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Abandoned Wells in Jordan’s Increasingly Parched Summers

11 May 2022 , | Samer Habbab

In water poverty terms, Jordan ranks the second poorest in the world, as the country fails to save the abundant amounts of rainwater that fall in winter to avoid thirst in its long dry summer. This past winter the Kingdom of Jordan recorded downpours reaching 79% of its annual rainfall average, that is approximately 6436.3 million cubic meters. Despite this, Jordan’s Minister of Water and Irrigation Muhammad Al-Najjar has warned that “the summer of 2022 will not be safe in terms of water security.”

In an attempt to benefit from rainfalls, Article (33/E) of the Greater Amman Municipality codes organizing the construction of buildings in urban and rural areas, has set the conditions for obtaining building construction permits linked to the provision of a rainwater harvesting wells systems to be included in any residential or commercial building as a requirement.

This however, has not been implemented, and as a result water kept getting cut off in different parts of the kingdom, and, often, wells slowly became merely abandoned holes in the ground.

The World Bank
Jordan is one of the ten poorest countries in the world in terms of natural and renewable water resources. Despite this, the kingdom has consistently failed in its efforts to ration its water consumption.
Jordanian citizen’s share of water is 88% less than the global water poverty line, with only 1000 cubic meters of water per capita per year.

Virtual Wells

According to Bader Al Khatib, a contractor at a housing development company the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) is tasked with overseeing the implementation of the buildings codes as part of its cities and villages organization and management. GAM, Al Khatib said, carries out field inspection tours usually, ensuring that wells are incorporated in the building construction as required.

Al- Khatib claims that the oversight task ends when building is completed and delivered in line with the conditions set to obtain the permit. Operating the wells and making use of them is the responsibility of apartments residents. Al-Khatib attributes the failure to make use of the water harvesting wells to the citizens’ preferred dependence on individual water storage tanks that are private instead of shared usage of the water harvesting wells. He believes that often, it is not possible to agree on a fair sharing mechanism of the harvested water among the residents.

Zaid Rabab’a chose to operate the water harvesting well he has built in his building hoping to make it an enticing factor for potential buyers or tenants.

Rabab’a agreed with his neighbors that the largest share of the well water would go to those who reside on the ground floor because they need to water the green space surrounding the building. The same applies to the residents of the top floors since the national water distribution system does not often reach their tabs and storage tanks due to the weak pressure and slow pumping system.

Rabab’a believes that some people in the construction business add the water harvesting well to the main construction plans, but rarely complete those due to the high cost involved for the necessary reinforced concrete and large quantities of iron and cement for insulation to prevent leakage. The total cost of constructing a water harvesting well could reach six thousand Jordanian Dinars (approximately $8500) when the price of a regular rooftop tank does not exceed fifty Jordanian Dinars ($70).

“We do not know that there is a well”

In a poll conducted by the investigator, 58 people were given a questionnaire to determine their level of awareness regarding water harvesting wells. 74% of the respondents said they were not aware that they had water harvesting wells in their buildings or that they could benefit from rainwater. 79% of the respondents thought that there is an opportunity to harvest the water and use it through cleaning the rooftops and connecting the necessary infrastructure to benefit from the wells (where available). The harvested water could then be filtered and used for drinking and watering purposes, especially if the public water company supplies were interrupted in the summer months.

Water management expert, Professor Rakad Ta’ani believes that there was a failure in coordination between all concerned authorities leading to their lack of qualified inspectors coupled with the absence of any awareness raising campaigns or guidelines about rationing water use in general.

Ta’ani believes that water shortages in the kingdom are not limited to the scarcity of volumes of water available, but also its poor quality that has been declining rendering it (increasingly) unfit for human domestic consumption.

Rainwater lost in Jordan due to evaporation reaches a staggering 92.5% while annual underground water refill does not account for more than 3-5 percent of the total rainfall registered annually in the Kingdom.

Therefore, Ta’ani believes there is an urgent need to activate the system in place for rooftops water harvesting.

Water Harvesting

Water harvesting is based on collecting rainwater from rooftops and transferring it to tanks above or below the ground for domestic use after necessary basic treatment or simply boiling it (in some cases).

Studies on water drainage from rooftops in the Greater Amman area were conducted in 1997. According to Professor Ta’ani, the estimates showed that an average rooftop area of ​​95 square meters is usually capable of providing an average of sixteen liters of clean water per capita per day.

Ta’ani is calling for the enforcement of existing laws regulating the use of rainwater gathered from rooftops through specific scientific methods and under the supervision of specialists. Constructing buildings without taking into account the operation of water harvesting wells should not be allowed.

The percentage of rainfall in Jordan varies across the country’s various regions every year. The period between December and March register about 80% of the annual rainfall in ​​the kingdom with an average of more than 8,500 million cubic meters over the total 92000 square kilometers that make up Jordan.

Raghad Saber lives in Irbid with her family of three. She used to buy water from water purification stations despite the heavy downfalls registered annually in her region. She decided to think outside the box to secure the necessary water for her family’s consumption due to her concerns regarding the irregular national water supply and the poor cleanliness and storage issues.

Raghad rushed to buy two water tanks with a capacity of 2000 liters each to put them in her yard. She asked a professional plumber to drill two holes in the roof of the house and to install pipes leading to the tanks. She would clean the rooftop at the beginning of every rainy season.

Raghad continues, “Often, during January and February when there is a heavy cold front, I open the tanks, so they get filled with water. I place clean cotton fabric on the openings to filter the incoming water. The tanks fill up within a few hours usually, and as the water settle in the tank in few days time, it is ready to drink as pure water.”

What about Penalties?

The Greater Amman Municipality GAM, spared no efforts in publicizing its instructions for water wells construction. According to the director of buildings at GAM, Ziad Abu-Orabi, green construction and water harvesting have been highlighted in all meetings and discussions at conferences and at the Engineers’ syndicate.

Abu-Orabi stressed that the last resort was to penalize building owners for failing to construct and provide fully operational harvesting wells. The fine could amount to 10 percent of the cost of a building permit fee, or a minimum penalty set at 100 Jordanian Dinars.

Despite the controls, regulations and fines in place, Abu-Orabi says that the fines imposed are low in comparison to the costs of constructing a water harvesting well, that is why many wells in Amman’s buildings are still redundant as Amman inhabitants continue to suffer frequent water supply interruptions and await real solutions to solve their water shortage problems in the summer.

Samer Habbab
Samer Adnan a photojournalist working in documentaries and video reportage. His coverage focuses on (or he is interested in) Human rights and Syrian refugees