Proposed Actions

Building Water Security Through Political Reforms

Jordan's government, donors and water specialists publicly recognise that developing water security will be a pre-condition for generating the needed levels of economic growth to meet future energy, food and financial challenges and that failure risks domestic instability, a message strongly delivered in the government's 2005 National Agenda (JMGP 2005). Commitment to water reforms is strong. Yet, despite the fast-deteriorating water situation, Jordan's leaders and their counterparts abroad avoid publicly recognising “the elephant in the room”, namely that Jordan's water strategy is politically challenged:

What is missing is frank talk about how the Kingdom's distinctive power dynamics (i) contribute to distorted allocations and unsustainable use; (ii) foster a culture of competition for, rather than conservation of, scarce water resources; and (iii) inhibit efficient and democratic water governance necessary for economic growth, for putting in place adaptive capacity to deal with climate change and for laying the foundation for regional cooperation over shared water resources and new supplies (Yorke 2013, p. 77).

It follows that the path to sustainable water management will involve both addressing political factors adversely affecting water governance and exploiting opportunities to build well-functioning political and economic systems to improve the context for implementing effective water solutions. Meeting the following criteria will likely determine success:

Recognising Poor Water Governance Reflects a Wider Political Problem While “shadow state” elites dominate centralised unaccountable structures, reforms will likely continue to show imbalances with the privileged benefiting disproportionately. More representative parliaments would give Jordanians greater political say in, and parliamentary scrutiny over, policies and thus render more likely their acceptance of difficult reforms.

Recognising How Non-water Policies Impact on Water Outcomes and How Poor Water Governance Affects Other Sectors This will involve national leaders making consideration of how to use scarce water a priority in national planning and investment decisions and aligning its governance with cross-sector policies chosen efficiently and effectively to promote economic growth. Coherent decisions require policymakers to understand how water management affects their sectoral responsibilities and to tap into water-sector expertise, calling for a central single water data set.

Improving Accountability and Transparency, and Curbing Corruption Good governance across the board will be a pre-condition for improving water management at home, and both will be necessary for building the level of regional cooperation required to manage and protect shared water resources and for attracting foreign investment for water and other projects. Governments that are accountable are incentivised to implement the reforms needed to deliver services in line with public and investor expectations.

Recognising Reforms Must Be Inclusive, Results-Oriented and WellPlanned Jordanians will be more likely to “buy into” difficult reforms if they can perceive tangible benefits, and to stay the course if they have been consulted.

Restructuring Donor Collaboration If donors are to support an extended reform process, they need reassuring that national leaders are shouldering responsibility in meeting reform-related conditions negotiated. Revised arrangements with donors for cash transfers and their conditions precedent (especially on water use in agriculture) will be key.

All this suggests a bold political approach linking political and governance reforms to effective water solutions is needed. King Abdullah II's response to the Arab Spring (King Abdullah II Ibn Al Hussein 2012)[1] provides unprecedented opportunity, when regional politics permit, for Jordan to implement with international support the needed domestic, regional and international policies to make this happen. The key challenge will be whether Jordan's roadmap of political reforms[2] can translate into politico-economic transitions capable of delivering the democratic freedoms and water-secure future to which Jordanians aspire. This paper's analysis and above criteria suggest success will be contingent on: the gradual but systematic implementation in due course of historic structural change away from the rentier system supporting Jordan's unaffordable patronage state to a participatory democracy based on the rule of law, transparency and accountability; and on all Jordanians – leadership, elites and public – “buying into” and putting their weight behind a difficult transition through agreeing cross-sector reforms serving the collective interest and a strategic agenda for implementing political, economic, legal and institutional aspects in which water is prioritised (Yorke 2013, pp. 80–93).

Who would drive these processes? The King has recognised the need for “topdown” leadership to facilitate “bottom-up” reform. By calling on Jordanians to embark on a process of “self-transformation”, he has pointed the way through uncharted waters. While offering guidance he has called on Jordanians – government, parliament, administration, NGOs and citizens – to assume responsibility for agreeing a vision for Jordan's future and to drive through inclusive reforms to implement it. In this context, there is need for “political champions” amongst the elite to recognise win-win outcomes for all and to bring their followers with them. Donors must also play their part, with robust support for such political change.

  • [1] In 2012–2013, the king outlined goals for “self-transformation and progressive reform”: fair parliamentary elections, a law guaranteeing broad representation, a Parliament based on political parties and governments drawn from that Parliament. In 2013, the king distributed three papers on political transition.
  • [2] Constitutional changes implemented in 2012 and elections held in 2013, to be followed by changes in the electoral law, and formation of governments comprising elected parliamentarians.
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