Jordan dam reserves at all-time low as water crisis looms

Waleh dam in Madadaba governorate. (Al-Mamlakah TV)
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Waleh dam in Madadaba governorate. (Al-Mamlakah TV)
Mujib dam in Karak governorate. (Al-Mamlakah TV)
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Mujib dam in Karak governorate. (Al-Mamlakah TV)
King Talal Dam in Jerash governorate. (Al-Mamlakah TV)
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King Talal Dam in Jerash governorate. (Al-Mamlakah TV)
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Updated 13 November 2021

Jordan dam reserves at all-time low as water crisis looms

Waleh dam in Madadaba governorate. (Al-Mamlakah TV)
  • Of the kingdom’s 14 major dams, three are now empty, according to officials
  • Head of the Jordan Valley Farmers’ Union Adnan Khaddam blamed the government for the “risky” water situation

AMMAN: Amid a delay in rainfall, Jordan’s major dams are either completely empty or facing critically low water levels, putting the country on the verge of an unprecedented drought crisis should dry weather conditions persist.

Of the kingdom’s 14 major dams, three are now empty, according to officials, who said that emergency plans are being put in place to save farmers in the fertile Jordan Valley, known as the food basket of Jordan.

In recent remarks to Arab News, Omar Salameh, spokesperson of the water ministry, said that the Waleh, Mujib and Tanour dams in the southern desert regions have dried up due to crippling drought.

Salameh added that the King Talal and Wadi El Arab dams in the north are not yet empty, but are reporting critically low water levels.

“All in all, all the country’s dams have reached their lowest water levels due to extremely dry seasons over the past two years,” he said.

The official explained that the 2020-2021 rain season — from December to May — was “very low” and brought 60 percent less rainfall than the annual average.

“This coupled with high temperatures and high demand on water has led to all the consequences we are having now.”

However, citing data from the Jordan Meteorological Department, the official said that the delay in rainfall is “not exceptional” and that “it’s still too early to declare an emergency water situation.”

In a recent report, the JMD said that delayed rainfall is expected as a result of climate change, adding that rainfall in autumn makes up less than 20 percent of the total wet season.

Salameh said that the ministry has put in place short and long-term plans to address a possible dry season.

With low water storage in dams meaning less water to be portioned out to farmers, Minister of Agriculture Khaled Hneifat announced that farmers in the Jordan Valley are now permitted to drill wells to access groundwater for irrigation — a practice that was previously prohibited in the country.

During a recent meeting with the Lower House’s water and agriculture committee, Secretary General of the Water Authority of Jordan Bashar Bataineh said that Jordan’s water deficit in 2021 stands at 40 million cubic meters, of which half is in Amman, the densely populated capital of about 4 million people.

Head of the Jordan Valley Farmers’ Union Adnan Khaddam blamed the government for the “risky” water situation, adding that it “stood idly by and took no action.”

Khaddam was quoted in local media outlets as saying that the King Talal Dam, the largest in the kingdom, has reached “dangerously low levels.”

He added: “The dam covers 80 percent of the water needs of farmers in the Jordan Valley, but the available quantity in the dam is very low,” he said, warning of serious drought if rain does not arrive.

National conveyor project

Jordan, classified as the world’s second most water-scarce country, announced the launch of the Aqaba-Amman Water Desalination and Conveyance National Project (AAWDC), described as “the largest water generation scheme to be implemented in the history of the kingdom.”

During a meeting with lawmakers, Bataineh of Jordan’s Water Authority said that the megaproject will “ensure the country’s water stability until 2040.”

The water ministry announced that the AAWDC, once completed, will generate 130 million cubic meters of water each year.

Launching the project’s first phase in February 2020, the government said that the AAWDC will be implemented on a build-operate-transfer basis and will provide a sustainable water resource for future generations in all parts of the kingdom.

The government said at the time that the strategic scheme is part of the Jordan’s efforts to adapt to climate change, dwindling water resources and population growth.

