Water Wise Women: The Pioneers for Change
In 2014, the UN declared that Jordan had become the world’s second water-poorest country. Although the Kingdom had always been situated in a land with few water sources, years of managing a growing refugee crisis has only made the situation more acute. Nowhere is water poverty most acutely felt than the north of the country, where refugee populations and poverty rates are higher than usual.
In the Mkhaiba district in Northern Irbid, water scarcity had long been a huge concern. Although beautifully green and rural, Mkhaiba’s location near the northern border means that it continues to be isolated from and poorly connected to the Kingdom’s water network. A large community of 22,000 people often lack the water necessary to complete basic household tasks, drink healthily, or water their plants and olive trees. Worse, Mkhaiba’s challenging location meant that it would likely receive insufficient supplies of water for the foreseeable future.
JOHUD’s WRAP project team do not interpret a complex web of challenges as a sign of defeat, but rather an opportunity to use a tailored strategy. In Mkhaiba, our project staff immediately began focusing on how the community could best save water, and more efficiently use the scant water supplies that were available. Women and girls were invited to special “Water Wise Women” training sessions to learn water-saving techniques and basic plumbing skills. The potential for improvement was vast; many of the women and girls in attendance recalled being unaware that there was even a problem with Jordan’s water resources. One girl admitted that “I used to think that squandering a drop of water was a normal thing; now, my point of view has changed”.
At the sessions, the participants learned key ways of saving water. One key lesson for small farmers was to re-use water used for cleaning in the house (otherwise known as grey water). Through the use of a small grey water unit, participants were able to use re-use old water for irrigation. Many women found this knowledge to be both useful and cost effective, with some families being able to become more effective farmers: “We were convinced to install a unit, and I now encourage everyone to have a Grey Water unit. I was able to plant pepper, eggplant and thyme. I have lots of peppers now”.
To help families with permanent water-wasting cracks in their taps or tanks, JOHUD’s professional team created permanent solutions. Over the course of the programme, 800 families received a water-saving tap or a new water tank, helping to minimise the amount of water that is wasted through faulty equipment. However, most problems in the community can now be solved by the new team of well-trained locals. After engaging with the plumbing material, many of the women were able to use their new skills to help deal with expensive, water-wasting problems at home, fixing leaking taps and broken pipes without having to spend large sums of money hiring professional plumbers. One lady later commented that “in most cases, the problem used to be that you just needed to change a tap… we now have the skills to fix it ourselves”. Crucially, these new skills also help to ensure that water isn’t unduly wasted whilst poorer families wait to save money to pay for a professional.
Undoubtedly, the programme has helped reduce some of the chronic water issues that plagued the community, and has perhaps helped bring some joy in other unexpected ways. Those who now have the knowledge to call themselves “Water Wise Women” feel a stronger sense of community and friendship in their new group, often meeting socially and working together to solve community issues. When asked about their thoughts in later focus groups, the participants now describe feeling more confident in their own abilities and roles in the community, and have since enjoyed the task of spreading the programme’s messages to others. One mother later proudly remembered sitting her family down and training her young daughters on the importance of water conservation. Perhaps most importantly, many of the participants describe a healthy change in attitude and respect from the community at large, and the associated sense of pride at being able to change and affect one of the community’s most pressing issues.