Some thoughts on waterSeptember 16, 2008
Jordan Business magazine published a very interesting article on the water situation in Jordan, which Batir Wardam referred to here. I found the interview with former minister of water and irrigation Dr. Hazim el Naser (a personal friend of mine) interesting because it reflects some of what is going on in terms of long-term planning in the water sector of the country from the viewpoint of an insider.
The question of water loss through the distribution system is an interesting one. Dr. el Naser insists on calling it “loss” rather than “waste”. After investing money drilling, finding, treating and pumping water into the system, I think that losing after that is characterized by waste. I don’t think that it is a point to quibble about. It is interesting that we are still talking about “administrative loss”, which is a fancy term for vandalism and theft. El Naser estimates that 75% of the 50% of the water lost due to “administrative” loss. In real numbers, that is probably about 75 million cubic meters of clean water that are lost due to theft. This seems to be an ongoing problem that the government is having a difficult time dealing with due to social and political considerations.
The loss in the distribution system is about 25 million cubic meters, which can be alleviated if the distribution system is renovated. El Naser estimates that it will take billions to renew this network. Clearly, there is no interest in investing such a large amount of money for marginal savings. On the other hand, a faulty network will need to be fixed eventually, either as one large project or piecemeal. This will have to be done. If not, losses will increase and there will be public safety issues that will fall out.
Much of the discussion during the interview is centered on demand management, and whether agriculture is taking up too much of the available water supply. I found the distinction between the various types of agriculture very interesting. It seems that most of the water used in this sector is split between the Jordan Valley and the desert areas in the east and in the south. El Naser argues that the major waste is in this desert farming, and not in the Jordan Valley, which uses lower quality water and achieves greater economic and social yields. This is significant, because we are usually led to believe that the water problem in agriculture is due to the farming in the Jordan Valley. Obviously, the wealthy farm owners in the desert would like this myth to persist.
Here is a shocker, an actual quote:
“I don’t think the ministry of planning is doing any serious planning in the water sector. In fact, I am not sure it is actually convinced of the water sector’s importance, with water ranking low on its priority list”.
Another quote I would take issue with
“The water issue in Jordan is a multi-dimensional problem that spans across various sectors, where the non-water element is actually the dominant factor. In my opinion, the role of the ministry of water in resolving the water problems in Jordan is no more than 50%. Planning, education, environment and culture are just some of the many non-water elements that come into play. The ministry of water will tend to focus merely on demand and supply, but the issue of water in Jordan is a multi-faceted one that requires various government entities to work together.”
I feel this is a cop out. The job of the ministry of water is to supply needed water. An earlier quote was that the available water is 800 million cubic meters and the demand is 1200 cubic meters. This means that we are already living on 2/3 of the water we need, and don’t need awareness programs to point out that fact.
I encourage you to read the entire article. I will have more unconventional thoughts in a subsequent post.