Additional water from Israel

On Oct. 12, Jordan signed an agreement with Israel to purchase an additional 50 million cubic meters of water outside the framework of the peace agreement and what it stipulates in regard to water quantities.

The additional water Israel will provide will come from the Sea of Galilee.

The water ministry issued a statement at the time, quoting an unnamed source who said that the agreement was signed following a meeting in Amman of technical committees from both sides.

The agreement “was proof that we want good neighborly relations,” Karine Elharrar, Israel’s minister of infrastructure, energy and water resources, told Israeli media.

Jordan and Israel in July said that they had reached a deal under which the latter will sell an additional 50 million cubic meters of water annually to the kingdom following a meeting between the foreign ministers of both countries.


Rights experts, jurists, politicians urge UN to probe 1988 Iran massacre

Rights experts, jurists, politicians urge UN to probe 1988 Iran massacre
Updated 9 sec ago

Rights experts, jurists, politicians urge UN to probe 1988 Iran massacre

Rights experts, jurists, politicians urge UN to probe 1988 Iran massacre
  • Letter: ‘Mass executions, enforced disappearances of thousands of political prisoners constitute ongoing crimes against humanity’
  • Many were sent to their death by current President Ebrahim Raisi

LONDON: Hundreds of international lawyers and human rights scholars have penned an open letter to the UN’s Human Rights Council urging it to open an investigation into Iran’s 1988 massacre of political prisoners.

Dozens of rights groups also joined more than 450 individuals, many of them former world leaders and prosecutors in the International Criminal Court, in signing the letter, which was released to the public on Thursday.

“We urge the UN Human Rights Council to urgently challenge the impunity enjoyed by Iranian officials by mandating an international investigation into the 1988 mass executions and enforced disappearances of thousands of political prisoners which constitute ongoing crimes against humanity,” the letter said.

“We believe it’s long overdue for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to investigate the 1988 massacre.”

The letter was organized by a London-based association of victims’ families called Justice for the Victims of the 1988 Massacre in Iran.

In the immediate aftermath of the war with Iraq and on orders of then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini, Iranian authorities executed thousands of political prisoners accused of betraying the state during the conflict.

By some estimates 30,000 were killed, many of them members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq, a revolutionary group that later fell out of favor with the regime.

Many of those prisoners were sent to their death by Iran’s current President Ebrahim Raisi, who served as a deputy prosecutor in Tehran at the time.

The US placed him on a sanctions list in 2019, citing the executions and other alleged rights abuses. He has denied involvement in the executions.

Among the letter’s signatories is Sang-Hyun Song, president of the ICC from 2009 to 2015; Jacques Santer, former prime minister of Luxembourg; Guy Verhofstadt, former prime minister of Belgium; and hundreds of former UN officials and human rights professionals.

Other signatories include former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and 18 Nobel Laureates.

The letter is the latest in a series of calls by rights groups and others urging the UN to take action on the 1988 massacre, which remains controversial internationally as well as in Iran.


Snow carpeting Jerusalem’s holy sites, West Bank adds to refugees’ misery

Snow carpeting Jerusalem’s holy sites, West Bank adds to refugees’ misery
Updated 10 min 50 sec ago

Snow carpeting Jerusalem’s holy sites, West Bank adds to refugees’ misery

Snow carpeting Jerusalem’s holy sites, West Bank adds to refugees’ misery
  • Jordanian authorities urge people to stay home, keep off roads as heavy rain swells major dams
  • In Syria, days of heavy snowfall blanketed camps housing displaced people in the country’s northwest

AMMAN: Jerusalem and the eastern Mediterranean were on Thursday left carpeted in snow after a winter storm hit the region.

And in neighboring Jordan, heavy snowfall closed roads in Amman and made driving conditions treacherous throughout much of the country.

Jordan’s Meteorological Department forecast more snow on higher ground with temperatures again expected to fall below freezing.

Jordanians woke up on Thursday to a thick layer of snow covering homes and driveways. On Wednesday night, the region was affected by a depression coming from Greece and Turkey toward the eastern basin of the Mediterranean that coincided with a polar wave that hit Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and some parts of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iraq.

