Wetlands of the Middle East: The Mujib River of Jordan

 

In the dry regions of the Middle East inland wetlands like rivers and lakes are vanishing due to the increased demands for fresh water. The Mujib River in Jordan is an example of this water stress.

 

A vital lifeline

 The Mujib River is one of the last continuously flowing rivers in Jordan. A small stream originates in a deep canyon and flows to the Dead Sea in the west. The river contains endemic fish that are found nowhere else and is crucial for the flora and fauna of the Mujib Reserve.
 

The River flows through the Mujib Nature Reserve, located between a dammed lake and the Dead Sea. Eventually the river ends in the Dead Sea at 416 meters below sea level. The river’s water comes from a large catchment area, including the Eastern Desert. It is a very dry region with soaring temperatures, high evaporation and little rainfall. In addition, lots of the groundwater seeping towards the low-lying river is used by farmers to grow various vegetable crops and trees such as olives. Along the river banks, small farms depend on the surface water of the Mujib River.

Threats to the river

Seven years ago, a dam was built upstream the reserve. Most of this diverted water is now going to the capital of Amman. Even though the government is unable to meet the water needs of the city, The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature in Jordan (RSCN) managed to secure a constant flow of water to feed the Mujib River, keeping the river and reserve alive. At the end of the river, a diversion and water purification plant provide water to the hotels along the Dead Sea and also to Amman (pumping it all the way upriver again). Not a drop of water reaches the Dead Sea.

 

Example of a regional water problem

Jordan is the 4th most water-scarce country in the world, with soaring temperatures in summer and just a few centimeters of annual rainfall. Population growth, water-intensive agriculture and the thirsty, expanding capital of Amman have increased water demand to the limit. Many wetlands have vanished in recent years. This applies not only for the Mujib River, but also for the sole Ramsar site in the country: Azraq Lake. The loss of wetlands is a clear indicator of larger problems from declining water availability; a problem for both nature and the people who used to depend on these areas.