A Review of Environmental Trends in Jordan in 2013

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The year 2013 did not start well for the main institutional entity empowered with protecting the environment in Jordan. The Ministry of Environment was facing the axe of the Prime Minister who surprisingly announced in Nov 2012 that the Ministry will be dismantled and linked to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs as a department, like it was prior to 2003. The Ministry benefited from a national campaign by NGOs and other partners, along with good media coverage and reasonable arguments to be able to convince the PM to reconsider his decision and the Ministry was back in business in February 2013.

Relieved from this pressure the Ministry returned to its hard task to mobilize internal willingness and external resources to protect the environment which led it to facing pressures from businesses, local populations and other ministries seeking the path to rapid results without environmental impacts.

Heated Nuclear debate:  

One of the major pressures the Ministry of Environment and other environmental stakeholders in Jordan are facing is the nuclear lobby and its political influence to push forward a much disputed nuclear programme. In October, the Jordanian Atomic Energy Commission announced the selection of Russian firm, Rosatom, to construct two 1,000 Megawatt (MW) reactors in Jordan. The two reactors will be built in the middle of the Jordanian desert in Amra area. Under the deal, the Russian firm is to shoulder 49 per cent of the construction and operation costs of the reactors — to be established on a build-own-operate basis — with the government carrying the remaining 51 per cent.

The announcement was met with an increasing wave of doubt, criticism and refusal by environmentalists, independent nuclear energy experts and local communities. Former atomic energy officials also called into question JAEC’s claims that the AES92 VVER1000 reactor technology offered by Rosatom boasts a proven “safety track record”, noting that although licensed, the only model that has been commissioned, in India is currently under construction and not operational. The momentum for the anti-nuclear movement in Jordan is expected to increase in 2014 and attract more stakeholders and get more politicized.

Renewables still facing barriers:

In contrast to the strong political support provided to the nuclear option by the government and state institutions the portfolio of renewable energy is still moving at a lethargic pace. The chaos in official planning for this sector was evident when the government  announced that it was reconsidering the feed-in tariff for renewable energy approved last year. This has resulted in discomfort and threatened ongoing and planned investment until somehow the government returned to logic and kept its committed figures.  

The year did not end without positive news as the first large-scale wind farm project has secured funding. The support from IFC will help the Jordan Wind Project Company build a 117-megawatt plant in the southern governorate of Tafileh. IFC, the lead arranger of the project, provided $69 million in loans and helped directly mobilise another $79 million from other lenders. The wind farm will be the country’s first privately-owned renewable energy facility. The Tafileh wind farm is expected to produce electricity at a price up to 25 per cent less than that of thermal power while avoiding the emission of 224,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. There are two other solar and wind energy projects with generating capacity of 75MWs each at a total cost of JD300 million to be financed from the Gulf Cooperation Council fund to Jordan.

In other news in energy sector, the once-promising era of Egyptian natural gas supply to Jordan is about to end. Egyptian gas supplies have dropped to “negligible” quantities since September, after hovering around 50 million cubic feet (mcf) per day for most of the year — well below the 240mcf stipulated in a joint agreement between Amman and Cairo. The loss of Egyptian gas supplies, which used to account for over 80 per cent of Jordan’s electricity generation needs, has driven generation costs to over 187 fils per kilowatt hour (kw/h) — more than double the average 87 fils per kw/h rate distributors are charging consumers.

The government indicated that the gap has cost Jordan more than JD500 million in subsidised electricity to residential consumers alone, adding that a proposed rise in electricity tariffs will fail to close the widening gap.

Mini Red-Dead Agreed:

 The major event in 2013 in relation to water sector was the MoU which was signed between Jordan, Palestine and Israel to launch a “reduced” design of the Red-Dead Conveyor project. Through the concept of water swap between Jordan and Israel the project’s first phase will provide Jordan with 100 million cubic metres [mcm] of water annually at affordable prices… This amount will cover Jordan’s water needs during the next decade. The Red-Dead project will channel 100mcm of brine into the Dead Sea to reduce the deterioration of its water level. The project will also provide Palestine with 30mcm of freshwater to cover its water deficit, especially in the south of the West Bank. A total of 85-100mcm of water will be desalinated annually with Aqaba receiving 30mcm of desalinated water annually to cover the zone’s increasing development needs until the year 2040. Meanwhile, Israel will buy its share of 50mcm of desalinated water from the project at cost value and will sell Jordan the same amount of water in the northern part of the Jordan Valley at a cost of JD 0.27 per cubic metre.

In 2013 the government has decided to hit strong on water theft in Jordan. There are 1,000 unlicensed water wells in different places in the Kingdom and those operating them are selling water to citizens at high prices. Many owners of illegal water wells were selling water at prices that reached JD2,000 per day, which has prompted the ministry to file some 800 lawsuits against them. The Ministry of Water and Irrigation stated that between 50 and 100 million cubic metres (mcm) of water are extracted from these wells annually, around half the amount pumped from the Disi aquifer in southern Jordan. The Kingdom’s water needs in 2013 stand at 1,400mcm, with the annual deficit reaching 550mcm.

The outcomes of “Arab Spring”:

Another major source of extra pressure on water resources in Jordan has been the continuous influx of Syrian refugees to Jordan and especially on the groundwater aquifer in Northern governorates. A recent study by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation warned that it was only a matter of time before the main aquifer lying beneath the Zaatari camp became polluted. Overpumping to meet the demand of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees is not the only risk facing the aquifer, according to the study, which noted that pollution due to wastewater leakage is also expected within one to ten years.

More than 580,000 Syrians have taken refuge in the Kingdom since the conflict in their country erupted in March 2011. Over 70 per cent of Syrian refugees in Jordan live amongst host communities, while the rest are accommodated at the Zaatari camp and the Mreijeb Al Fhoud Camp in Zarqa Governorate. The influx of refugees is placing pressure on the local sewage network, causing it to overflow frequently, according to officials and residents of Mafraq. The study indicated that over 34.164 million cubic metres of wastewater are generated annually by Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Those clear signs of danger, however did not stop Jordan from taking a very peculiar decision to install a second refugee camp above Al Azraq aquifer, one of the most important groundwater resources in Jordan!

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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