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Bone dry

Jordan is one of the driest countries on earth, but you wouldn't know it wandering through the capital.

BAYOUDEH, Jordan — Walking the streets of Amman, it’s difficult to tell that the nation is facing one of the most pressing water shortages in the world.

People leave hoses running on the ground as they scrub their cars, shopkeepers spray down their storefronts every morning, and water pipes on many buildings drip constantly. Yet Jordan is the fourth most water-poor nation on earth, and its water resources are shrinking.

As the desert kingdom celebrated Water Day this week, many people are looking at what can be done in Jordan to avert a major crisis in the coming years. The problem has grown in lockstep with Jordan’s rapidly increasing population and now many Jordanians may be forced to embrace conservation practices if the nation is to survive.

“There is a big need for quite an important mind shift at all levels — government, institutions, private sector, public. It is not just doing things different. It will require changes in all the systems,” said Peter Laban, regional program coordinator for west Asia at the International Union for Conservation of Nature. “There is a major need to conserve water and to make water consumption more effective.”

Although Jordan is 92 percent desert, the water problem is a relatively recent one. In 1946, Jordanians had access to 3,600 cubic meters of water per capita each year. Today that volume has dropped to 140 cubic meters per capita. Globally, the average person uses 650 cubic meters of water.

Despite a growing population, Jordan may have been able to meet its water demands had it not been for the influx of refugees that began streaming in after 1948 at the start of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Since then the nation, has seen an almost steady flow of refugees from around the Middle East. Most recently, up to 700,000 Iraqi refugees have flooded into Jordan since 2003.

Each wave of refugees places greater strain on the counties limited water resources.

“The problem in Jordan is the unnatural growth, the immigration,” said Adnan Al-Zoubi, spokesman for the Ministry of Water and Irrigation. “We’re working very hard to raise the efficiency of the use of each drop of water.”

Now water conservation is part of the school curriculum. To reach adults, Al-Zoubi’s ministry has crafted a program that shows large water users how much money they could save on water bills if they used simple conservation methods.