Last week the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, along with the leading Dutch academic institution Wageningen University and Research (WUR), presented and discussed the recommendations that resulted from the policy dialogues held in the Jordan Valley and Highlands under the title of “Confronting the Challenges of Water Scarcity: Seeking Viable, Sustainable and Prosperous Options for Agriculture & Water in 2050”.
The dialogues aimed to seek viable, sustainable and prosperous options for agriculture and water in 2050 by bringing different stakeholders together to discuss and explore future options for socio-economic value creation by agriculture while reducing its water use. The dialogues culminated in future implications of increasing water allocation to domestic use under an overexploited water resource base and a set of policy recommendations to inform policy making and implementation.
In Jordan there is a growing disparity between an exponentially growing demand for domestic and industrial water, and a climate driven growth in agricultural demand, on the one hand; and a starkly delimited, and partially climate reduced, availability of renewable water supply on the other hand. By 2050, projections indicate a structural freshwater shortage of 1521 MCM per year will have to be bridged.
In the most optimistic outlook, meeting the rising demand from domestic water supply will require acquiring an additional 500 MCM of desalinated water supply (200 MCM through bilateral energy-water deals, 300 MCM from the Red Sea). All of this additional water and the available renewable supply of freshwater will be needed to satisfy the demand for urban and industrial water supply.
The full utilisation and optimisation of these supply augmentation options has far fetching implications for the water supply, energy and agricultural sectors, whilst still not able to fully close the water supply gap, as agriculture remains to face a water supply gap of 221 MCM per year.
Agricultural water use will substantially, if not entirely, need to shift to Treated Waste Water (TWW) as the principal or only supply of water, which requires reassessing of the rules and regulations for TWW use in agriculture. TWW capacity and efficiency will have to increase manifold – in terms of treated volume, and in terms of efficiency. This requires large investments in water supply and treatment capacity and infrastructure. The volume of water captured, treated and re-distributed needs to increase from 111 MCM in 2016 to 800 MCM by 2050. The efficiency rate of re-capturing domestic water use in treatment needs to increase from 30 per cent in 2016 to 80 per cent in 2050, requiring high investments and efficiencies in the urban water supply & effluent network. The energy capacity to serve this desalination and TWW capacity will have to increase by 2,100 to 4,400 GW per year.
The economic costs of water supply will increase manifold. The combined cost of desalination, conveyance, and treatment for agricultural water supply flows of TWW will amount to at least US$ 2.70 per m3 (excluding capital investments for desalination, conveyance, and power plants). Enhancing the economic value of agriculture is a prerequisite if agriculture is to contribute its share to bearing the increasing costs of the water supply system. To enhance the value of agriculture, value chain development (horizontal and vertical) around specific crops and produce, that tackle both the agricultural technicalities of producing the demanded crops/produce at desired volume, time and certified quality, as well servicing producers and product handlers (logistics of packaging, branding/marketing, transport and storage, processing etc) will need to be targeted explicitly as an integrated effort.
As the optimistic outlook for 2050 results in a 221 MCM water supply gap for agriculture, this implies agriculture will need to reduce its water consumption. This implies that additional increases in agricultural water use and demand should be avoided at all costs. Not doing so will have economic repercussions: i) any future reductions in agriculture and agricultural water use will be politically and economically more difficult and costly to achieve; and ii) over-abstraction of groundwater resources will reduce the buffer capacity of fossil groundwater resources to cope with future climate shocks, variability in surface water supply or delays in completing the supply augmentation options; and, increase the economic costs of groundwater abstraction as aquifer levels continue to drop.
Given the tightness of the water balance for Jordan, and the concerted efforts that are required across the water supply, water treatment, agriculture, industries, energy and environment sectors, to align their future water use and interdependencies to minimize the remaining water gap, an integrated and joint planning and policy making is of critical importance.
The policy dialogues are funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands as part of its water programming, which aims to work alongside Jordanian authorities and stakeholders to tackle Jordan’s water crises through capacity building, supporting management of alternative water resources and the exchange of knowledge and skills. In addition, this initiative is fully aligned with Jordan’s Green Growth National Action Plan 2021-2025 which calls for the establishment of a culture of knowledge exchange, innovation, sharing and collaboration.
WUR is one of the top-ranked universities in the world in the fields of Agriculture and Food Security. Through these policy dialogues, WUR has brought the water and agricultural sectors at political, administrative and stakeholder levels together and came up with a joint approach for agriculture and water developments in Jordan that is: a) harmonised in terms of the sectors’ mutual dependency and sustainable in light of future economic and climate challenges; and b) provides an outlook for the sectors’ economic development and contribution to the sustainability and wellbeing of Jordan’s society.