Jordan Faces Major Water Shortage

Jordan's second-largest city, Irbid, is without any piped water. And in the capital Amman, water flows through city pipes only a few hours per week. Jordan is blaming the problem on neighboring Syria, which controls the flow of the Yarmouk River, Jordan's main source for water.

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Lebanon's neighbor Jordan is a facing a major water shortage this summer. Some 400,000 people in the country's second largest city, Irbid, are without any piped water. And the crisis is evident even in the capital Amman, where water flows through city pipes only a few hours per week. Jordan is blaming the problem on Syria, which is next door and which controls the flow of the Yarmouk River, Jordan's main source for water.

Kristen Gillespie reports from Amman.

KRISTEN GILLESPIE: After five weeks, Abu Awad AShara(ph) got tired of waiting for the government to turn the water supply back on. Now, a tanker truck sits outside the apartment building he shares with 70 the people. For $200, the truck is pumping enough water into a large green tank to last about a week. Abu Awad lives in a small, dusty, desert town called Husson. Even in the best of times, water here, like almost everywhere in Jordan, is scarce. But when a parasite was found in the water supply last month, it was cut off altogether. Private water suppliers took up some of the slack. Their tankers now ply the narrow streets of Husson offering water at four-times the government rate. Abu Awad says he and his neighbors could barely afford to buy the water, but with the pipes run dry, they had no choice.

Mr. ABU AWAD ASHARA: (Foreign language spoken)

GILLESPIE: There's no water, he says, pointing to the meters that measure the building's available supply. Nothing, zero, he says.

Water is still valuable here that the government opens the pipes around the country for only a few hours every week. Metal tanks on rooftops collects the water and consumers are charged according to how much it's flowed into the tanks. It's expensive; it's not always clean; and every year, the average household's access to water is shrinking.

Mr. ADNAN ZUBI (Spokesperson, Ministry of Water and Irrigation, Jordan): We, we announce again and again. We haven't more water resources in Jordan. We use all the water resources in Jordan.

GILLESPIE: That's Adnan Zubi, spokesman for the Water Ministry. When the parasite contaminated the water supply and the region around Husson, Zubi says there was no extra water for people like Abu Awad. Jordan has so little water that giving more to one area would mean taking it away from another. Last June, the American government gave Jordan $45 million to develop the water sector, but demand is outpacing capacity. Jordan's fast-growing population has been further swollen by the arrival of some 700,000 refugees from neighboring Iraq. Most of Jordan's water comes from the Yarmouk River. It originates in Syria and flows south into the Jordan River. So, when its water reserves one low, Jordan becomes dependent on Syria.

Mr. ZUBI: Unfortunately, the amount of water the reach from this river is less, less, less, less than what we need or what we have from our rights, okay? This is the problem.

GILLESPIE: Because Jordan's only hope for getting the water from Syria is diplomacy, officials here were reluctant to openly criticize Syria. But Ayman Al-Safadi, editor in chief of the Jordanian daily Al-Ghad, echoes what officials here say privately.

Mr. AYMAN AL-SAFADI (Editor in Chief, Al-Ghad): Syria has built hundreds of dams on the river flow in the Syrian territory, and it is not honored agreement that it has signed with Jordan, and the result has been is that, for many, many years now, Syria has been stealing tremendous amounts of waters that legally belong to Jordan.

GILLESPIE: But Jordanian citizens like Abu Awad AShara blame their own government for the water crisis here.

Mr. ASHARA: (Foreign language spoken)

GILLESPIE: The government has failed the people as usual, he says. We're reduced to begging for water.

(Soundbite of running water)

GILLESPIE: Abu Awad ushers his grandchildren over to the water truck. They hold up small plastic pitchers, collecting the last drop falling from the side of the tanker.

For NPR news, I'm Kristen Gillespie in Amman.

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