demand irrigation. The massive depletion of the Jordan has meant the level of the Dead Sea has dropped over 150 feet since the 1960s. Jordan is below the water poverty line already - and it's only going to get worse.

The Jordan River, once a major source of water for the kingdom, was diverted after animosity grew between its stakeholders. The dams built by Syria, Israel and Jordan have caused the river to lose 95% of its original flow. This has also been the fate of Jordan’s other significant waterway, the Yarmouk River, which is now reduced to a mere muddy trickle.
It is an oft-repeated adage that the wars of the future will be fought over water – but this is already sad reality in the MENA region.
Bertelsmann Stiftung 'Future Challenges' 

Behind the natural problems of a lack of water resources are the additional problems of fighting off land grabs - the 1967 conflict lost Jordan Lake Tiberias (or the Sea of Galilee, depending on who you're talking to), a major water body that plays a key role in Daoud's water privatisation scheme in Olives. Israel's 'security wall' cuts deeply into the West Bank, scything up to 10% of the land from the '1967 border' defining the West Bank - almost every incursion loops around a water resource.


The conflict made every country do their best to grab as much as they can, and non-cooperation between them is what really affected the area.
Munquth Meyhar
Chairman, Friends Of The Earth Middle East

In the face of the challenge, various NGOs and other bodies have come together to call for 'regional dialogue' and 'regional co-operation', but these well-meaning calls seem to neglect the facts on the ground - the parties around the potential table these people are envisaging have their hands around each others' throats in every way. Co-operation to eke out water resources is hardly an option - everyone's grabbing what they can. And it's far too little. Especially for Jordan.

The report calls for a confidence-building initiative between the heads of water authorities of Israel and Palesinian Authority, with support of political leaders and under observation of representatives of Quartet or major donor countries, to assess the real situation with regards to the state of freshwater resources in the aquifers along with coordinated water management.
The Blue Peace: Rethinking Middle East Water

So what would you do if you could secure the future of your country's water supply with a brilliant scheme that tapped deep-down water resources based on tapping the ancient Roman 'Qanat Romani' aquifers? What if you could solve that problem on your own sovereign territory? Wouldn't you back a scheme like that?

That's what Daoud's bid is based on in Olives. Tapping the deep aquifers to let the water flow, once again, to Jordan.
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