Thursday, 21 March 2013

Parched summer lies ahead for Mafraq residents

AMMAN — A tough summer lies ahead for residents of the northern town of Mafraq, where the already-scant water is expected to become a rare and expensive commodity. In a community where Syrians outnumber the local inhabitants due to Mafraq being a gate for the massive influx of refugees into Jordan, the city is struggling with increasing pressure on its dwindling water resources. “Ever since Jordan opened its borders to Syrian refugees two years ago, residents of Mafraq started to struggle with a diminishing and inadequate water supply,” Mafraq Governor Abdullah Saaydeh Khattab said. Mafraq Governorate, 80km northeast of Amman, sits on one of the Kingdom’s main reservoirs and supplies Amman, Irbid, Jerash and Zarqa with water from the Sumaya artesian wells. “Water per capita in Mafraq was one of the highest in Jordan, reaching more than 100 cubic metres per year," Khattab noted. "This amount has dropped by half over the past year as it is now being split with the Syrian refugees residing in the city of Mafraq, not in the refugee camps.” The city, with a population of 50,000, hosts around 70,000 Syrians, according to Khattab, who noted that over 123,000 refugees take shelter in two refugee facilities in the governorate. "As pressure rises on water resources in the governorate, the water infrastructure is deteriorating and there is a shortage in the water directorate's staff and equipment," he said. The governor said Mafraq residents held demonstrations and blocked several streets last summer because of the scant water, noting that authorities dealt with 30 demonstrations triggered by supply disruptions. Khattab urged the Ministry of Water and Irrigation and other concerned authorities to address the water problems in Mafraq before summer starts, warning that supply disruptions in the governorate are undermining its security. "We are bracing ourselves for a tough summer because of the inevitable water cuts and the demonstrations that will follow," he told reporters during a media tour organised by the USAID-funded Public Action for Water, Energy and Environment Project. Ali Abu Sumaqa, director of the Mafraq Water Directorate, said water used to be pumped from 11 artesian wells, the majority of which are now out of order. "Only four wells are currently operational because some need maintenance while water in the rest reached high salinity levels," Abu Sumaqa said. The Sumaya wells used to pump 650-700 cubic metres per day, the official noted. "The operational wells now pump only 250 cubic metres... The productivity is dropping because pumps and equipment have deteriorated and the aquifer is suffering from over-extraction," Abu Sumaqa added. He explained that the UN is responsible for securing water for refugees at the camps, and purchases over 3,300 cubic metres per day from private wells in Mafraq and transfers it via tankers to refugee facilities. "Mafraq residents, on the other hand, are struggling; their water shares have dropped to insufficient amounts because the city is hosting thousands of Syrians," Abu Sumaqa said. To address the expected water shortage this summer, he stressed that private wells should be rented. "The Yarmouk Water Company must expedite the rental of private wells as soon as possible." The official also urged humanitarian aid organisations to visit Mafraq and check on the water situation and the impact of hosting thousands of Syrian refugees on the declining water resources. Water shortage is not the only issue that concerns Abu Sumaqa and Mafraq residents, but also the rising pressure on the sewage network and fears that wastewater could pollute one of the country's main aquifers. "The Zaatari Refugee Camp sits on the aquifer. We are worried about leakage of sewage from the camp's cesspits," Abu Sumaqa said, noting that the rising population is causing sewage manholes to overflow. Mafraq residents now have to adapt to supply disruptions and seek alternative water sources, according to Ahmad Bani Hani, director of the Zaatari society. "More and more people are turning to the society and asking for rotating loans to install rainwater harvesting systems, mainly building reservoirs to store rain from their rooftops," Bani Hani said. Scores of Mafraq residents have taken loans to build reservoirs to collect rainwater, he added, noting that 10 people are now on the waiting list for loans. Suad Shdeifat, a school principal in Mafraq, said the school suffered from constant water cuts last year and resorted to buying water from tankers every week. "The school budget is already limited and we can't afford to spend it only on water. Therefore, the school took a rotating loan from the society and is now building a reservoir to collect rainwater," Shdeifat added, noting that the JD13,500 reservoir has an 80-cubic metre capacity. "We had very good rain this winter, but because the reservoir is under construction we missed it," she highlighted. "It is our moral responsibility to host our Syrian brothers and sisters, but the crisis in Syria is taking its toll on our daily life and our most basic human right, which is water," Shdeifat said.


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