of Syrian Refugees in Jordan | Effects on the Water Sector
Jordan is burdened by an extreme scarcity of
water and the challenges related to this have been aggravated by an influx of
refugees since the year 2013. The total number of registered and unregistered
Syrian refugees is estimated to be around 1.3 million. The majority of
Syrian refugees in Jordan, about 84%, live in urban areas and it’s highly
likely that the majority will remain in Jordan. The Syrian refugees were, and
still are, highly vulnerable and they continue to struggle - especially with:
high housing rental prices; sourcing income-generating activities; overcrowding
of public sector services such as education and health; and competition over
resources, such as water.
The tense water situation in Jordan was already
apparent long before the influx of Syrian refugees. The population growth due
to refugees from Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq, as well as droughts,
trans-boundary tensions over water resources, water mismanagement and an
inefficient agricultural sector, have all been identified as the main issues
affecting the water sector.
however, the effects are even more apparent than ever before. In particular, the Northern Governorates Irbid and Mafraq have been
affected by the influx of Syrian refugees where the population increase has
caused a significant additional demand for water, resulting in local water
shortages and, ultimately, enormous pressures on the sewage network and
wastewater treatment plants.
old distribution networks were not built to support the vast increase of the
population. Additional stresses on the existing water infrastructure require
urgent repairs and maintenance of water pumping stations, and renovation of
wastewater treatment plants in order to prevent further contamination of the
overall demand for water has increased by 40% in the Northern Governorates in
the last few years as a direct result of hosting Syrian refugees. However, the
frequency of water supply in some locations has decreased from once a week to
once every four weeks. It has been calculated that the expected water demand
and wastewater generation will almost double by the year 2045, if all the
Syrian refugees stay in Jordan.
Apart from that the presence of the Syrian
refugees is directly related to the securing of large amounts of humanitarian
aid and infrastructure investments.
Water is often considered a public good rather
than a commodity, and water theft is one of the main issues being addressed by
the Jordanian Government. Groundwater is the
main source of freshwater. However, more than 50% of the total groundwater
abstraction is considered unsustainable due to overexploitation or abstraction
from nonrenewable fossil aquifers. Furthermore, the
indirect disposal of untreated wastewater through cesspools or leaking sewer systems
has further threatened the quality of Jordan’s scarce groundwater resources.
Moreover, competition among the domestic, agricultural and industrial sectors
seriously jeopardizes water sustainability.
Another controversial point is that although the
agricultural sector’s water requirements accounts for around 52% of national
water needs, it contributes only 3% – 4% to gross domestic production. Moreover, aside
from the fresh water supply, the issues of wastewater and sewage treatment are
one of the most prominent issues in the water sector in general. Complaints
against local water companies have significantly increased due to clogged
sewage systems which led to a public outcry in 2013.
Overall, we can say that the Syrian refugees did
not create the water scarcity in Jordan; however, it has clearly been
exacerbated by their presence. Indeed, it could be said that the influx of
Syrian refugees has exposed the inherent deficits of the Jordanian water
infrastructure and its mismanagement.
Jordanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation (MWI) has therefore conducted
various large and costly studies during recent years in order to secure water
supplies and wastewater treatment for the future. It has focused principally on
sub-urban and urban areas of the Irbid Governorate, which has had the highest
influx of Syrian refugees. However,
little has been achieved so far.
The Jordanian government is in a dilemma. The
potential costs are enormous. It’s already obvious that the intended investments will not meet future demands and solutions need to be implemented
immediately. If current water
management practices continue without change, many aquifers will soon be lost:
they will either dry out, become too saline, or become polluted. With this clear investment backlog,
traditional decision pathways of conservative planning must be left
behind and regionally adapted concepts for the future need to be implemented.
For example, an integrated wastewater and water management approach and the
implementation of semi- and decentralized wastewater treatment systems will
assist in mitigating extreme water scarcity and protect groundwater resources
changes are clearly needed for the long-term in order to mitigate the problems
within the water sector. However, these will only result in positive outcomes
if institutional changes are initiated through the political will of the
The study can be downloaded from the follwoing link:
Influx of Syrian Refugees in Jordan | Effects on the Water Sector (11.6 MB)