Ensuring Jordan's water supply for tourism

16 April 2010

Water supply is a growing issue for the tourism industry in Jordan. A planned water connection project aims to help, but more needs to be done in the long term

As a country with limited water resources, the management and allocation of Jordan’s water reserves is far from straightforward.

In numbers

  • 100 million cm/y - Capacity of the planned Disi Mudawarra-Amman pipeline
  • 7 million - Number of visitors to Jordan in 2009
  • JD2.1bn - Contribution of tourism sector to Jordan’s economy in 2009

Source: MEED

The country has a large water supply deficit, which currently stands at 400 million cubic metres a year. The Ministry of Water & Irrigation is working to ensure that key sectors to the country’s economy are not held back by inadequate access to water supplies.

One of the most important sectors in the Jordanian economy is tourism. According to figures compiled by the Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities, in 2009 more than 7 million people visited the country and about half stayed for longer than one day.

Despite a slight decrease in the total number of visitors in 2009 on 2008 figures, the overall trend during the past five years has been one of a noticeable rise in visitors. In 2009 alone, the ministry estimates that JD2.1bn ($2.9bn) was contributed to the country’s economy through tourism, a sector that directly employs more than 40,000 people.

For this reason, the water and irrigation ministry prioritises buildings connected to the tourist industry when allocating water resources, second only to the basic provision of drinking water for the population.

Expanding supply

Amman’s strategy for water management prioritises these needs over those of the industrial and farming sectors. The Jordanian monarch Abdullah II has said: “Our water situation forms a strategic challenge that cannot be ignored. We have to balance between drinking water needs, and industrial and irrigation water requirements. Drinking water remains the most essential.”

The country’s tourism sector centres on Aqaba, Amman, Petra, Wadi Rum, Jerash and the Dead Sea. The government is moving ahead with plans to expand water supply to each of these locations, with a particular focus on Amman.

In an effort to improve access to running water for longer than the 36 hours a week currently available to Amman’s residents the government initiated the Disi Mudawarra-Amman Conveyor project.

The scheme, which reached financial close in June 2009, is designed to transfer approximately 100 million cubic metres a year (cm/y) of water from the Disi aquifer in Mudawarra to Amman. The water will be sent to Amman through a 325-kilometre pipeline, which will pass through water stations in Maan, Tafileh, Karak and Madaba, then finally to Amman. The project seeks to provide Amman with 30 per cent of the capital’s water requirements.

The pipeline will be built in two phases, the first includes extending pipes from Madaba Bridge to Dabouk, in the western outskirts of Amman. The second phase entails extending pipelines from a plant in Madaba Bridge to Abu Alanda area, southeast of Amman. The project will cost about $950m.

Tourist arrivals4,599,2435,586,6595,817,3706,712,8046,528,6267,100,4837,084,552
Tourism revenues (JD million)7539431,0211,4611,63920892067
Hotel Capacity
Hotel rooms19,69819,94520,82721,60921,58722,50723,113
Hotel beds37,85938,65840,48042,02942,14043,92244,371
Source: Ministry of Tourism

Temporary solution

In addition to the $190m in equity from project sponsor Gama Energy, Jordan put forward $300m, France’s Proparco supplied $80m finance, the US’ Overseas Private Investment Corporation provided $250m and the European Investment Bank came forward with $125m.

However, despite its size, the Disi-Amman water project does not provide a lasting solution to Amman’s water supply dilemma. As a non-renewable fossil aquifer, Disi will only be able to provide water at this volume for the next 50 years.

As Bastien Simeon, global head of water for UK-based financial advisory KPMG, explains: “Disi will help a bit, but it’s only part of the solution. They need to manage their resources carefully and do more performance-based management contracts, like they have in Amman and in the northern governorates.”

In the Dead Sea area, the government is looking to improve the water facilities that currently exist to accommodate its growing tourism sector. The Dead Sea is suffering from declining water levels, which inspired the initiation of the Red Sea-Dead Sea water conveyance project.

