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Despite the fact that Jordan has one of the best water treatment and delivery systems in the region – providing safe water to more than 98 percent of Jordanians – the demands of a growing population and a growing economy, combined with inefficient agricultural use, are causing rapid depletion of groundwater. If current trends continue, Jordan faces an absolute water shortage by 2025.
The water shortage will have a particularly devastating effect on the rural poor who pay more for water, depend on fewer and more vulnerable water sources, and earn much of their income from water-dependent agriculture. As groundwater levels fall, springs and agricultural wells are going dry, and pumping costs are increasing to the point that many smaller farms are unprofitable. Agriculture accounts for about 60 percent of Jordan’s water use but much of it goes to water-intensive highland crops, such as maize, barley, wheat, and olives which produce modest or even negative returns. By contrast, Jordan’s most profitable crops are winter vegetables from the Jordan Valley. A high proportion of the water being used in agriculture produces no crop value for the farmers or their communities. Jordan’s rural communities lack water security, and these trends have motivated many to accept government buy-outs and to consider changes to other livelihoods.
The challenge in the agriculture sector is to maximize the value of Jordan’s groundwater, getting “more crop per drop,” while minimizing the human and economic costs of adapting to increasing scarcity. USAID’s newest programs focus on efforts to increase the fairness and effectiveness of water policies affecting farmers, to improve management of groundwater and efficiency of water use, and strengthen enforcement of regulations on water pumping and waste disposal.
We assist the Ministry of Water and Irrigation to adapt new tariff, allocation, and enforcement policies for groundwater use, including hydrological research and monitoring. To make restrictions on use of groundwater more acceptable, the program works closely with Jordanian counterparts to improve agricultural water efficiency and, where water shortages are most severe or farmers are growing water-thirsty crops, promote alternative livelihoods.
USAID supports efforts to encourage farmers to switch to high-value, water-efficient crops, such as medicinal plants or hydroponic produce, to use more efficient irrigation methods, and to diversify into alternatives to marginal agriculture, such as tourism/agro-tourism and renewable energy industries. We will help conduct large-scale field tests of promising technologies, while continuing to provide revolving loan funds that enable families in rural communities to improve water security through water harvesting and conservation in their households and communities.
Last updated: January 26, 2015