Millennium Development Goals: Jordan’s lead in sustainable development
*** Note from the editor: this is an edited article, originally written by Ayat Saleh for EcoMENA ***
During the last few decades, sustainable development emerged as a hot topic in many reform agendas and strategic management plans in Jordan. The picture is not always optimistic with poverty, climate change and wars to name but a few of the continuous burdens, yet, some results have been successfully reaped. In this article, I will provide a reflection on Jordan’s sustainable development journey. Firstly, what the country achieved from the year 2000 to 2015, and secondly, what challenges the country has to counter from the year 2015 to 2030.
1. Millennium Development Goals 2000-2015
Jordan embraced every single opportunity to create a significant change in each of the three pillars of sustainability; social, economic and ecological.
Firstly, on the social sustainability pillar, the country was ranked as 77th among other 187 countries in the HDI (Human Development Index) by the end of October 2015. One of the main initiatives was the development of 3-year Executive Development Programs (EDPs) to set agendas and manage them in areas such as unemployment and poverty. As a result, the country managed to successfully reduce the poverty rate from 21% to 14.4% for the period from 1997-2012, also increasing its literacy rate to 93.3% across the country, with a reduced infant mortality rate 1.7%.
Secondly, on the economic sustainability pillar, and in spite of the volatility surrounding Jordan that negatively affects the availability of external investments, the country adopted new laws that enhanced investments and created a competitive business environment, such as the new tax law, the new electronic transactions law and the competition law. The results were shown in a 3.1% growth in GDP, a reduction in the rate of inflation by 2.8%, and in the increase in the export growth rate by 9.4% by the end of 2014.
Thirdly, on the ecological sustainability pillar, Jordan implemented rigorous steps to face the severe water conditions in the country. For example, Jordan started one of the world’s most unique water desalination projects, or what is called the “Red Sea-Dead Sea” project, in order to transfer water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. The difference in the elevation between the two seas will be used to generate hydroelectricity which will be used in the desalination process, hence providing safe drinking water to the local community. As a result, 99% of the population will have access to safe drinking water.
On other important environmental impacts, the country adopted different targets related to climate change, introduced codes for green buildings, launched incentive programs for hybrids and electric cars, and finally embraced a Solid Waste Management Strategy.
2. Sustainable Development Goals 2015-2030
In order to continue the sustainable development journey in Jordan, the country has to overcome different challenges.
Firstly, on the social development side, the three main challenges are population growth, the healthcare agenda and human rights issues, especially women’s rights. Statistics revealed that the population has doubled since 1980, and these figures include an increased number of refugees in Jordan over the last three decades. The Syrian crisis alone created 4 million refugees in neighbouring countries, and 8 million internally displaced people in five years.
Jordan hosts 1.4 million Syrian refugees, therefore, it is considered the largest recipient for Syrian refugees, resulting in $6.6 billion in direct and indirect costs. This creates pressure on the limited natural resources and the current infrastructure. Similarly, the official statistics in regards to healthcare in the country showed that only 77% of Jordanian citizens are covered by health insurance, and the official numbers for unemployment rates reveal that the unemployment rate for females is twice more than that for males.
Secondly, on the economic development side, the two key challenges concern reducing the country’s dependency on external financial support (i.e. financial aid, long-term loans, and grants) and reducing poverty rates given that 2% of the population are living on less than $3 per day.
Thirdly, on the ecological development side, the four crucial ecological areas in Jordan are water scarcity and climate change, wastewater sewer network and sanitation systems, land degradation and desertification and, finally, the country’s dependency on imported energy from other countries. With regards to water scarcity and climate change: according to the official meteorological forecast in Jordan, the country is predicted to have a 3% increase in evapotranspiration. This increase is also expected to be combined with a decrease in rainfall by 15% and an increase in demand for irrigation water by 18%. In total, the available water in Jordan is expected to decrease by 30% by 2035.
Not only is climate change a major contributor to water scarcity, but so is domestic misuse of water resources and the increasing number of Syrian refugees who consume approximately one million litres of water on a daily basis. In regards to the sanitation issue, the current wastewater network is not capable of handling all the wastewater discharge in the country. Official numbers state that only 63% of the population is connected to a public sewer system. This also means losing the opportunity of collecting, treating and reusing wastewater for other beneficial purposes.
Moving to the land degradation challenge, the country has to deal with an increasing impact of land degradation as a result of improper use of land, soil erosion, poor solid waste disposal practices and immigration from rural to urban areas. Finally, the country lacks the resources required to generate electricity, therefore, around 96% of its fossil is imported.
In a small country like Jordan, surrounded by many challenges as I have illustrated above, our hopes are still high to achieve our Sustainable Development Goals by the end of 2030, and to hence create a better future for everyone in the country.
 Bertelsmann Stiftung, “BTI 2016 Jordan Country Report”, Gütersloh, 2016.
 I. Fakhoury, “Jordan Statement at the UN Sustainable Development Summit”, Amman, 2015.
 H. El-Naser, B. Telfah, and S. Kilani, “Establishing the Post-2015 Development Agenda: Sustainable Development Goals ( SDG ) towards Water Security The Jordanian Perspective”, Amman, 2014.
 Global Nature Fund, “Red Sea – Dead Sea Canal and the feasibility study of the World Bank”, 2013.