Tapped Out: Water Scarcity and Refugee Pressures in Jordan

Man at water tap in Jordan
March 09, 2014

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Jordan, one of the world’s driest countries, is dumping much of its water into the sand.

Aging infrastructure is the culprit. Of all the water Jordan pumps, billions of liters never reach a family’s tap. Instead, it gushes out of broken pipes. By one estimate, the amount of water lost nationwide every year could satisfy the basic needs of 2.6 million people, or more than a third of Jordan's current population.

It is a tragedy of waste. Meanwhile, water scarcity is only slated to get worse, as Syria's civil war forces more Syrian families to seek safety in northern Jordan. Approximately 83 percent of Syrian refugees live in cities and towns, further straining the limited water supply.

Addressing this crisis is more critical than ever. Based on new research and Mercy Corps' ongoing water work in Jordan, this report outlines urgent needs and provides key recommendations to guide institutional donor efforts and policies:

  • Invest in long-term development. International donor assistance to Jordan has increased with the Syrian crisis, but the vast majority of funds have focused on refugee response. To relieve pressures on host communities and protect pre-crisis development gains, development dollars must also focus on upgrading and maintaining existing infrastructure.
  • Bridge the governance gap. Government actors are under-resourced and under-manned; their capacity badly needs an upgrade. Jordan’s front-line water utility, for example, has a staff of only six engineers to cover an area larger than Hawaii, with a Jordanian and Syrian population of millions. These shortcomings must be addressed. Investing in infrastructure makes little sense if new projects are handed over to agencies which cannot run and maintain them.
  • Address conflict and conservation. Crises are inflection points. They can result in deteriorating social conditions, resource mismanagement, and violence. Conflict must be mitigated, and conservation promoted. In Jordan, Mercy Corps has found that empowering Syrian and Jordanian communities can head off violence and shift attitudes on sustainability.