With meagre rivers and little rainfall to replenish its aquifers, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has amongst the lowest per capita freshwater availability in the world. Withdrawal rates are currently up to 20% above the estimated sustainable capacity. A ‘super green revolution’ in the 1970s led to a tenfold increase in agricultural revenue (Venot et al. 2007) and the sector consumes roughly 70% of total water used (Abu-Sharar and Battikhi 2002). The population is projected to grow by 74% by 2030 (IFAD 2009, Table 3.1), and the country absorbs periodic surges of immigration caused by regional conflicts. Jordan's physical water scarcity is also compounded by second-order scarcity, and issues of inequitable distribution within the country and internationally.5
Despite the prominence given to ‘effective water demand management’ in the 2008–2022 Water Strategy (Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan 2009, preliminary matter), the bulk of government effort appears fixed on meeting water demand rather than on managing it. The project with the highest profile in this regard is the colossal Red Sea–Dead Sea Canal project (World Bank 2005). Other policy in the same vein includes consistently subsidised water for agriculture in the Jordan River Valley6 (Venot et al. 2007).
The political economy of the agricultural sector in Jordan is similar to that of Yemen. Agricultural production in the Jordan River Valley is limited more by the availability of water than of land. Thousands of (relatively small) 2–4 hectare unit Jordan River Valley farms established by the government after the construction of the King Abdallah Canal in 1961 receive their water from the Yarmouk River, a main tributary to the Jordan River. Larger farms up to 1100 hectares were allocated in the wake of the 1967 war with Israel (Jridi 2002, 16). Subsidised irrigation water and pumping costs (Jabarin 2007, 4) have ensured that agricultural water demand in the Valley has far outstripped supply. Faced with limited water availability some farmers cultivate only half of their allocated units, or switch to more efficient use (e.g. multi-span hothouses) in order to maximise their exploitation (e.g. see Mazahreh et al. 2000). A form of ‘land market’ has been established as a result of the over-subscription for the water, as powerful farmers purchase the land allocated to smaller farmers – primarily for the water rights that come with it7 (Anon d personal communication 2009).
Policy-setting and decisionmaking in the water sector in Jordan also resembles the Yemeni case. Major water policy decisions are taken by the ‘shadow state’, where policy is influenced by individuals or small group forces from outside the formal branches of government. Stakeholders in the agricultural water sector are classified by their influence and interest in WDM policy, as shown in Figure 2.
Stakeholders and interests in the Jordan River Valley
Amongst the most powerful bodies in water policy-setting in Jordan is the Royal Commission for Water. Headed by HRH Prince Faisal Ibn al Hussein, the relatively recently formed Commission is composed of a handful of technocrats and academics that may draw upon the strategies and research of the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, and research by the universities. The Commission drafted the formative 2008–2022 Water Strategy (Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan 2009), and the diversity of its make-up8 is reflected in its span, in Figure 2, of positions both in support and opposed to WDM.
The Higher Agricultural Council is chaired by the Prime Minister, and includes the Minister of Water and Irrigation, the Minister of Agriculture, and several other ministries, syndicates and the private sector. As a strong parliamentary body, the Council is considered to wield greater influence than the Royal Commission (successfully imposing taxes on livestock, for example), and is expected to endure beyond the life of the Council (Anon d personal communication 2009). Responding primarily to the more powerful farmers, the Council is considered on the whole to be against the introduction of water demand measures (Anon e personal communication 2009).
The bulk of large farms in the Jordan River Valley are held by members of two tribes, with a few large farms run by Jordanian farmers not associated with a particular tribe. The interests of these groups in citrus plantations has manifested itself in tariffs protecting domestic production of bananas (Venot et al. 2007, 21) – in direct contradiction to Ministry of Water and Irrigation policy (see Jabarin 2007, 14). Market demand and subsidised water costs favour continued banana production, to the point that it is economically rational for the ‘banana lobby’ farms to irrigate their crops with (expensive) desalinated brackish groundwater (Anon e personal communication 2009).
Outside of the ‘shadow state’ structure, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation is the most influential institution in the water sector, with full responsibility for the management of the King Abdallah Canal which runs along the Jordan River Valley. The Ministry of Water and Irrigation established a unit to advance WDM in 2002, having inherited the responsibility for its implementation. Though weak in administrative and implementation capacity, the legitimacy of the Ministry of Water and Irrigation's sub-authority, the Jordan Valley Authority ‘cannot be ignored’ by farmers within its jurisdiction (Anon d personal communication 2009). The influence of the ministry appears to be increasing, possibly keeping pace with the growing awareness of the acute water challenges the country faces. The lack of uniform support for WDM within the ministry is attributed to reductions in technical support and donor funding (of the WDM Unit in particular, which was stopped in 2005).
