Last updated December 21, 2019

Climate change worsens Jordan water crisis as Mideast tensions slow action

Photo: Omar Akour, Associated Press

From a hillside in northern Jordan, the Yarmouk River is barely visible in the steep valley below, reduced from a once important water source to a sluggish trickle overgrown with vegetation. Jordan’s reservoirs are only one-fifth full, a record low, and vital winter rains are becoming more erratic.

Jordanians don’t need scientists to tell them that they live in one of the world’s driest countries in the center of the planet’s most water-poor region.

But recent studies suggest the kingdom, a Western ally and refugee host nation with a growing population, is being hit particularly hard by climate change, getting hotter and drier than previously anticipated. One forecast predicts as much as 30 percent less rain by 2100.

“We are really in trouble if we don’t take action in time,” said Ali Subah, a senior Water Ministry official.


The Dead Sea and Jordan River, global treasures with religious significance as the cradle of Christianity, have been devastated by dropping water levels due to decades of water diversion to urban areas. Some experts suggest civil war in neighboring Syria, which led to a large influx of refugees to Jordan and other neighboring countries, may have been triggered in part and indirectly by a mismanaged drought.

Stanford University researchers say that in the absence of international climate policy action, the kingdom would have 30 percent less rainfall by 2100. Annual average temperatures would increase by 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit and the number and duration of droughts would double, compared to the 1981-2010 period.