(MENAFN- Jordan Times) Several agricultural companies in the south of the Kingdom are still operational and pumping underground water although their contracts with the government expired last year, a former water official said on Wednesday.
The agricultural companies in the Disi and Mudawara areas of Maan Governorate, near the border with Saudi Arabia, are technically still operational and are still using the Disi aquifer's water to irrigate their crops, according to Hazem Al Nasser, a water expert and former minister of water and irrigation.
The government's decision not to renew the contracts of the four agricultural companies last year was only "political", Nasser claimed, and was not enforced.
"The companies are pumping 66 million cubic metres of water from the Disi aquifer in the south annually, costing the Kingdom JD30 million per year," the expert, who is also a former deputy, added.
Nasser was speaking at the sixth Jordanian Environment Conference, which opened on Tuesday to discuss some of Jordan's "hot" environmental issues, such as nuclear energy, the impact of climate change, water security and mega-projects, the green economy, and the conflict between natural resource exploitation and the protection of ecosystems, and concluded on Wednesday.
"Not only are the agricultural companies incurring losses for the country, they are also depleting groundwater and causing the contamination of the Disi aquifer, due to the use of pesticides and fertilisers," Nasser said in a paper discussing the Disi aquifer, which he called Jordan's last remaining supply of drinking water.
Controversy and protests against the agricultural companies in the south had been an issue of public debate for several years because the companies were not paying for water services and allegedly failed to uphold the terms of the contracts they signed with the government by planting crops other than cereals and fodder.
The agricultural companies in the south were established in the 1980s under 25-year contracts signed with the government. The contracts expired last year, and the government decided not to renew them in order to preserve the Disi aquifer's remaining water.
Participants in the conference on Wednesday raised questions about the safety of the water in the Disi aquifer, following reports claiming the water was contaminated with radioactive materials.
"The very term describing Disi water as contaminated due to radioactive materials is wrong. Radioactive substances occur naturally in water, rocks and soil around the world. If found in water, it can be easily treated with no repercussions on people's health," Nasser underlined.
A study released in 2009 claimed that Disi water was highly radioactive, but the Ministry of Water and Irrigation said the radioactivity was not a problem because the water would be diluted with equal amounts of water from other sources.
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