Jordan's National Water Conveyor and economic transformation

[14-03-2023 10:47 AM]
Iyad Dahiyat

In one of the recent Jordan Economic Vision meetings, His Majesty King Abdullah emphasised the significance of completing the national water desalination conveyor project on time with no delay to address Jordan's water concerns. Because the country's surface and groundwater supplies are limited and insufficient, alternative water sources must be created to meet the country's growing need for water. De-salination and conveyance of Red Sea water to all cities is the only evident alternative that provides a fully in-country new water source to meet ongoing and future water shortages.

The necessity to desalinate seawater, as well as the inherent costs of de-salination and transportation, make this water more expensive than traditional sources. The project will be financed and implemented under a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) model and will provide 300 million cubic metres of water per year to Amman and Aqaba, with connectivity to supplement water delivery to other governorates and connect future water sources. It will be transported over a distance exceeding 450km to the capital city of Amman. Nonetheless, seawater de-salination has been adopted as a definite solution to provide a consistent water supply independent of drought or political concerns. Furthermore, over 240 million cubic metres of reclaimed wastewater will be generated, which will be used for irrigation in the Jordan Valley and increase the total agricultural cultivated land allotted for crops. This would boost Jordan's resilience and self-reliance, create new jobs, as well as contribute to agricultural sustainability and food security.

This project will not only augment the water supply to Jordanians, but more importantly, it will catalyse Jordan's economic development and prosperity, as well as stimulate job creation in many ways. Increasing the amount, quality and variety of project components manufactured locally for use in the project will aid in Jordan's industrial development. The costs of project supplies such as transmission pipes, plant equipment, and materials will consume the majority of capital expenditure during the construction phase (more than 80 per cent) of the project’s estimated budget of $3 billion. Many of these materials are currently planned to be imported, with insufficient links to the local economy and construction of factories in Jordan. Imports of these supplies will be an economic lost opportunity that will not be compensated, leading to missed foreign direct investment in manufacturing and technologies.

What should be done is to compel potential project developers to enter into strategic alliances with local enterprises to build factories and begin manufacturing these components in Jordan. Jordan may gradually increase domestic capabilities and access to technology in this manner and achieve a significant leap. This will facilitate technology and knowledge spillovers and help link domestic firms to global value chains and regional markets.

Additionally, Jordanian contractors and labourers with vocational skills must be given a major share of the construction work employment opportunities, with international experts and contractors supporting the development of specialised infrastructure and industrial and service facilities. This will also allow local skill development opportunities through training and on-the-job knowledge transfers.

The establishment of a water de-salination technology research and innovation center in Aqaba city in collaboration with universities will provide a broad base of faculty members, graduate students, and technicians to develop expertise in the fields of de-salination technology and align theory with practice in Research and Development (R&D). Trainees who complete a training course will graduate with knowledge and abilities that may be applied at any scale or size of a desalination plant. The training programme will provide high-quality specialised training for engineers and professional technicians who are or will be operating de-salination plants and will be able to work in similar facilities in the region and around the world.

As Jordan enters the fourth industrial revolution, Artificial Intelligence technology should be employed for all Jordan Vision implementation drivers and projects, including water-related challenges. Artificial intelligence should be used in this project to autonomously control the project’s desalination plant and assure the desalination processes operating stability for a consistent fresh water supply. As a result, quick response and quantitative control are necessary for ideal working circumstances, which will aid in the resolution of problems such as membrane pollution and concentration polarisation, which raises operational expenses, by employing predictive control models. It will also aid with the protection of the project's infrastructure and pipeline from sabotage and vandalism, building on the Disi Water Conveyance Project's previous experience with the same.

Using cyber security solutions to secure this project will be a top priority for national security. The project will provide 300 million cubic metres of water per year or half of the total volume of drinking water for the population. This function is so important to Jordan that any disruption, corruption or failure would have a crippling effect on security, national economic security and national public health or safety. To safeguard the project plants from internal and external threats, all levels, from operation control to field level must be protected simultaneously. Any solutions developed can be rolled out for implementation in other utility sector operations and other national mega projects.

Finally, at this stage of the project, it is vital to conduct a comprehensive economic assessment of it in partnership with all Jordanian firms to identify investment and development prospects, direct economic benefits and costs, potential job-creating opportunities, and other advantages. The assessment should also include a model that assesses the advantage of de-salination achieved by minimising water shortages, which creates economic benefits that positively impact the Jordanian economy as a whole. It should examine the impact of water scarcity on important economic indicators, where the scarcity values are equivalent to the present and planned volumes of desalinated seawater.

Iyad Dahiyat is the former secretary general of the Water Authority of Jordan and the Ministry of Water and Irrigation in Jordan from 2016 to 2019.

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