To Jordanian readers, it goes without saying that this year’s Blog Action Day issue is probably one of the most relevant issues in our country. Amidst the ongoing election season, a season rife with slogans, practically no candidate seems to be talking about energy policy, and more specifically water. Probably not a shocking revelation given the lacking political development in the country, but it is indicative of something larger: the extent to which Jordanians take water for granted. And I say this in the context of a nation that is one of the poorest in the world when it comes to water and water sources, and yet has one of the fastest growing populations – to say nothing of unexpected population bursts manifested in the form of refugee crises.
Water bills are relatively cheap in Jordan, and so no one really complains when it comes to paying little for an incredibly valuable resource. The only real complaints regarding water in Jordan – at least from the masses – revolves around water delivery. Most homes receive water once a week. And in some cases, delivery is missed and homes are forced to wait another week. Recent water delivery issues in the north are indicative of such problems, with some homes having gone without water for nearly a month, prompting the government to even launch a complaint call center.
The government has kept the water conversation largely in the “here’s what we’ve got planned” context. Millions are currently being spent on implementing or studying so-called mega projects to change the water destiny of the Kingdom – from Al-Disi to the Red Dead Canal. Meanwhile, the Jordan River has been dried up, largely by Israeli actions related to diverting the water from upstream, towards Israeli farms, thus killing off not only a once essential water source, but also a religious site that actually brought in tourism dollars once upon a time.
Yet, in all of this, the public conversation is noticeably missing. It is often that I hear people complain that their home hasn’t received its weekly ration of water, but it is rare that I hear anyone talking about conserving water. The civil society sector, dominated by USAID and other foreign donors, has spent, what one can only imagine to be, millions in funding awareness-related projects in the country for well over two decades. Little has come about as a result, but then again, little can be expected from a donor-greedy, relatively co-opted civil society. The fact remains, that the people have done little to take personal action by adjusting personal habits and behaviors – and the state has done little to steer the conversation in that direction. This paradigm is typical of both the Jordanian society – that has long centered on what others (including the government) can do for them – and the state, which addresses problems by offering pipe-dream initiatives designed primarily to assuage the fears of the people.
Everyday we see signs of over consumption and wastefulness. Almost every household seems to have a car, and almost every car gets a daily wash. On water delivery days, it is a common scene to see the streets streaming with wasted water from hoses run amok. And there is a never-ending list of such scenes, but all in all, you will never see a single citizen being fined for committing what is, in my opinion, a crime.
Water remains one of those commodities in the country that is so taken for granted that an outsider would never assume we are one of the top 5 nations in the world when it comes to a shortage in water supplies. And I often look to foreign models and imagine what would happen if the governments of nations like Germany or Japan ran a country like Jordan – or if they themselves had little-to-no water in their own countries. Would we see unprecedented irrigation and water-collection systems? They seem to be non-existent in Jordan, especially when it comes to households. Would we see people consistently fined for wasting water? Would we see an educational system that entrenches the values of water conservation? Would we see water parks being permitted to operate? Would we see swimming pools heavily taxed? Would we see companies and factories draining water from important sources operate normally simply due to their government connections?
Yet, none of this is available in Jordan, and these are all things the country can easily afford simply because they cannot afford not to. Visit any historical site in the Kingdom, and you will see that after hundreds and thousands of years, some of the most significant artifacts left behind by our ancestors and other ancient civilizations, are water-related. From Petra to Wadi Rum, a water-collection system can easily be seen engraved in the sides of the mountains, and the irony is that some of these systems still operate today (think of water wells in Rum).
The social and community conversation is missing and both the state and the people are to blame. Spending millions on mega-projects is a grand endeavor, but the money may be better spent on fueling those conversations – ones that not only “raise” awareness, but embed awareness as a part of our daily psyche. If you live in a western nation, you may often spend a decent chunk or time during your week dedicated to sorting out your garbage in to various recycling bins: glass, paper, etc. Citizens do this because they are forced to. By not dedicating that kind of time towards such a tangible (and perhaps tedious) exercise, the consequence is not having one’s garbage picked up that week. The consequence is immediate and reactionary, thus forcing a citizen to become proactive because they must, or else face the denial of a key government service. That entire process, while done perhaps subconsciously by most, is a process that forces a constant state of awareness upon a citizen, and that kind of awareness, the kind that doesn’t come in hotel workshops funded by the civil society, or even in the form of posters and slogans, is absent in Jordan.
The conservation needs to happen, it needs to evolve and it needs to involve all the players at once. It needs to happen locally and nationally. It needs to happen in town halls and in big speeches. It needs to happen in the classrooms, in the mosques, in the churches and in the households. It needs to be constant. It needs to be consistent. It needs to be online, offline and inline. It needs to yield a system of consequences; of reciprocal exchanges between the government and the people. And it needs to happen today.
Just as importantly, this is a conversation that needs to spread beyond our borders and pour in to the rest of the region which is relatively better but not necessarily better off. It is a conversation that is Middle Eastern and Arab just as much as it is global.
And what better model to start that conversation than Jordan?
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