Jordan WASH Sector and Climate Change

Water scarcity impacts on every aspect of Jordanian life and is its greatest challenge to economic growth and development.

Climate change will act as a threat multiplier aggravating already existing water problems by decreasing water availability and putting further pressure on groundwater aquifers where recharge rates have already been exceeded. ​


A middle-income country located in the heart of the Middle East, Jordan is one of the driest countries in the world. Water scarcity impacts on every aspect of Jordanian life and is its greatest challenge to economic growth and development. The demand for water and energy by the large number of refugees is an important element in current and future water scarcity and energy concerns. Climate change will act as a threat multiplier aggravating already existing water problems by decreasing water availability and putting further pressure on groundwater aquifers where recharge rates have already been exceeded. The combined effects of climate change and population growth (including migration) is anticipated to put more pressure on limited land and water resources and to increase the challenge of sustainable development in Jordan.

Being primarily arid to semi-arid, Jordan is characterized by very low annual precipitation, averaging less than 220 millimetres. The rainy season extends from around October to May of the next year with 80% of the seasonal rainfall occurring through the months of December to March, reaching a maximum average during the month of January. The annual total precipitation varies sharply from one climatic region to another, from a minimum of 28 mm at the southern Badia region to a maximum of 570 mm at the upper northern highlands region of Ras Muneef.

While there is some difference in the analysis of trends, there is convergence that the frequency of drought is increasing and that this trend will continue. The results of an analysis by ICARDA for the period 1901-2010 indicates that annual precipitation has been declining for a long time and that this trend is significant in all of Jordan.


Trends since the 1960s include:

  • Rise in annual maximum temperature of 0.3-1.8°C and rise in annual minimum temperature of 0.4–2.8°C across all regions (minimum temperatures rose at a faster pace than maximum temperatures).
  • Increase in the average number of heat waves across the country, particularly in the desert.
  • Increase in the number of consecutive dry days nationwide (highest in the desert, followed by the highlands and then the Jordan Valley).
  • Decline in the annual precipitation by 5-20 percent across the country, except in Ras Muneef in the highlands and Ruwaished in the Badia, where rainfall has increased by 5-10 percent.


Prevalent in the analysis of climate change in Jordan and Middle East is the use of the relative concentration pathways (RCP) that were utilized in the IPCC/UNFCCC reports. In the medium term (2050), while there is some disparity there is overall agreement that Jordan will become warmer with more frequent heat waves and fewer frost days. It is anticipated that in in the eastern and southern areas of the Badia and in the northern and southern areas of the Highlands there is an increase in precipitation during the rainy season up to the year 2050, with a decrease for the rest of the country which could reach up to 50% in the North of Aqaba. The country will also become drier with projected trends indicating that the annual precipitation tends to decrease significantly with time. Rainfall intensity is expected to increase. Runoff (precipitation minus evapotranspiration, a measure of water availability) is projected to decrease.

Long-term projections (2100)

The CORDEX RICCAR Initiative results (based on a broad range of global and regional climate and impact models) show that climate pressures and their water sector impact will intensify over time with the decrease in water availability projected to get particularly severe after the year 2040. The Third National Communication on Climate Change (2014) using earlier RICCAR analysis suggest that by 2100 (end of century):

  • Mean and maximum temperature will be 2-4°C higher for all Jordan;
  • Precipitation will be 15-20 % lower and potential evapotranspiration about 150 mm higher;

For Amman, some models suggest by the end of the century an increase in dry years (years with <200 mm precipitation) from once every three years to once every two years, about 30 days longer dry season, and a reduction in precipitation by ca. 10-15%.



The water sector will be the most heavily affected by climate change with anticipated consequences including:

  • reduced water availability
  • less reliable seasonal rainfall
  • increased intensity of droughts during which reservoirs are not refilled, groundwater is not recharged, and rain fed agriculture suffers damages
  • increased intensity of flood events during which water and other infrastructure experiences overflows and damages,
  • higher irrigation water demand because of higher evaporation due to increased temperature.

However, Jordan, as a downstream nation dependent on transboundary river basins, is also extremely susceptible to the cascading impacts of climate change basins. For example, climate change in the upstream country Syria can have both a direct effect in Jordan due to diminishing river flow by lower rainfall in Syria, and an indirect effect of increasing irrigation demand [in Syria] due to drought can have both a direct effect in Jordan due to diminishing river flow by lower rainfall in Syria, and an indirect effect of increasing irrigation demand [in Syria] due to drought.

