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Jordan’s fragile water resources

ECOLOGY / An environmental timebomb ticks in one of the most water poor countries on Earth.

Wadi Rum is famous as the stunningly beautiful desert and rock formations that Lawrence of Arabia used as his base against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. It was here where Peter O’Toole reprised that role in David Lean’s classic 1962 film, and a top favourite of tourists along with the ancient desert city of Petra a few hours to the north.

Less well known is the fact that Wadi Rum sits atop Jordan’s biggest fossil water resource – Disi – where H20 dating back 20,000 years is stored in sandstone aquifers below shallower surface rock and river resources.

#Jordan is on the most water poor countries in the world with less than 100 cubic metres available per person per year – which is five times lower than the definition of «absolute water poverty.» At the rate that water farms are extracting the non-renewable resources of the Disi beneath Wadi Run – both in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which share the aquifer – the relative social and economic stability of one of the more progressive Middle Eastern states will be threatened within a few years.

Living Water, a film by Pavel Borecký
Living Water, a film by Pavel Borecký

Celebration and warning

Pavel Borecký’s evocative film Living Water is both a celebration of the sustaining beauty of water and a dire warning that water management needs to be better understood and implemented if disaster is to be avoided.

As a trained social anthropologist, Borecký creates a tension between the local Bedouin – who as far back as 70 years ago were encouraged to settle the arid but beautiful Wadi Rum – and the wealthy private companies that are one of the biggest benefactors of unsustainable water extraction. Forbidden access to water to irrigate their own crops, the Bedouin can only watch as large well-watered farms grow crops for export, despite laws stating that water drawn from the Disi reserves can only be used to support domestic food security needs.

H20 dating back 20,000 years is stored in sandstone aquifers below shallower surface rock and river resources.

The film is also framed by the tension between the massive water needs of urban Jordan – Amman 325km from Wadi Rum and the nearby Red Sea settlement of Aqaba.

And there is the eternal tension between the deep tranquil beauty and silence of the desert and the ugly concrete and machinery of the wells and water filtration plants that dot the landscape far above the deep sandstone aquifer.

Given its World Premiere at the Czech Republic’s own acclaimed documentary festival, Ji.hlava last year, Living Water is now ready for a wider audience playing in the national competition section of Visions du Réel in Switzerland 15th-24th April in its International Premiere.

Living Water, a film by Pavel Borecký
Living Water, a film by Pavel Borecký

A changing world

Poetic and paced, the film is interwoven with commentary on the nature of the changing world we are living through a kind of archetypal «elder wise woman»:

«Caring is something the world is seeing less of. I think people are caught in a trap – they do not truly see the world around them. If human beings cared less about what they though they should and more about the planet’s needs we would not be in so much trouble.»

Borecký gets the key facts across without allowing the film to ever fall into either polemics or dreary news reportage; the use of officials is light and they are not named on screen (although all those appearing are credited in the end titles).

Sweeping views of Amman – which would fast become as dry and brittle a ruin as Petra without masses of water extracted from far away – and majestic drone shots over Wadi Rum make for a film of profound beauty that delivers a message with relevance across the globe.

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Nick Holdsworth
Nick Holdsworth
Our regular critic. Journalist, writer, author. Works mostly from Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.

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