Water Scarcity in Jordan 

“When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.”  

-Benjamin Franklin 

Written by Iasmina-Măriuca Stoian 

Water scarcity is a serious issue that affects over 700 million peoplei that live in over 43 different countries. From those, there is a list of 14 countriesii that face severe water stress: Qatar, Israel, Lebanon, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, United Arab Emirates, San Marino, Bahrain, India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Oman and Botswana. Because most of them are located either in the Middle East or in the Northern Africa region (MENA region), they are mostly affected by the desert climate and by the increasing level of demand. 

By definition, water scarcity, or water shortage, is the lack of necessary supplies of fresh and clean water to meet the demand for water, thus affecting the countries economically, politically and also the world’s growth level of population. 


Jordan, a relatively stable oasis in the midst of Middle Eastern turmoil, is affected by two issues that threatens its continuous stability – water scarcity and the regional conflicts that not only affects the surrounding countries, but also the Jordanians. According to a study, without intervening measures, over 90% of Jordan’s low-income population will be experiencing critical water insecurity by the end of 2030 (Yoon et al., 2021). What is worth mentioning about this issue is that, although infrastructure is adequate, demand exceeds supply due to population growth and Syrian refugees. Water sources in Jordan include 54% groundwater, 37% surface water, and 110 mm of annual rainfall. However, while the underground basins are overly exploited, the surface water supplies are either mismanaged or contaminated by pollution, making them inaccessible for immediate use. 

This article will look firstly into the factors contributing to this issue, then the effects on the society and the environment, and finally the solutions and current projects. From the mismanagement of surface water resources to desertification and climate change, this article will provide an overview of Jordan’s water scarcity, the measures already taken and solutions for this issue. 

Main causes for water scarcity 

The issue of water scarcity in the Jordan Valley is complex and difficult to address due to a variety of factors such as natural processes, political crises, rapid population growth, water pollution, the discrepancy between supply and demand, the migration of Syrian refugees, and the misuse of water resources. The water shortage not only has effects on the environment and people living in the region, but also on the poor populations from rural areas who face daily struggles due to water scarcity, pollution, and resulting health and economic crises. The following paragraphs will present some, but not all causes of the water shortage in the country. 

Desertification, droughts, and climate change 

Desertification and droughts are natural phenomena affecting the water shortage not only in the country but also in the region, as well as the impact of climate change leading to decreased groundwater and aquifer replenishment. Also, heavy irrigation practices and the overdrawing of water from aquifers have contributed to the depletion of water sources. 

While droughts are temporary periods caused by a lack of precipitation, desertification is a long-term process in which fertile land becomes arid and almost impossible to support vegetation, leading to the transformation of the specific area into a desert. They are both caused by the increased temperatures, human activities, such as deforestation, or lack of rainfalls. 

On the other hand, climate change means rising global temperatures, modifying rainfall patterns, intensifying drought conditions and desertification processes. These conditions increase the risk of wildfires and threaten groundwater resources, which supply a significant portion of the country’s domestic water. 

Pollution and water contamination 

Pollution from agricultural runoff and contamination has had a significant impact on the water in Jordan. Multiple rivers and lakes have been contaminated due to the use of insecticides by farmers. In Jordan Valley, the widest region with freshwater resources,iii approximately 70% of freshwater resources are now contaminated by biological pollutants.  

Mismanagement of water resources  

Jordan relies on 3 major surface water sources for 37% of its total water supply; these are the Jordan, Zarqa, and Yarmouk rivers. Overdrawing water for heavy irrigation is depleting water resources in the whole MENA region, leading to drier landscapes and decreasing moisture in the ground. Heavy irrigation uses water from various sources, such as rivers, aquifers, and groundwater, preventing the excess water from being used for other purposes due to added pollutants and chemical compounds. Additionally, over-pumping by Israel and Syria are causing Jordan’s access to the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers to diminish, due to lack of regional environmental cooperation.  

Migration of refugees and increasing demand 

Current water demand exceeds the water supply, leading to a constant water deficit in Jordan. Population growth, particularly from refugees, exacerbates the issue by reducing available water per capita. There are three main uses for water in Jordan: municipal, industrial, and agricultural.  

As for Amman, private water tankers in wealthy areas have seen a rise in prices, contributing to the ongoing water shortages in the city. As a result, government rationing of water is common, and wealthier households often use private water trucks to fill multiple tanks on their roofs. On the other hand, the poor households are most affected, as they have limited capacity to store water and cannot afford to buy from private trucks. While people are responsible for obtaining water tanks on their own, damage to these tanks can make them lose precious water. Stories from people show the dramatic image behind this issue, making people beg for water from their neighbours or skip showers or cleaning to save water.iv More effects will be further discussed below. 