The Ministry of Agriculture has the authority to drill wells required for livestock production, to build dams for animal feed production (Abed Rabboh and Jabarin 2008, 18), and to assist farmers with improved field-level water management practice. Traditionally representing or susceptible to the interests of Jordan River Valley (and highland) farmers, the Ministry of Agriculture on the whole traditionally rejects WDM measures. Yet, its relative lack of influence over the distribution of water (e.g. compared with the Ministry of Water and Irrigation) and direct experience with water shortages explains why the ministry no longer speaks with one voice in rejecting WDM measures.
The government arm most supportive of WDM measures is the Ministry of Environment, which plays a minor role in the development of water policy, limited to participation in committees or meetings chaired by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation. Also generally supportive of WDM measures (for economic reasons), the Ministry of Finance carries relatively more influence within government. The Ministry of Finance is judged particularly influential for ‘determining the actual cost of devices and equipment used in rationing the demand for water by different users’ (Abed Rabboh and Jabarin 2008, 17). The Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation plays an important role in donor coordination, in reviewing all plans submitted by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, and in liaising with local and national institutions (Abed Rabboh and Jabarin 2008, 17).
The researchers, NGOs and marginalised groups that make up ‘civil society’ are characterised on the whole as generally quite supportive of WDM measures. Attention to WDM policy and water management is continuously increasing at the universities. But academic lobbying and advocacy efforts have little demonstrable effect against the vested interests in established water use practice.
Power backing interests in Jordan
The scattered positions of Figure 2 are in contrast to the distinctive top left–bottom right grouping of the Yemen plot. The general trend, however, is consistent: those most strongly promoting WDM in both Yemen and Jordan are the least influential over its implementation, and those opposing WDM are the most influential. The burden of reform water use to more sustainable levels is carried by the former group, and will have to confront a variety of forms of power.
It is not unheard of for disputes over water prices and enforced regulation to be settled through threats of the use of firearms, particularly in the central and northern parts of the Valley (Anon e personal communication 2009). The use of hard power in the most extreme form of guns is limited, however, in comparison with Yemen.
The bargaining power of the less powerful groups is compromised by their lack of access to the decisionmaking organs of the shadow state. Though legitimate under the law and in the eyes of professionals for their scientific rigour, the individuals and sub-groups of civil society have had limited influence on policy-setting circles. The ‘voice’ of environmental groups – so loud in the media and international stage (e.g. FOEME 2010) – have little effect on the Royal Commission or the Agricultural Council. Even the influence of the powerful Ministry of Water and Irrigation with the Royal Commission is limited, though it is quite strong within the Agricultural Council.
The tariffs protecting the banana investments of the larger Jordan River Valley farmers (and which violates Ministry of Water and Irrigation policy) are in effect exclusive, and do not present great opportunities for the poorer and less well-connected farmers. The costs involved with production (through desalinated brackish groundwater) and marketing costs are feasible only to large farmers taking advantage of economies of scale. The influence of the larger farmers is also exerted through personal or tribal relationships with ministry officials, and they may bypass Jordan Valley Authority policy through a number of means, including bribes and favours (Anon d personal communication 2009). Smaller farmers in the Jordan River Valley also have a certain ability to bypass Jordan Valley Authority policy through established special relationships, though with much less protection and thus to a lesser degree than the large farmers. Internally divided, the smaller farmers on the whole are considered to remain without a strong policy-setting voice (Anon d personal communication 2009).
There is evidence of limited success of the two broad approaches to confronting power asymmetry in Jordan. Stakeholders with an interest in promoting WDM hope that the consultative approach taken by the ‘Idara’ project may garner the attention of the policy-setting circles. The deputy director of the Jordan water programme of the project's donor (USAID) suggests sustainable water use may come through greater efficiency, prescribing that ‘the only way to make water allocation and use more efficient in Jordan is to manipulate the relative power of special interests to change the incentive structure’ (Hagan 2008, 10). Reform of the water sector, he notes, is also hampered by the ‘sanctioned discourse’ (see Allan 2001), which prevents discussion amongst water professionals of restraint of agricultural water use, through fear of the impact on their careers.