In Syria, days of heavy snowfall blanketed camps housing displaced people in the country’s northwest, forcing families to huddle together under canvas in freezing conditions.

Abu Hussan, who lives with his family in a makeshift camp outside the city of Jisr Al-Shughur, told AFP: “We’ve been trapped in the snow for four days.”

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that at least 227 displacement sites throughout the northwest had been hit by severe winter weather since Jan. 18.

The agency added that 545 tents had been reported destroyed and 9,125 tents damaged by snowfall, floods, and high winds, along with the belongings of displaced people.

Schools in Jerusalem and northern Israel were closed, leaving children free to play in the snow. Israel’s meteorological service reported that up to 25 centimeters of snow had fallen on Wednesday night. It took until midday for snow ploughs to reopen the main highways leading into Jerusalem from the north, south, and west.

Amman, and northern and southern regions were covered in several inches of snow on Thursday, with authorities urging the public to stay at home and keep off roads amid warnings of more falls over the next 24 hours.

While Jordanian farmers have been complaining of frost devastating their crops with freezing weather conditions prevailing some days before the polar depression, recent rain has increased depleted water levels in Jordan’s major dams.

The Jordanian Water Ministry said on Thursday said that recent deluges had raised overall rainfall volumes for the season to 45 percent of Jordan’s long-term annual average of 8.1 billion cubic meters.

A total of 2.4 million cubic meters of water had poured into Jordan’s 10 major dams by Thursday morning, raising their storage to 98.5 mcm, 29.3 percent of their total capacity of 336.4 mcm, said a ministry statement.

Meanwhile, the Jordanian National Center for Security and Crisis Management warned on Thursday that the Waleh Dam in Madaba governorate, which was empty in November last year, would likely reach full capacity over the next 24 hours. Center officials, who are monitoring the current snow situation, added that the dam was only 2 mcm off hitting its full capacity of 9 mcm.

Jordan recently warned of an expected water deficit of 45 mcm in 2022.

On Nov. 22, the country signed a declaration of intent with Israel and the UAE to explore the feasibility of a joint energy-for-water project.

Defending the deal, Jordan’s Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh warned of “unprecedented” levels of water scarcity, adding that resource-poor Jordan would receive 200 mcm of water a year under the proposed project.

Addressing the lower house on Dec. 15, the PM said that Jordan’s annual water resources were less than 80 cubic meters per person, below the international threshold of 500 cubic meters per person.


Six migrants drown off Tunisia, 30 missing

Six migrants drown off Tunisia, 30 missing
Updated 27 January 2022

Six migrants drown off Tunisia, 30 missing

Six migrants drown off Tunisia, 30 missing
  • Coast guard units rescued a further 34 passengers after the vessel sank off Zarzis near the Libyan border
  • Survivors had said 70 people had been aboard, including Egyptians, Sudanese and a Moroccan

ZARZIS, Tunisia: Six migrants drowned and 30 were missing Thursday off the coast of Tunisia after their boat sank during a bid to reach Europe, authorities and the Red Crescent said.
Coast guard units rescued a further 34 passengers after the vessel sank off Zarzis near the Libyan border, Tunisian defense ministry spokesman Mohamed Zekri told AFP.
Survivors had said 70 people had been aboard, including Egyptians, Sudanese and a Moroccan, when the boat set off from Libya headed for European shores, he added.
A search and rescue operation was underway for the remaining passengers, he said.
The survivors were taken to a port in Ben Guerdane, according to Tunisian Red Crescent official Mongi Slim.
Both Tunisia and Libya have served as launchpads for migrants making desperate bids to reach Europe, especially in the chaos in Libya that followed the toppling of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
The Central Mediterranean route has become the world’s deadliest migration trail, according to humanitarian groups.
Departures surged rapidly in 2021, with almost 55,000 migrants reaching Italy in the first 10 months of the year compared with under 30,000 the previous year, according to Rome.
The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights says that over the first three quarters of last year, the coast guard intercepted 19,500 migrants during crossing attempts.
The United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR says at least 1,300 disappeared or drowned over the same period.


