A young, diverse and dispersed population
According to the 2015 Census, conducted by the Department of Statistics, the population stood at 9.5 million, including 6.6 million Jordanians and 2.9 non-Jordanian residents.12 Among the non-Jordanian residents, most come from Syria (1.26 million residents of which around 655 000 were registered refugees with the United Nations Refugee Agency [UNHCR] in January 2017),13 Egypt (636 000), and residents from the Palestinian Authority without a national ID (634 000). Iraqi nationals account for 131 000 residents (of which 61 000 were registered refugees with the UNHCR in December 2016).14 Jordan hosts the second largest number of refugees in relation to its national population in the world, only surpassed by Lebanon (UNHCR, 2015). This has contributed to increasing consumption needs of water, land, energy and infrastructure, and hence pressure on the access to basic education, health and other services, in particular in the northern governorates of Irbid and Al Mafraq that border Syria, and the adjacent governorates of Zarqa and Amman which host large refugee communities.15
The Human Development Index positions Jordan at 86 out of 188 countries and territories (UNDP, 2015b). On the three dimensions of human development measured by the Index (long and healthy life, access to knowledge, decent standard of living), Jordan has significantly improved over the last decades. For instance, between 1980s and 2014, life expectancy at birth increased by 7.8 years, mean years of schooling increased by 6.8 years and Jordan's Gross National Income (GNI) per capita increased by about 24.1% (UNDP, 2015a).
With a median age of 22.5 years in 2015, Jordan’s population is one of the youngest in the world, even when compared to other countries in the MENA region, and even more so when compared to Latin America and the Caribbean (29.2), Northern America (38.3) and Europe (41.7) (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2015). Although Jordan has one of the highest educational attainments in the Arab world, the Arab Human Development Report 2016 notes that more than 55% believe that their economic prospects will decrease in the future. Support for gender equality and civic engagement in this age group are among the lowest in the Arab world. In light of the objective of the decentralisation reform, this age composition requires the Government of Jordan to provide adequate tools and mechanisms through which all age groups, including young men and women, can participate in the development process.
Moreover, the population is distributed very unevenly across the Jordanian territory. The major governorates of Amman (4 million), Irbid (1.77 million) and Zarqa (1.36 million) together host around 75% of the population, while the remaining nine governorates account for only 25% (The Jordan Times, 2016). According to the perception of government and civil society representatives from the impoverished areas in the south and other remote areas, government attention has focused on the major governorates, in particular Amman, at the expense of addressing the specific demands of less-populated regions.16 Living outside the centre of government attention has therefore had detrimental implications for the accessibility of public services.
In line with the global trend, urbanisation has progressed rapidly in Jordan. In 2015, the share of the rural population among the total population was 16%, down from 33% in 1985. Urbanisation has advanced somewhat slower in Middle East and North African countries in which the share of the rural population decreased from 47% to 36% over the same period.17 The growing urban population in Jordan has caused new challenges for managing scarce resources (e.g. water), addressing environmental degradation and discussing changing socio-cultural conditions.