Immediate and Strategic Solutions to Achieve Water Security in Jordan

[09-08-2023 02:33 PM]
Iyad Dahiyat

His Majesty King Abdullah II has consistently emphasized the importance of water security as a national priority in Jordan's Economic Modernisation Vision. The Kingdom has a 400 million cubic meter annual shortfall, as well as a lack of permanent or alternative supplies of fresh water. Climate change has also played a significant impact in a 20% decrease in rainfall, leading to unsustainable overexploitation of groundwater supplies. As a result, rapid and strategic solutions that strive to attain water resources and the financial sustainability of the water sector as basic pillars towards establishing water security and assuring people access to water in all conditions must be implemented.
There is no doubt that achieving water security necessitates concerted national effort, as well as ongoing efforts from the Ministry of Water and Irrigation and the various water sector institutions to turn challenges into opportunities and push for the transition from the stage of planning strategies and policies to the stage of implementing actual procedures and projects with short-, medium-, and long-term objectives. There is also a need for reforms to reduce the financial deficit, address structural issues in the sector, and ensure financial sustainability, as the water sector's precarious financial situation represents a difficult challenge, with an annual financial deficit of more than 300 million JODs, equivalent to 1% of GDP, and total debt exceeding 3 billion JODs.

The national water desalination and conveyance project, which will provide 300 million cubic meters annually and is considered the permanent, long-term solution to the Kingdom's water challenge, must be accelerated to supply the Kingdom's governorates with their water needs by the year 2028, as originally planned by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation. This necessitates changing the project's implementation structure and dividing it into two parts, the first being the critical national water transmission system (420 km in length) and the second being the water desalination plant in Aqaba, both of which must be completed concurrently. Concerning the first part, financing and supervision shall be the responsibility of a government company working to bring in a main contractor to design and implement it completely, and to divide implementation responsibility for six multiple sections (equivalent to 70 km for each section) to specialized Jordanian contractors, so that this part can be completed in less than 24 months. While the second phase is funded and constructed on a PPP by foreign developers and water desalination firms and can be completed in less than 18 months.

It is necessary to begin the implementation of the Hisban wells desalination project under a PPP, which would secure an additional 15 million cubic meters of desalinated potable water annually, in the short term, to supply the capital city Amman by drilling 10 brackish water wells and constructing a RO water treatment system with solar panels, which would pump the treated water to the existing Zara-Main existing water system, which is capable of completely transporting this quantity.

Increasing the amount of water permanently pumped from the Disi water project by 20 million cubic meters per year is considered a short-term solution, and includes drilling additional wells in accordance with the 2015 Jordanian-Saudi agreement for the management and investment of groundwater in the Al-Saq / Disi aquifer. In addition to improving the water lines of collecting wells and their conveyor lines, as well as linking the Disi project's water conveyor line to the water systems of the southern governorates via permanent water outlets connected to the main water reservoirs of these governorates.

Furthermore, geological studies, hydrogeological models, and the drilling of exploration wells for deep groundwater in the regions of Al-Hasa and southern Amman, an extension of the Disi water basin, must be initiated, with the goal of defining the quantity and quality of deep water and offering the project with all of its components as an investment opportunity through PPP to develop the project and the provision of financing and the technology required to treat it.

It is possible to extend the use of reclaimed wastewater in restricted agriculture after the completion and start-up of the reuse transmission pipeline and treatment systems in the northern Jordan Valley. This would be a short-term solution and would allow the substitution of freshwater currently used with this reclaimed wastewater (20 million cubic meters per year), as this freshwater would be freed and pumped into the Wadi Al-Arab / 2 water system to improve water supply in the northern governorates.

One of the solutions that will contribute to the provision of more drinking water in the short term is the implementation of a water treatment plant project downstream of the Wala Dam, especially after its storage capacity has been increased from 10 million cubic meters to 26 million cubic meters. The water resulting from treatment can be pumped to the middle governorates through the existing water supply system of Al-Wala-Al-Haidan-Lib in Madaba Governorate. It is worth noting that similar stations were previously installed on each of the Mujib Dam and Kufranja Dam between 2015 and 2017 to improve water supply in the governorates of Karak and Ajloun, and in a record time that did not exceed 6 months between planning, implementation, and operation, compared to similar projects that require more than 18 months.

In addition, the National Water Strategy 2040-2023 emphasizes the importance of joint regional cooperation to achieve Jordanian water security through the swap projects, as these projects will work to improve water supply and provide quantities of additional water that constitute an important and supplementary source to the Kingdom's water budget, which is primarily dependent on the quantities of water provided by national projects.

One of the most important measures towards improving the financial sustainability of the water sector is targeted water financial subsidies by focusing on the eligible middle-income and poor groups through the existence of a clear plan that classifies water subscribers based on consumption quantities and family income, as was previously done in the electricity sector, taking into account the income disparity, and demonstrating the mechanism used to redistribute subsidies. In addition, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation must center the subsidy system around the economic cost of water supply, the efficiency of water companies' performance, and the volume of future investments in the coming years. This will help to improve social justice, rationalize consumption, increase the efficiency of government spending, and encourage private-sector investment.

It is also necessary to collect the water and sewage accumulated arrears, totaling 200 million JODs, by involving the private sector through PPPs contracts based on performance and incentives and activating the relevant laws and regulations.

Finally, the urgent priority is to reduce water losses, which reach 50%, or the equivalent of 235 million cubic meters per year, before the completion of the above national projects. This would contribute to significantly increasing the quantities of water sold and thus water revenues.

Implementing artificial intelligence-based solutions would revolutionize the monitoring of water consumption, reading water meter consumption quantities, and discovering water illegal usage.

Changes in water flow and pressure can be detected in real-time which enables network operators to swiftly identify and remedy any problems, such as leaks or theft. It can also be used to help improve water use, by analyzing data from water meters and other sources and identifying areas where water use is inefficient, allowing strategies to be put in place to implement projects to reduce waste.

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