Impact on society and environment 

Human capital impacts 

Apart from the insufficient amount of drinking water for the population, the rest of the amount necessary for basic hygiene and sanitation is almost inexistent. Consequences of the lack of water on the long term are the development of adverse health conditions such as lethargy, neurological symptoms, kidney failure, and others. Moreover, the lack of clean water can also affect the population by increasing the mortality rate attributed to numerous wash-related diseases. 

Water scarcity can also affect children and young students, by lowering the school attendance and performance rates, especially for girls. This is important as children would be able to practice important hygiene behaviour, such as correct disposal of menstrual products and handwashing. 

Impact on refugees 

The impact on refugees is even more drastic. As many of them are among the poorest people in Jordan, the impact is even greater. Tayba Abkar, a 32-year-old Sudanese refugee and a mother of four says: “My children have to go to the neighbours’ house on most of the days to use the toilet. My 13-year-old daughter feels very embarrassed when she goes there”.v This is just one of the many stories of families struggling with this environmental issue. 

Impact on food security 

Water scarcity not only affects human lives but has also a direct effect on food security. A decrease of water in local lakes and rivers means a decrease in agricultural productivity. Food insecurity mostly affects the poor population, leading to multiple cases of malnutrition, famine or undernourishment. 

Solutions and mitigations 

Jordan Water Sector Efficiency Project 

The Jordan Water Sector Efficiency Project aligns with the government’s strategy and aims to improve water sector efficiency, drought management, and climate resilience, for which the World Bank approved $300 million for the implementation of this project.vi The project is still being implemented and is envisaged to cover over 1.6 million people and to save 10 million cubic meters of water, reduce electricity use, and establish a drought management system to benefit households, farmers, and industries in the country. 

UNICEF collaboration 

Among the different international organizations involved in this issue, UNICEF supports sustainable water and environmental conservation projects to improve access to water and sanitation for vulnerable children and families. They currently work with the Ministry of Water and Irrigation to enhance water supply and sanitation infrastructure in cities, schools, refugee camps, and communities.vii They are planning to implement alternative water technologies, promote water conservation, and advocate for policies that manage social-ecological systems. Regional advocacy groups like EcoPeace Middle East also contribute to environmental protection and peacebuilding.  

Dialogues about regional water allocation 

Another solution would be the improvement of water allocation by establishing multilateral discussions and regional cooperation between countries. The Jordan River Basin lacks a multilateral treaty for water allocation. These discussions could play a significant role in reaching comprehensive agreements and promoting regional sustainable development, including unified management of the Jordan River Basin. 


  • Wu, T. L. (2024, March 4). 4 Countries with Water Scarcity Right Now | Earth.Org. Earth.Org. https://earth.org/countries-with-water-scarcity/ 
  • Yoon, J., Klassert, C., Selby, P., Lachaut, T., Knox, S., Avisse, N., Harou, J., Tilmant, A., Klauer, B., Mustafa, D., Sigel, K., Talozi, S., Gawel, E., Medellín-Azuara, J., Bataineh, B., Zhang, H., & Gorelick, S. M. (2021, March 29). A coupled human–natural system analysis of freshwater security under climate and population change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2020431118 
  • Water, sanitation and hygiene. (n.d.). UNICEF Jordan. https://www.unicef.org/jordan/water-sanitation-and-hygiene 
  • Beithou, N., Qandil, A., Khalid, M. B., Horvatinec, J., & Ondrasek, G. (2022, July 8). Review of Agricultural-Related Water Security in Water-Scarce Countries: Jordan Case Study. Agronomy. https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy12071643  

Universal Periodic Review of Jordan

  • This report drafted by Broken Chalk contributes to the fourth cycle of the Universal Periodic Review for Jordan. This report focuses exclusively on human rights issues in the field of education in Jordan.
  • In the previous UPR cycle, Jordan received 226 recommendations, and it supported 149 recommendations. Some of these recommendations focused on the Sustainable Development Goal of “Quality Education”.
  • This report first explores the main issues in the educational field in Jordan, reflecting on the recommendations Jordan received in the 3rd cycle UN UPR review in 2018 and its progress since. Finally, Broken Chalk offers some recommendations to Jordan on further improving human rights in the educational field.
  • As per the letter by the High Commissioner to the Foreigner Minister, issues were raised explicitly for the right to education, which included making education accessible, particularly by ratifying human rights instruments, making education culturally acceptable, preventing marginalisation, making education accessible for those students in remote areas, promote tolerance and respect for religious diversity,  emphasis to be laid on non-discrimination focusing on inclusivity in education, particularly for women and other minority groups and persons with disabilities and ensuring educational rights are guaranteed to refugee children.
  • Jordan has continued its commitment to the right to education through the Jordan Declaration on Inclusion and Diversity in Education.

By Caren Thomas

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Cover image by Yazan Mahmoud Banihani