Urbanization and Environmental Change in Jordan

Jordanian cities were historically built on, or adjacent to water resources, especially groundwater. While cities expanded, the natural recharge area available for rain to infiltrate the soil and recharge the groundwater dramatically decreased.

The city of Amman is a clear example of rapid and exponential growth that defies sustainability criteria. The area of Amman was 52 Km2 in 1952, increased to 92 Km2 by 1985 and to 576 Km2 in 1987 and in 2007 made a huge growth to reach 1680 Km2. The area of Amman is currently bigger than Berlin (892 Km2), Moscow (1081 Km2) and Los Angeles (1290 Km2). However the population density in Amman is 1300 persons/km 2 compared to 3847 in Berlin, 9736 in Moscow and 2972 in Los Angeles. This huge area with sparse populations puts a lot of demand for infrastructure services and networks which means higher costs of more disturbances to natural conditions and systems. The Amman master plan of 2008 assumes that the population growth will reach 6.5 million in 2025 which can only happen based on a population increase rate of 6.6% annually while the current population growth rate is 2.2%. The masterplan however, focus on intensification of urbanization in specific area trying to contain unsustainable urban sprawl.

Outside Amman the urban expansion plans are even more deteriorating for sustainability. The rapid expansion of municipalities is driven by social pressures to increase the values of land by adding them to the planning zones. This results in the spread of sparse population that requires water, wastewater, energy, transportation, education and health services and resulting degradation of natural resources and high costs of delivering services. Most of there communities are served with cesspools that cause groundwater pollution since they are not connected to the wastewater network.

Rural to urban migration has become a core fact of life in Jordan.  The number of citizens living in urban areas almost doubled from 40% to 72% between 1952 and 2004. This is due to rural-to-urban migration and the fact that immigrants usually prefer to immigrate to cities rather than rural areas. Combined, the three largest cities (Amman, Zarqa and Irbid) make up 71.4% of the Jordanian population as of 2009. However, rising rural-to-urban migration leads to increasing pressure on housing, basic amenities, increase
demand for food (leading to inflation) and rising inequalities in living standards, both within the country, and within urban centers themselves.

Urbanization in Jordan is rapidly outstretching the nature’s carrying capacity in urban center, and it will be of no surprise to wittness gradual conflicts, competetion for resources and all other symptoms of ailing cities such unsustainable policies and practices continue.

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About bwardam

Mr Batir Wardam is a Jordanian environmentalist with professional experience in disciplines of natural resource management, environmental policies and communication. He has a 15 years working experience with national academic institutions, NGOs, the government of Jordan and international and regional environmental organizations including UNDP, UNEP and IUCN. Mr Wardam is currently working with UNDP as a project manager for the third national communication report on climate change in Jordan.
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