Ranked among the world’s 10 most water-poor countries, Jordan is on a desperate search to increase its water resources. The initiative under assessment involves tapping a 300,000-year-old fossil aquifer on the Saudi Arabian border and conveying pumped water 275 kilometers north to the capital city of Amman.
Disi is a public-private-partnership between the Government of Jordan and a joint-venture comprised of GE and Turkish contractor GAMA. The GAMA joint venture will build, own and operate the wellfield and pipeline for 25 years before either handing the facilities over to the Government of Jordan or renewing the contract.
On its surface, Disi looks like a necessary and valuable project that will provide water to needy populations. Residents of Amman are currently depleting regional aquifers at 55% their recharge rate, and the survival of these water sources depends on the development of alternatives that will take pressure away.
The reality is more complex. Jordan’s water shortages are attributed partly to inefficiencies in water conveyance. Up to 40% of the country’s water is lost to theft or seepage. On top of that, agriculture, not domestic use, depletes aquifers. The Disi project is not accompanied by any planned reductions in industrial farming. Agriculture politics are complex and farms are rarely forced to pay for the water they use, let alone face sanctions for drilling into depleting aquifers.
Disi presents additional dilemmas from a human rights perspective. As a cross-border aquifer, the rights of Saudi Arabians are at stake as governments refuse to state how much water the disi aquifer contains. As a fossil aquifer, it is largely self-contained, so the water that is removed will never be replaced by rainwater or underground rivers.
Disi promises to increase water access for Jordanians and protect endangered aquifers, but government secrecy casts doubt on the viability of those objectives. If Disi does not live up to its expectations, nearly $1 billion will be lost on a project that failed to promote the Right to Water.