Coalition: Nearly 200 Houthis killed in airstrikes on Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz

Coalition: Nearly 200 Houthis killed in airstrikes on Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz
Updated 27 January 2022

Coalition: Nearly 200 Houthis killed in airstrikes on Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz

Coalition: Nearly 200 Houthis killed in airstrikes on Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz
  • The coalition said 29 military vehicles were destroyed during operations over the last 24 hours

RIYADH: More than 190 Houthis were killed in airstrikes on the Yemeni provinces of Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz, the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy said on Thursday.

The coalition said 29 military vehicles were also destroyed during the operations over the last 24 hours.

On Wednesday, dozens of Houthis were killed in Marib province as government troops rolled into a new area in Abedia district for the first time in months, adding to the latest military gains in the province, a local military official told Arab News.


FSO Safer tanker disaster could leave Suez Canal unpassable: Greenpeace

FSO Safer tanker disaster could leave Suez Canal unpassable: Greenpeace
Updated 27 January 2022

FSO Safer tanker disaster could leave Suez Canal unpassable: Greenpeace

FSO Safer tanker disaster could leave Suez Canal unpassable: Greenpeace
  • It would also have ‘catastrophic’ environmental, humanitarian consequences for millions
  • Iran-backed Houthi militia has repeatedly refused UN pleas for access to secure tanker

LONDON: Environmental activist group Greenpeace has warned of “catastrophic” humanitarian and environmental consequences if the FSO Safer tanker, currently under the control of the Iran-backed Houthi militia off the Yemeni coast, is not drained of its oil.

An oil spill or explosion from the tanker could also block the Suez Canal, costing the world nearly $10 billion per day, Greenpeace said at a press conference attended by Arab News on Thursday.

The tanker was abandoned in the Red Sea off the Yemeni coast in 2017. It holds 1.1 million barrels of oil, or around 140,000 tons, which Greenpeace said could spill into the sea “at any moment” or spread as a result of an explosion on board.

The vessel’s firefighting system is also inoperative, meaning a fire on the ship could spread vast quantities of pollution into the air if the crude ignites.

Paul Horsman, who leads Greenpeace International’s Safer Response Team, said: “Unless action is taken to make the tanker secure, there’s a real danger of a major oil spill, or possibly worse, an explosion.”

Either outcome would be “severe and long-lasting. In a worst-case scenario, the oil could drift to neighboring countries, to Djibouti, to Eritrea and Saudi Arabia,” he added.

“It could potentially disrupt shipping routes in the Suez Canal, it could impact any future tourism. If the Suez Canal is unable to function because ships can’t get out of the Red Sea, we all remember what happened when the Ever Given was blocked there — it was estimated that trade through the Suez Canal lost about $9 billion per day during that time.”

The Houthis have repeatedly refused international access to secure the FSO Safer despite multiple pleas by the UN.

According to a report released on Thursday by Greenpeace on the risks posed by the tanker, a spill would have a devastating humanitarian impact on millions of Yemenis. Perhaps most notably, access to clean water would be drastically curtailed.

“The desalination plants on Yemen’s coast at Hudaydah, Salif and Aden could be affected and that, combined with disrupted fuel supply, could disrupt the drinking water supply for up to 10 million people,” said the report.

“Yemeni fisheries (as well as those of neighboring countries) could be completely closed by an oil spill. These fisheries support 1.7 million people and closures would be necessary to ensure that no contaminated commercial fish enter the human food chain … the most serious risks are to the livelihoods of the fishing communities.”

Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, is already facing a humanitarian crisis following years of conflict sparked by the Houthis seizing the capital from the internationally recognized government.

While a spill or explosion appears imminent, Greenpeace stressed that action could be taken immediately to avert a disaster.

Horsman said a barrier could immediately be placed around the ship that would mitigate some of the immediate harm caused by the imminent spill.

He added that the technology exists to transfer the oil on board — still technically owned by the internationally recognized government — into another vessel. The problem, he said, is a “lack of political will” to solve the issue.