Jordan is already one of the most water-constrained countries in the world. Water availability levels are already at less than 100 m3 per person/year, which is far below the standard water poverty threshold of 500 m3 per capita per year and will continue to decrease further with population growth (including arrival of refugees) and climate change.

Given the large challenges resulting from climate change and other pressures, the need arises for solutions that strenghthens the resilience of the Jordanian water sector.

Given the expected decrease in total water availability that climate change brings to the region, particular emphasis needs to be on reducing demand (i.e. demand management). However, in order to bridge the rapidly increasing gap between demand and supply, all soft and hard-path solutions have to be explored to the maximum extent possible in a coordinated way. Prioritization and climate-proofing of all solutions is important for meeting the challenges of climate change and eventually for making them integral part of national SDG implementation. Prioritizing solutions requires additional new criteria on top of the existing ones, in order to address climate change and strengthen the overall resilience of the water sector. These criteria can for example be related to the appropriateness of solutions under the severity of climate change that is expected during the life time of the respective solution, or they can be related to synergies or trade-offs between climate adaptation and mitigation. These climate-specific criteria for prioritizing solutions need to be integrated with existing water-sector criteria (e.g. cost efficiency, feasibility, urgency) such as the criteria for investments listed in Jordan’s Water Sector Capital Investment Plan. Here is an integrated list of climate-related and other criteria for systematic prioritization of solutions:

  • cost efficiency – measured as either water savings or additional water supply per JD (adaptation) or CO2 emission reductions per JD (mitigation)
  • feasibility of implementation
  • urgency
  • number of jobs created
  • total nation-wide potential for closing the gap between water demand and supply
  • appropriateness of solutions for the expected severity of climate change during their lifetime
  • synergies between climate adaptation and mitigation
  • additional criteria for prioritizing solutions.

Such a more comprehensive set of climate-related and other criteria can go beyond the standard dichotomy of regret vs. no-regret or win-win solutions. Prioritizing solutions based on this set of criteria can help to build resilience to climate and other pressures, and with that contribute to the national SDG implementation. This set of criteria can be applied for prioritizing the full set of soft-to-hard solutions. Following a nexus approach, such a prioritization will be done by an interdisciplinary team with a broad range of expertise and perspectives and representing all relevant sectors. It also needs to be updated frequently, as new (climate and other) data and information become available.


Vulnerability & Adaptation of The Water Sector

Water resources in Jordan are vulnerable to climate change. previous studies, strategic documents (i.e. Jordan’s SNC (2009) and National Climate Change policy (2013)) have identified scarcity of water resources as one of the major barrier facing sustainable development in Jordan; a situation that will be magnified by Climate Change. Expected reduced precipitation, maximum temperature increase, drought/dry days and evaporation are the main determinants of climate change hazards. 

The impact of the increased evaporation and decreased rainfall will result in less recharge and therefore less replenishment of surface water and groundwater reserves. In the long term, this impact will extend to cause serious soil degradation that could lead to desertification, exacerbating future conditions and worsening the situation of the agricultural sector due to the lack of sufficient water that will affect  the income of the agriculture sectors.


 low income will ultimately reduce the ability to the adaptation to climate change with families unable to respond to the pressing needs for replacing traditional water supplies with new methods that require more spending (purchasing drinking water from tanks).

In addition to climate change, the increased demand for water in Jordan during the last decade has contributed significantly to reducing per capita shares. The natural growth of economic activities and population increase has  been exacerbated by the continuous flow of refugees from Syria in particular and thus increase the demand for water.

Assessment of Exposure

The main climate hazard on water resources is the increase in temperature. Climate data pooled from eight models for three periods (2020–2050, 2040–2070, and 2070–2100) suggest that there is significant increase in temperature and hence in evaporation. Also, the data suggest reduced precipitation and hence, drought. This significant change in the potential evaporation will apply further stress in the availability and distribution of the water resources in Jordan. In conclusion, Jordan’s water sector is extremely vulnerable to climate change, especially to temperature.

Climate Change Adaptation Strategies and Measures in Water​

Nearly all the low-cost options for the development of new water resources are challenging in Jordan. Since all rivers and aquifers are highly exploited, few options are left for developing new sources of water for drinking and irrigation. However, a long list of possible opportunities is presented and evaluated in the table 4.16 and a detailed description of six options is given.