The initiative is led by Israel’s Ministry of National Infrastructures, Palestine’s Water Authority and Jordan’s water and irrigation ministry. The project is part of international efforts to save the Dead Sea, the level of which has been dropping at a rate of one metre a year, largely owing to the diversion of water from the Jordan River for agricultural and industrial use.

The project is also intended to alleviate pressure on renewable and non-renewable water resources in the area by providing some 850 million cm/y of water. The US’ Harza Engineering Company carried out a feasibility study in the late 1990s, which was subsequently mothballed. Signs that the project is being revived have been welcomed by the region, but enthusiasm has been tempered by the memory of previous delays.

A more immediate project designed to alleviate the water supply issue in the Dead Sea region, with a specific focus on supplying water to hotels in the Dead Sea area, is a large water pipeline project to be completed by the third quarter of 2010. The scheme known as the Jordan Red Sea development project was launched at the end of 2008.

But despite these efforts, Jordan is still far from achieving a constant water supply. As a result, many hotels have their own means of ensuring clean water access to their guests. Small privately owned desalination facilities can be integrated into the structure of new hotels and added to existing hotels. However, a more widely used method is to buy in water in portable tanks.

Swiss hotel operator Kempinski has two hotels, located at Ishtar Dead Sea and in Aqaba in the south of the country, that use this method. According to Ashraf Abul Huda from the group’s Aqaba resort, the flow of water supply is checked once every two hours and tanks of water are ordered on this basis every day. An additional portion is also delivered for emergency use and water recycling technologies are used to conserve as much water as possible.

Recycling facilities

Water reuse is also at the centre of the water management system at The Dead Sea Spa hotel. Pontos, a subsidiary of German tap and showerhead maker Hansgrohe, has installed a facility that recycles grey water. Water at the hotel is now used three times.

The Pontos system uses a three-step non-chemical treatment process. In the first stage, hair, fluff and other solids are removed using a mechanical pre-filter. This is followed by an aerobic microbiological treatment to reduce the organic content created by shampoos and other contaminants. This is a double treatment conducted in batches. In the final step, the water is disinfected with ultraviolet light.

The Dead Sea Spa hotel’s plant treats 15 cubic metres a day of grey water collected from bathrooms and washbasins. The pre-filter is automatically washed with some of the reclaimed water every four hours and the micro-organisms reproduce themselves so maintenance is minimal.

To allow room for storage, the plant has a capacity of 33 cubic metres. The total investment cost was e100,000 ($136,000). It uses 1.5 kilowatt hours of power to treat one cubic metre of grey water and occupies a space of about 40 square metres. The plant saves more than 5,000 cm/y of drinking water from being used for activities that do not require potable water.

Future projects

Developers of hotels that are currently being planned have learnt from the successes and failures of different solutions employed by the country’s existing hotels. Both the InterContinental Hotels Group and Jordanian private shareholding company Saraya Aqaba have hotels currently under construction in the country and are set to incorporate aspects of water storage and reuse into their designs.

Hong Kong-based Swiss-Belhotel International is also planning to build a new four-star hotel near the Dead Sea. According to Devinder Sharma, Swiss-Belhotel International’s regional director of technical services, the hotel will have an agreement with the local authority regarding the reliable supply of water to the hotel.

Like other hotels in the area, the new hotel will use water tankers that deliver water around the clock to the hotels, “as you can’t rely on one source for such a vital operation”. The hotel will also have a grey-water system in place to save water and help with irrigation and cleaning.

However, the use of water tanks remains unsustainable in the long term and water re-use technology, such as the Pontos system, will continue to prove the exception. If Jordan is to resolve its water problems and ensure that its tourism sector is not stymied, it must work towards the timely development of its major water infrastructure projects.

The country must also look at the way in which existing water resources are used. Jordan has a target of reducing demand for water for irrigation from 71 per cent in 2007 to 60 per cent in 2022.

In a presentation delivered by the water and irrigation ministry in August 2009, the need to reform the authorities that regulate the water supply system was identified as a priority. The ministry plans to reorganise the Jordan Valley Authority and the Water Authority of Jordan to eliminate the overlap of functions that currently results in significant duplication of work. By reforming these agencies, Jordan hopes to improve the planning process for new water projects.

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