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AUSTRALIA | Tuesday, 31 May 2011 | Views [917]

Unlike Cairo and Damascus, which were built on plains and count their lives in millennia, Amman wraps around a series of valleys and hills. It is also only a handful of decades old.

Consequently Amman is utterly different from the other two cities. In the downtown nothing is higher than three or four stories. The older buildings are faced with white limestone, the newer ones in pale rendered cement. Between the buildings are trees, so despite the bright skies and reflected light there are moments of lushness. Mulberry trees that hang down over lanes, pavements smudged with the colours of crushed fruit.

The steep terrain and density of population means that the buildings, though individually not that tall, are stacked one on top of another to the top of the ridge. There are narrow streets, precipitous switchbacks, and rock cut stairs. I watch a car's tyres lock, its rear wheels fish tailing as the driver negotiates a parking space. It is lucky that it hardly rains in this, the third driest country on earth.

Unfortunate in so many other regards though. This is a dry region and the Jordan river contested by the countries that lie along its borders. The Dead Sea shrinks, year after year.

For now Jordan drinks water from an aquifer in the south. But this resource is not renewable, and there are few plans for when the water runs out.

There were thoughts to pump water in from the Red Sea to refill the Dead, and desalinate along the way. Possible, if expensive. In any case the funding [from Libya] has, following that counties descent into chaos, dried up, and Israel objects on environmental and security grounds.

How different Egypt with its massive river, and open canals snaking silver through the surrounding land.

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