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Climate Change, Arab Spring and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

If there is something positive about climate change it is that it challenges our habitual thinking and our tendency to view the world in bits and pieces rather than seeing it as one unity.

It is well known that the severe drought that hit Syria between 2006 and 2011 was one of the major contributing factors that led to the current unrest. The impact of the conflict in Syria on the surrounding countries and the rest of the world is obvious and difficult to deny.

Jordan, the fourth poorest nation in the world in terms of available water resources, is hosting 1.4 million Syrians, of whom more than six hundred thousand are refugees. In other words, the number of Syrians in Jordan is almost a quarter of the pre-crisis population.

As a response to the increasing demand, the Jordanian government had no choice but to over-pump water from the aquifers, which will inevitably lead to a decline of water levels and a rise in the salinity of what remains.

To make things worse, billions of litres never reach the Jordanian families due to the aging infrastructure. According to Mercy Corps report, the amount of water lost nation-wide could satisfy the needs of 2.6 million people, more than a third of Jordan's current population.

When Jordanian policy makers outlined their strategies, they assumed a consistent increase in population. The sudden increase in population has laid its burden on every aspect of life and made the life of the average Jordanian much more difficult.

For instance, the kingdom's water strategy projected that the population will continue to grow from about 5.87 million in 2008 to over 7.8 million by 2022. However, with the influx of Syrian refugees, it is estimated that the population will reach 8 million in 2013. The impact of the sudden population increase has not been limited to Jordan's water sector. Schools and hospitals are overcrowded, housing is scarce, traffic jams are unbearable and the oversupply of Syrian labours in a relatively small market pushed down wages.

The violent unrest in Egypt in 2011, which was partly caused by sudden spikes in food prices, had its toll on Jordan as well. Jordan is a predominant importer of energy supplies, importing 96% of its energy needs from neighbouring countries. After the collapse of the Mubarak government and the domestic instability in Egypt, the pipeline exporting the country's gas to Jordan was repeatedly sabotaged and the lack of security in Sinai has complicated the ability to repair the damage.

Jordan used to rely on the Egyptian gas to generate power and had no choice but to shift to the use of heavy fuel. The much higher price of heavy fuel resulted in an unprecedented increase in the energy bill which has risen in 2012 to become 19% of the GDP and increased the national debt to dangerous levels. This led the Jordanian government to lift fuel subsidies, a decision that sparked protests across the country.

It is worth mentioning that according to the 2013 Annual Report of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, the power requirement only for water pumping in 2013 amounted to about 14% of the total power production of Jordan.

The energy crisis in Jordan has been a wake-up call and led to the gradual diversification of the Jordanian energy sector. The new strategy focuses on reducing oil imports, increasing natural gas inputs and introducing significant alternative energy capacity, including renewable, nuclear, and oil shale sources.

Jordan has always been relatively stable in a troubled region. The water and energy crisis the country is currently facing can be considered an existential threat. At the same time, it forced decision makers to take more serious steps to deal with these challenges and to review their old ways of transferring problems to future generations.


Also see the our Jordan policy brief for a detailed analysis of climate-fragility risks.

Mohammad Bundokji is the Jordanian project manager of the Water/Energy Nexus study at EcoPeace Middle East.


Photo Credit: Syrian refugee child in Zaatari Camp, Jordan. Oxfam International/