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Thirsty land or thirsty people: choices on water

Jordan's 3.8 percent annual population growth is threatening to outpace government efforts to increase the already insufficient water resources available in this arid kingdom.

Though Jordan has made significant progress in expanding the availability of scarce water resources to an estimated 90 percent of the 2.4 million population on the east bank of the Jordan River, water consumption averages a very low 104 liters (under 30 gallons) a person per day. (Americans use about three times that amount.) In the rain-scarce summer, Amman households receive water only once or twice a week.

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Analysts say that unless population growth is slowed or vast new water resources are tapped, Jordan will have to choose between using water for drinking and using it for agriculture. This prospect is not greeted with enthusiasm in a country where only 6 percent of the land is arable and 70 percent of food supplies are imported.

The government is constructing a pipeline to divert some water from the East Ghor canal, which runs down the center of Jordan's most productive farmland in the Jordan Valley. The pipe, from Deir Alla to Amman, is expected eventually to carry 45 million cubic meters of (very expensive) water annually to the heavily populated Amman-Zarqa area. An additional 20 million cubic meters of water is to be pumped from ground springs and wells in the eastern Azraq oasis.

These two measures are expected to satisfy the demand for water in the Amman area into the 1990s. Beyond that, ensuring water supplies will involve more ambitious plans.

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