The Eastern Jordan Valley is home to over 650,000 people, most of whom are spread out along the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. The Deir Alla municipality is an important but extremely underdeveloped community in the valley which is home to around sixty-five thousand people. Like much of the Jordan Valley, Deir Alla suffers from solid waste pollution, improper solid waste management, extremely high electricity costs which eat up a lot of its budget and extremely limited wastewater treatment infrastructure.
Mustapha Al Shati, the current mayor of Deir Alla, is striving towards a greener and more sustainable future for his community. His objective is to create more avenues of cooperation with investors and organizations such as the GIZ and EcoPeace Middle East to provide the basic services that his constituents need.
Three important projects are in the works to kickstart Deir Alla’s transformation into a greener city under Mayor Shati’s leadership, and they are: The implementation of a solid waste management program, the installation of a solar farm, and the rehabilitation and improvement of the Tal al Mantah wastewater treatment plant. A common theme of these projects is that by advancing solutions to the fore mentioned issues, the high operational costs that the municipality has to deal with can be significantly reduced, creating greater budgetary flexibility to reinvest in improving the community.
These three projects represent major strides for Deir Alla to become environmentally sustainable and to improve the locals’ quality of life. Furthermore, they show that there is concrete national and international effort to sustainably develop the Jordan Valley, which is home to the poorest communities in Jordan.
This article will highlight the various aspects of each project and its goals:
Solid Waste Management Project
Widespread littering and improper waste disposal from citizens and business owners, an unhealthy dumpsite, and poor waste collection and management infrastructure are major challenges that Deir Alla is facing in its solid waste sector. The municipality aims to tackle these issues by executing a comprehensive solid waste management (SWM) strategy.
Awareness campaigns will be used to engage the community to cut down on littering and improper waste disposal. The campaign officials will distribute brochures, posters, marked recycling bins, and in some cases, bins for organic waste to shops and public areas to encourage people to recycle. The community will be further engaged through radio shows as well as educational trips for students that demonstrate the advantages and importance of SWM. Furthermore, the municipality will start to strictly enforce anti-littering laws and incur fines on citizens and business who violate those laws. To balance out the stricter enforcement, an incentives program will be created for people and businesses who sort their waste.
The municipality, to upgrade its poor waste management infrastructure, will make its garbage trucks’ routes more efficient and establish a division for advanced SWM. By creating dedicated trucks routes that only go to homes or industrial areas or farms and studying those routes to make them more efficient, the SWM administrators can transfer waste to be sorted and recycled extremely effectively.
To begin establishing a division for advanced SWM, the municipality will be building a solid waste sorting plant in cooperation with the GIZ, as well as taking over an out-of-commission composting factory. By building a sorting plant, Deir Alla can collect and sell recyclable materials thereby reducing amount of waste heading to the dumpsite. In addition, the composting factory can make good use of the municipality’s organic waste, but purchasing trucks specialized in the collection of organic waste is what is needed to be done initially.
The final step needed to upgrade the municipality’s waste infrastructure is to create a properly managed landfill. Currently, the municipality uses a dumpsite with no measures to insulate the waste from the rest of the soil, which allows leachate percolation and groundwater subsurface pollution to occur. The only sorting done on site is by scavengers who are not sanctioned by the government.
In order to start building a landfill, Deir Alla has collaborated with EcoPeace Middle East, the American EPA and the German municipality of Jenna. Each of these organizations has contributed in their own way to the project: EcoPeace, a non-profit which has been active in the Jordan valley for the past 20 years, has created a pre-feasibility study on the creation of a landfill, Jenna municipality trained Deir Alla’s waste management employees on waste sorting and the EPA is developing an operation and safety plan for the landfill, creating pilots with several farms on the best practices for using plastic mulch and setting up a ‘green communities” website.
The municipality has highlighted that this project will have a highly positive effect on the community. Reducing pollution has the benefit of improving public health and making public spaces more visually appealing. To add to that, attracting larger investments in the recycling sector is an opportunity which should not be overlooked. A good example of this is the potential for the compost factory to be expanded to include a biogas generation unit which can create jobs for locals and be source of income for Deir Alla.
The Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Project
Power generation is one of the Jordanian government’s biggest expenditures. As the responsible entity for many buildings in the area, the Deir Alla municipality’s yearly electricity bill runs up to over 350,000 JD. These high electricity costs hinder the municipality from creating development projects or improving its services to the citizens.
The Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Project, signed in March of 2019, will be managed by Cowater Sogema with funds from the Canadian development fund and the JREEEF. Its objective is to install a 950-kW solar farm on lands provided by Deir Alla. By installing this solar farm, the municipality will mitigate the high cost of its electricity bill, and allow the reallocation of part of those funds to be used for the development of the community. Moreover, the municipality plans to continually reinvest the other portion of the savings into maintenance or expansion of the solar farm and to replace the old streetlights with energy saving LEDs.
Improving public awareness and transparency has become very crucial at this stage. The economic situation in Jordan has bred a sense of mistrust towards public institutions, so acting in parallel to the construction of the solar farm, the municipality will organize public awareness events about the project to increase governmental transparency and share the municipality’s vision on improving services. Holding these public meetings, listening to suggestions and concerns, and showcasing the ongoing initiatives to provide better services will start to instill greater understanding between Jordanians and their representatives.
The Rehabilitation and Improvement of The Tal Al Mantah Wastewater Treatment Plan
The Tal al Mantah plant, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Water Authority of Jordan (WAJ), is of high importance to the municipality of Deir Alla. It is the only domestic wastewater treatment plant in the area, one of the two treatment plants in all of the Jordan Valley, and the only option for treating the municipality’s domestic sewage. After years of neglect, the treatment plant has become rundown with many pieces of equipment needing maintenance or replacement. The mayor has expressed his concern about the plant because the water flowing out of the treatment plant does not fall within Jordanian standards, has polluted the environment and has caused several fires due to the lack of upkeep of the reed beds at the end of the treatment process which dry out during the summer.
EcoPeace Middle East is working on signing an agreement with WAJ to improve operating conditions at the Tal al Mantah plant. Its objectives are to install solar panels to supply the treatment plant with 90% of its yearly energy needs, to purchase water quality testing devices, and to conduct educational tours to the plant to address the lack of awareness regarding water treatment and reuse.
By installing solar panels, the treatment plant will have the burden of its high electricity costs lifted, allowing WAJ to shift the budget to the maintenance and upkeep of the plant’s equipment. Improving the operation of the plant will increase the quality of the treated effluent reducing the pollution in the area. In addition, the water quality testing devices will allow the plant operators to accurately determine whether the incoming water is domestic or industrial when previously they relied on visual and olfactory inspection. This allowed some unsuitable wastewater to enter and damage the equipment.
There is much to be gained by improving communication and coordination between the central and local levels of government and this project is a good example of this. Despite the fact that the treatment plant does not fall under the jurisdiction of Deir Alla, the mayor still plans to follow up on its rehabilitation with EcoPeace and WAJ. In addition, this project will show that fostering cooperation between various governmental institutions will improve services provided to the citizens of Jordan.
Decentralization, Sustainability and the Ever-Present Deficit
Jordan’s decentralization initiative represents a great opportunity for local governments to take the reins and become empowered to work more closely with their constituents. These three projects show that sustainability and green practices can provide economical benefits while protecting the environment at the same time. Jordan’s economy is still in great need of development, but the advent of more affordable sustainable technologies represents an opportunity to improve the Jordan Valley’s standard of living without sacrificing the environment.
Another important concept that Jordanians need to keep in mind is the link between water and energy. A double whammy of both severe water scarcity and the high pumping costs puts Jordan in a tough spot. The projects mentioned in this article showed that installing solar panels in Jordan (one of the world’s sunniest countries) can be a huge opportunity for cash-strapped governmental organizations, but even more can be done.
Utilizing solar power to help expand the use of water conservation and reuse technologies is the path that Jordan should take to alleviate its water and energy issues. A pilot project has showcased one way to do that through the installation of solar panels and a greywater filtration system at the Abu Obaidah Shrine, a large mosque in Deir Alla. The grey water system, which was funded by the GIZ, is powered through solar energy and filters and cleans the water used by the worshipers during ablution so it can be reused in watering trees. This simple project shows that smaller decentralized solutions can be very useful in the absence of proper infrastructure.
In the coming years, Jordanians hope that their country’s decentralization initiatives will put more power back in their hands and allow their local communities to flourish. Deir Alla’s actions go hand in hand with Jordan’s concept of decentralization and its continued planning and sustained efforts to improve its services shows that it is model for the rest of the Jordan valley. There are many opportunities to foster both sustainable and economic development in the Valley and by working together, the local and central governments, civil society and international donor organizations can seize those opportunities for the betterment of the underdeveloped communities in the valley.
Contributed by: Fadi Kardan – EcoPeace Middle East – Jordan
Photos of the Mayor and the Sorting Facility are courtesy of the Deir Alla Municipality. All other photos are by EcoPeace.