1. Integrated water resources management:

Mainstreaming of climate adaptation (and mitigation) into the existing institutional framework in IWRM is done by prioritizing solutions according to a combination of climate specific and other (already established) criteria. IWRM encompasses many relevant solutions for climate adaptation (and mitigation). Below is a list of water-related solutions, starting from hard (mostly infrastructure) solutions, and moving down towards softer, e.g. economic and capacity building, solutions:

  1. Water storage, using all options, e.g. dams & reservoirs, ponds, cisterns, aquifer recharge and groundwater storage, soil water storage.
  2. New water, water harvesting (in combination with supplementary irrigation for drought and climate-proofing and increasing the water use efficiency of primarily rain fed agriculture, which is practiced on 60% of Jordan’s cropland), water transfers, wastewater collection/treatment/reuse, desalination (for climate mitigation purposes, this option needs to be based on renewable energy).
  3. Water quality protection and improvement, to increase water availability for unrestricted use.
  4. Virtual water through imports of water-intensive products.
  5. Integrated water and land planning / management / zoning, water-smart land use, including urban planning – stop encroachment, loss of agricultural land, overgrazing, desertification, land degradation, erosion and reservoir sedimentation, including conservation agriculture and soil conservation for improved soil water storage and soil filtering capacity, protection of groundwater recharge areas from pollution and water-smart afforestation.
  6. Economic incentives for reducing water (and energy) use and also for using more renewable energy in the water sector.
  7. Water (and energy) demand management: either via technical measures, e.g. infrastructure rehabilitation and reduction of transmission losses (in the agricultural sector for example: drought resistant crops, use of brackish water, better use of rainfall, more efficient irrigation) or also economic measures (e.g. water pricing) or awareness raising and behavioural changes.
  8. Improvements in water use efficiency, e.g. driven by demand-management or water re-allocations, these generally also translate into energy savings.
  9. Improved climate data collection, monitoring and early warning systems;
  10. Training and capacity development:
  11. Public awareness and behavioural change.
  12. Mainstreaming climate expertise into water management, e.g. facilitating the use of climate data for planning and early warning (climate services).
  13. Training of experts for writing successful proposals to international climate funds.
2. Rainwater harvesting

Rainwater is the prime source of water in Jordan. The quantities lost to evaporation from temporary open water bodies and soil represent a significant part of the water budget in Jordan. Rainwater is dispersed  over  a  wide  area and, if properly collected, could provide a significant addition to the water reserves of the country.

Rooftop water harvesting, simple model indicates that where the average design-rainfall is about 400 millimeters per year and the losses are about 20%. A rooftop of 100 square meters can easily harvest 32 cubic  meters  per  year.

Field visits and consultations with farmers indicate that about 50% of the households  have functional rainwater harvesting systems. However, the existing rainwater harvesting techniques need modification/improvements to adapt to the changing climate conditions and to ensure proper water quality. For example, significant increase and improvement in the catchment area will enhance the efficiency of rainwater collection and will improve the quality of the harvested water. In addition, public safety should be improved. Open underground reservoirs could be dangerous, as they may attract people to swim there while some may not be skilled enough. Jordan has a high rate of mortality due to drowning in open water bodies.

3. Wastewater treatment

Wastewater treatment and reuse in the agricultural sector is a feasible option and already in use. Reusage helps meet the demand for freshwater, but the cost of treatment need to be minimized considering water quality and quantity constraints. Centralized wastewater treatment such as As Samra treatment plants requires technical expertise and massive operation and maintenance costs. Hence, decentralized wastewater treatment is a viable option.

4. Desalinization

Currently, the economy of Jordan, a developing country, cannot support the full implementation of seawater desalination as a fresh water source due to lack of financial resources and low abundance of energy sources. However, using clean energy such as solar and wind can be used  for brackish water desalinization at a local, small scale. Groundwater with high quantity of total dissolve solids and sulphur contents are common. This unused groundwater source can be utilized by farms or cluster farms.

5. Increasing Efficiency of Irrigation Technologies:

Agriculture is the largest water-using sector in Jordan, making implementation of proper irrigation technologies like sprinkler systems, drip irrigation, subsurface irrigation systems and plastic greenhouses necessary to improve water savings during hot seasons.

6. Grey water Reuse:

Grey water can be reused to partially replace fresh water to flush toilets. using proper showerheads can reduce demand for fresh water. Moreover, capturing and storing rainwater from roofs can reduce the demand on fresh water for other domestic purposes for example gardening purposes.