Refugees collect water in Azraq camp in Jordan.
© UNHCR/Mohammad Hawari
Location icon Jordan

Climate change is driving Jordan’s water crisis

Syrian refugee women are among the most vulnerable.

Syrian refugee women are struggling to deal with the rising cost of water in Jordan.

With less than 50mL of rainfall a year, Jordan is one of the driest places in the Middle East – and one of the most water-scarce in the world. The country’s supply of fresh water per person has plummeted 97 per cent since the start of the century.

There’s no doubt that increasing demand is partly to blame. Jordan’s population has grown from seven million to more than 10 million in the past 15 or so years, driven by the conflict in Syria. But the other major reason? Climate change.

Rising temperatures and decreased rainfall are causing aquifers all over the country to dry up. Less water means fewer crops and higher food prices, which in turn puts more pressure on vulnerable households – including refugees.

“Natural resource scarcity and import dependence are exacerbating climate change risks for Jordan,” said Jean-Christophe Carret, Country Director for the World Bank, earlier this month. “Accelerating climate action is central to the achievement of Jordan’s development goals to improve outcomes and prosperity for the people.”

Nahlah washes dishes at home in her apartment in Mafraq, Jordan.
© UNHCR/Hannah Maule-ffinch
Syrian refugee Nahlah washes dishes in her apartment in Mafraq, Jordan.

The impact on refugee women

In Jordan’s capital, Amman, household water supply is restricted to 36 hours a week. Wealthier households purchase water from private water companies to supplement and extend their supply. But this isn’t an option for the less well-off, particularly refugees – the majority of whom live below the poverty line.

Ibtisam Yousef Abdelrahman, 55, a Palestinian refugee, described her distress to the The New York Times when her family’s rooftop water tank broke. “I started crying, running around the neighbourhood,” she said. “Now there’s no water, and I worry.” Her family skips showers and she constantly reminds them not to waste a drop.

The Leading Women Fund supports Syrian refugee women who are the heads of their families and are struggling to provide essentials such as food, medicine and now water. Like Ibtisam, many women are forced to ration their water use. As prices continue to rise, they will face even more difficult decisions about how to spend their limited funds.

Um Hadi collects her daily allocation of water in Azraq camp.
© UNHCR/Mohammad Hawari
Um Hadi collects her daily allocation of water in Azraq camp.

COP27 and the promise of change

At the recent COP27 summit, Jordan and Israel officially agreed to move ahead with a water-for-energy deal, giving hope for Syrian refugees and Jordanian nationals alike. The deal will see Jordan exchange 600 megawatts of solar power capacity in change for 200 million cubic metres of desalinated water from Israel.

Meanwhile, UNHCR continues to work with the IKEA Foundation to provide solar-powered water, heating and electricity systems to refugees across Jordan.

As UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said: “COP27 must equip countries and communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis to prepare for extreme weather, to adapt, and minimise the impact of the climate emergency.

“We cannot leave millions of displaced people and their hosts to face the consequences of a changing climate alone.”

Join the Leading Women Fund to provide life-changing support for Syrian refugee women in Jordan.

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