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Karameh Dam, Jordan


Jordan is one of the most water stressed countries in the world, and the construction of dams was a top priority for the Jordanian government. Ten dams were constructed in Jordan, between get 1997 and 2006. One of these dams, the Karameh dam was constructed between 1995 and 1997 for irrigation purposes during the dry season, in spite of experts’ warnings of its potential failure. It was built on Wadi Mallah in the Jordan valley, 6km north of the town of Karameh. [1][2][3]

Experts warned that the dam would not collect water considering geological, hydro-geological, seismic, and water salinity issues. Five years after its construction, Dr. Salameh of the University of Jordan called the project a failure, since it was not able to collect any water due to a lack of water source. Moreover, farmers were deprived of water to be able to fill and test the dam, which became highly saline and unusable. This test wasted around 50 million cubic centimeters of water, costing farmers between $35 to $70 million in productivity. The bottom of the reservoir collapsed due to salinity, and large amounts of water was lost. According to Dr. Salameh from the Faculty of Science at the University of Jordan, “not a single drop of water from the dam has been of any use for any purpose until now (2004),” due to its extremely high salinity. According to Salameh, the project is a lesson learned in how consulting companies cannot always be trusted, as well as the importance of being able to hold the government accountable for projects undertaken. [1][2][3][6]

To be able to fill the dam, considering rainwater was not enough, water from the Yarmouk and Zerka Rivers was planned to be diverted into the dam through the King Abdulla Canal. This proved to be unrealistic because water from both these rivers was being fully utilized. [1]

During the investigation phase of the project, specialists warned against the construction of the dam for the following reasons, all of which have turned out to be true:

- Geological instability and fault lines passing through the dam sit, i.e. seismic risk. Two major geological weakness zones intersect on the dam site: the Dead Sea transform and the Fare'a Fault.

- Salinity of the rocks forming the dam and its reserviore sites. The rocks forming the dam site are also soft and soluble, making them unsuitable for dam construction. 

- Salt water springs at the bottom of the reservoir area, where salty artesian groundwater is discharged, also containing solid rock particles.

- Lack of water resrouces to fill the dam

- Urgent need for water projects in other area of the country

These warnings were all ignored by the relevant authorities. [1][6] Moreover, the dam requires high maintenance costs of its facilities, such as pumps, which are exposed to corrosion due to the salinity of the water. As such, the government has been paying for he maintenance of the facilities, interest cost of the project loans, as well as the cost of the employees. [1] According to Dr. Salameh: "This project proved to be a hard lesson, not only learnt by Jordan, but also by other areas of the world, where decent scientific work defending the common good is ignored for the greed of a few beneficiaries." [1]

Basic Data

NameKarameh Dam, Jordan
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level

Source of Conflict

Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific CommoditiesWater

Project Details and Actors

Project DetailsThe catchment area measures 61.2 squared Km, and is covered by the recent deposits of the Jordan valley floor, making it highly porous and permeable and allowing rapid infiltration of rainwater. [1]

The lake has a surface of 4 squared Km. [1]

This earth fill dam has a 55 Million Cubic Meters storage volume. It is 45m high and 2050m long, with a 10m wide crest. Draw off works include a 5.2m diameter tunnel 462m long, a 38m high intake tower, a 385m long spillway chute, 3-4m width, 6.3km of diversion canals, and 500m of diversion bunds, a pump station with 4 pumps each of 1.33 l/s capacity, and a 1.2m diameter twin conveyance pipeline of 3.6km length. [1][2][5]

It receives an average rainfall of 180 mm, while the annual potential evaporation rate is 320 mm. [4]
Project Area (in hectares)400
Level of Investment (in USD)75,000,000
Type of PopulationRural
Start Date1995
Company Names or State EnterprisesSalini Impregilo from Italy
Consolidated Consultants Groub (CCG) from Jordan
Relevant government actorsMinistry of Water & Irrigation - Jordan Valley Authority
International and Financial InstitutionsArab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD) from Kuwait

The Conflict and the Mobilization

Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LOW (some local organising)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationCreation of alternative reports/knowledge


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Food insecurity (crop damage), Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
OtherWater Salinity
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusIn operation
Development of AlternativesSince the dam was constructed and is operating, the people who initially opposed the project want to draw lessons out of this experience stating that:

"It is a hard lesson spending around $ 75 million for a project with no use what so ever. It is also a good lesson to show that consulting companies are not always to trust and that accountability should be an integral part of any consultancy."
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The Dam is in operation despite the early warnings from specialists. The companies involved in the implementation of this failed project were not held accountable. It also poses danger on nearby communities since it is located on seismic fault lines.

Sources and Materials



[4] - Geological and geotechnical characteristics of Karameh dam site, north of the Dead Sea, Jordan

[1] - The Tragedy of the Karama Dam Project/Jordan

[6] - Geologic hazards of an embankment dam constructed across a major, active plate boundary fault


[2] - Karameh Dam - CC Group

[5] - Karameh Dam - Salini Impregilo

Other Documents

Karameh Dam

Meta Information

ContributorChristophe Maroun - [email protected]
Last update09/02/2018



Karameh Dam