1. Update
  2. Peacebuilding

Addressing Water Security to Prevent Conflict in Northern Jordan

By Julia Watson, May 4, 2016


Jordan is one of the most water-scare countries in the world. Uncharacteristically low rainfall coupled with a rapid population increase as a result of ongoing conflict in Syria has exacerbated the problem. In the northern governorates of Jordan alone, there has been an influx of an estimated 584,600 Syrian refugees.

“The growing influx of Syrian refugees to Jordan is beyond our capabilities, and we expect more as things deteriorate in Syria. We are shouldering a big burden in so many fields, especially water.” -Prime Minister Fayez al-Tarawneh of Jordan

Recognizing the potential for instability due to the increased demand for and limited supply of water, $20 million from USAID’s Complex Crises Fund (CCF)was rapidly allocated through Mercy Corps to strengthen local institutions and increase the ability of communities to respond to internal and external stressors. To achieve these goals, funding delivered through community-based grants was directed toward:

  1. “Immediate Response Quick-Impact Water Projects” such as installing rainwater catchment systems, rehabilitating springs, and increasing individual households water storage capacity;

  2. “Maintenance and Management” of community water storage and distribution systems; and

  3. “Conflict Management in Communities” hosting Syrian refugees, including providing conflict mitigation and mediation trainings.

Through their work, Mercy Corps found that the government of Jordan was drastically underfunding the water sector. Key problems included limited staff capacity, and aging infrastructure was responsible for the loss of billions of liters of water (about the same amount of water that would satisfy the needs of 2.6 million people). Measures to hold regional water suppliers accountable had collapsed. In fact, from 2011 to 2013, water company complaints nearly quadrupled, with most of these complaints going unanswered. To address these challenges, Mercy Corps engaged extensively with the government of Jordan, community-based organizations, and the regional water companies by providing community-based grants and organizing local workshops on leadership and mediation.

USAID found that these community-based initiatives developed successful institutional capacity at the individual, community, and municipal levels. In addition, these efforts successfully helped to mitigate the negative impacts of the crisis in Syria on Jordanian communities. By emphasizing community engagement during the implementation process, Mercy Corps also ensured long-term sustainability of these programs.

While water insecurity can trigger conflict, this does not need to be the case. From a peacebuilding perspective, water scarcity can be an opportunity for communities to come together over shared goals and needs. The community-based initiatives carried out by USAID and Mercy Corps to address water scarcity in Jordan demonstrate that it is possible to build resiliency to internal and external shocks by improving governance, empowering communities, and meeting basic human needs.

The success of building long-term community resiliency in Jordan is an illustrative example of why investing in peacebuilding is effective and sustainable. Supporting the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act will provide the critical funding to USAID and the State Department needs to expand U.S. peacebuilding efforts and institutionalize this approach as a core foreign policy strategy.

Julia Watson

  • Scoville Fellow, Peacebuilding Policy

Julia Watson serves as the Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow in FCNL’s Peacebuilding Program. She works with Allyson Neville-Morgan and Theo Sitther to conduct research and provide policy analysis related to the prevention of violent conflict and protection of civilians.