“I wish I could live at the Zaatari Syrian refugee camp because there is water there,” a Jordanian man says, frustrated that he has not had any tap water of his own in months.
“I cannot remember the last time I got municipal water. Maybe if I go live with the Syrian refugees I might get some of the water the government provides them,” said the 50-year-old man from the northern city of Irbid.
He is one of hundreds of thousands of Jordanians who suffer from chronic water shortages in one of the world’s 10 driest countries, which is 92 percent desert.
Many ordinary Jordanians, as well as others in government circles, complain that tens of thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled from the conflict at home are draining the country’s meager water resources.
In recent weeks, people have demonstrated in southern and northern villages for not receiving water for the past two months, burning tires, blocking roads and seizing a Water Authority tanker.
Their only alternative is to buy from private suppliers at grossly inflated prices, or even steal it.
“This summer has been tough and hot, and the increasing Syrian refugees and sometimes tourists have added pressures to water resources,” Water Authority Secretary General Fayez Bataineh told reporters. “But at the same time people’s reaction to some limited and isolated problems is highly exaggerated.”
Years of below-average rainfall have created a shortfall of 500 million cubic meters a year, and the country forecasts it will need 1.6 billion cubic meters of water a year by 2015.
The country’s 10 dams, which can store up to 325 million cubic meters, now contain around 70 million cubic meters.
“Some people do not get water as scheduled, while others do not get enough. But when some steal water and sabotage pipes, the situation become worse,” Bataineh said. “I think we have managed to control the situation.
As for Syrian refugees in Zaatari, water tankers provide each one of them with 30 liters a day because their use of water is limited.”
More than 30,000 Syrian refugees live in Zaatari, near the Syrian border.
Other refugees are concentrated in the northern cities, which already suffer from water shortage, while the demand on water is expected to increase.
In June, the government said that each Syrian needs at least 80 liters of fresh water.
“The authority pumps water to us once a week, less than 24 hours. It was never enough,” mother of five Umm Iyad said.
Umm Iyad lives in a hilly area in Amman, where water pressure is sometimes too weak to fill storage tanks in her building.
“If we are lucky, we buy a four-cubic-meter water tanker from the Water Authority for around nine dinars [US$12]. But sometimes it is not available, which forces us to pay 25 dinars for the same amount from private water suppliers.”
Jordan’s average annual consumption stands at around 900 million cubic meters, but more than 60 percent of that goes to agriculture, which contributes 3.6 percent to GDP, according to official figures.
Struggling to battle a chronic water shortage, Jordan is mulling controversial plans to extract water, such as tapping into a 300,000-year-old aquifer, despite concerns about high levels of radiation, and studying ways to build a canal from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. It is also seeking to develop peaceful nuclear energy to desalinate water.