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Improving Jordan’s Water Sector Governance to Strengthen Water Security

Institutional Support and Strengthening Program (ISSP)

Jordan struggles with limited renewable water resources that have to be delivered across the country to its people at a fairly high cost. From 2011 to 2016, the challenges grew due to rapid population growth, driven largely by a Syrian refugee crisis, and accelerating commercial and agricultural activity, creating an enormous increase in demand. Supply crises in the water sector were becoming the norm. Utilities struggled to keep up with operations and maintenance, which further reduced water delivery to municipalities; pervasive over-pumping led to depleted wells and springs, and flawed or outdated water allocation policies exacerbated the situation.  

Alleviating an Impending Water Crisis

After decades of support to Jordan, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) recognized the need to help Jordan navigate its emerging water crisis. In 2010, USAID launched the Institutional Support and Strengthening Program (ISSP) to support comprehensive development and reform of the water sector to better manage Jordan’s scarce water resources. ISSP addressed the key institutional constraints to more effective and efficient water resources management from creating policy to strengthening retail water delivery.  As the lead implementer, RTI worked closely with the Government of Jordan (GOJ), local and national water sector stakeholders, and donors to implement a comprehensive reform and restructuring program.

Institutional Strengthening and Informed Decision-Making

The program’s efforts largely focused on strengthening how the water sector is managed through a series of key institutional reforms. It also focused on establishing a knowledge base on which government policy and water management decisions should be made. Our team first completed an Institutional Assessment of the water sector which (1) identified key constraints and barriers—legal, regulatory, structural, and operational—that impede optimal management of scarce water resources; (2) critically examined institutional and governance structures and systems for all key areas of water sector management: strategic planning, water extraction, water allocation, bulk water supply, distribution and protection, management, quality and quantity monitoring, infrastructure investment, and operations and maintenance (O&M); (3) examined critical underlying factors that materially affect strategic choices and policy as well as water sector management effectiveness; and (4) based all recommendations on current GOJ strategies and policy priorities.

Through the program, our team completed the most comprehensive study to date in Jordan on the economic value of water. The Water Valuation Study: Disaggregated Economic Value of Water in Industry and Irrigated Agriculture in Jordan presented detailed data and analysis of Jordanian commercial water usage. Additionally, the program completed the first and only national survey of all groundwater wells across the country, the Socio-economic Study of Groundwater Use in Jordan, to support the Jordanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation in its efforts to better address groundwater management issues. The purpose was to provide reliable and up-to-date data to serve as the basis for developing and analyzing optimal policy and management decisions for such a difficult issue. For the very first time, the study covered all wells across the kingdom, collecting a wide range of socioeconomic data for agricultural, industrial, and alternative use wells. The survey also updated critical technical data for each surveyed well, enabling the GOJ to update outdated and inaccurate records across all its water institutions.

Strengthening Water Sector Governance

ISSP’s initial assessment and ongoing research laid an excellent foundation for achieving one of the program’s main objectives—to improve sector governance. For more than four years, our team executed this reform agenda and achieved a wide range of governance improvements, despite the political upheaval in the region and multiple changes in government. With significant involvement from our team, the legal framework changed to strengthen sector governance. A bylaw was enacted to establish the National Water Policy Council, in direct response to ISSP recommendations, to improve transparency, accountability, and participation in water policy setting. We developed a national Wastewater Strategic Master Plan that became the basis for all governmental water agency planning decisions for wastewater investments. The plan has also greatly accelerated donor investment in wastewater infrastructure as well as established national planning criteria. A Strategic Master Plan for Municipal Water Infrastructure was also completed, establishing the first national plan with clear key investment priorities and planning criteria for the next ten years. In addition, ISSP developed several planning tools and systems through an iterative process to strengthen governmental water agencies’ capital investment planning, donor project financing, and annual water budgets.

Improving Supply Systems

A key indicator of stronger institutions and sector governance is improved service delivery to customers.  ISSP worked closely with Jordan’s utility companies as well as smaller local government-run utilities to strengthen their operations, management and performance.  An operational performance pilot project for the local water utility in Tafileh achieved significant success. The ISSP team implemented activities in the areas of customer service, geographic information systems (GIS), asset management, O&M procedures, billing, energy efficiency, and performance monitoring. By doing so, the program demonstrated the impacts of relatively cost-effective new procedures, approaches, and tools to achieve measurable impacts on utility performance. As a result, the billing cycle was reduced from three months to one month, there were 50 percent fewer unbilled customers, GIS was fully integrated into customer management and O&M, and customer complaints decreased sharply.

ISSP also strengthened business management at the Jordan Water Company (Miyahuna) – Jordan’s largest water utility company – through the creation, adoption, and full integration of business planning into Miyahuna’s management and operational practices and systems. We adapted international best practices into a model for a Business Plan. The team worked alongside MIyahuna staff which led to the utility changing its overall management approach. This resulted in Miyahuna linking all internal projects and budgets to the business plan. The plan was fully adopted, and the utility was fully executing annual updates of the business plan, demonstrating the sustainability of this work.

Protecting the Water Supply

ISSP strengthened the underlying conditions for compliance and enforcement related to illegal water use, particularly for groundwater. The program completely updated the groundwater monitoring process from licensing to meter reading and violations management. The project also developed new systems and tools that were instituted at all eight Basin offices, allowing for daily upload of meter readings and GPS information on wells abstraction, with photo verification. ISSP also instituted a data validation process between the governmental water agencies to ensure greater transparency and accountability in abstraction management.

Throughout project implementation, our team achieved significant success with its workshops, seminars, and brainstorming sessions with GOJ, USAID, and other stakeholders to strengthen participatory, accountable, transparent, and effective management of Jordan’s scarce water resources.

Water Security for Jordan

Though political instability in the Middle East and changing socio-economic conditions have continued to create serious challenges for the stability of the water sector in Jordan, our team’s work through the Jordan ISSP program was strategically important in promoting longer-term planning for the region and demonstrating the close linkages between sector governance and water security. Through the program, we have contributed to a stronger and better managed Jordanian water sector that is better prepared to meet future needs. Well-received by stakeholders, the program executed an effective vision and plan to achieve sector reform in Jordan.