Overseas Briefing

By Gregory Woolston

As part of the Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs’ conference on the “Politics of Fresh Water: Access and Identity in a Changing Environment,” my geology class at the University of Jordan recently spoke to Arabic students at Middlebury regarding the country’s limited water supplies and resource management. As the discussion focused primarily on the scientific aspects of this environmental crisis (and was incomprehensible for anyone who does not speak Arabic), I wanted to briefly describe Amman’s water situation on the human scale, or as it affects the city’s residents on a daily basis.

As opposed to an underground infrastructure for water’s distribution, most apartments and homes in Amman rely on a delivery system and large rooftop storage tanks. Water trucks continuously refill these tanks based on a set schedule depending on where one lives within the city. I’ve heard and read that Amman’s wealthier areas receive water both more often and on a more regular basis than the city’s poorer districts. A greater concern, however, is whether these poor residents can afford water at all. A 2009 article in Geoforum found that the majority of poor residents pay much more than the base “lifeline” rate implemented to assist them; in reality, they are paying three to ten times this rate due to larger families and sharing amongst neighbors. This quarterly tariff sits on top of an initial investment of anywhere from $282 to $2,820 dollars for a storage tank, electric pump and necessary piping.

Although most residents participate in a rationing schedule to ensure water’s presence throughout the week, it’s certainly possible for the supply to run out before the next scheduled delivery. Private water tankers and bottled water allow the city’s wealthy to supplement their supply; however, these options remain somewhat inaccessible for Amman’s poor. No matter one’s income, many tend to worry about water quality even more than its quantity. The authors of the aforementioned article note, “37 percent of respondents believe some level of treatment is necessary to improve water quality or have switched to bottled water for drinking purposes.”

Between quantity and quality, therefore, Amman’s residents are plagued by water (in)security.

I’ve been quite fortunate throughout the past month and a half in Amman; my building receives water deliveries fairly regularly, and I’ve yet to run out of water. I ensure this by restricting my water usage as much as possible, taking showers every other day and postponing my laundry until absolutely necessary. Nevertheless, I recently experienced my first day without access to water when my host family accidentally turned off the water valve in my apartment. While this is a far cry from genuinely running out of water, my water security had suddenly disappeared for the first time in my life. I had never considered water’s importance when using it in the past; I realized it enabled life, but didn’t think of its necessity in performing daily functions. Without water, you can no longer flush toilets or wash your hands; you’re cooking ability is limited and the dirty dishes pile up. You realize how thirsty you are and recall water’s unique ability to quench that thirst unlike anything else.

Endlessly apologizing, my host family switched on the valve the next evening and ensured that water was flowing in the kitchen and bathrooms. I have yet to view water the same way since.

GREGORY WOOLSTON ’14 is the online manager for the Campus and is currently studying in Amman, Jordan.