Location: Middle East, northwest of Saudi Arabia
Geographic coordinates: 31 00 N, 36 00 E
Map references: Middle East
total: 89,213 sq km
land: 88,884 sq km
water: 329 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly smaller than Indiana
total: 1,619 km
border countries: Iraq 181 km, Israel 238 km, Saudi Arabia
728 km, Syria 375 km, West Bank 97 km
Coastline: 26 km
territorial sea: 3 nm
Climate: mostly arid desert; rainy season in west (November
Terrain: mostly desert plateau in east, highland area in
west; Great Rift Valley separates East and West Banks of the Jordan
lowest point: Dead Sea -408 m
highest point: Jabal Ram 1,734 m
Natural resources: phosphates, potash, shale oil
arable land: 4%
permanent crops: 1%
permanent pastures: 9%
forests and woodland: 1%
other: 85% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 630 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: NA
Environment - current issues: limited natural fresh water
resources; deforestation; overgrazing; soil erosion; desertification
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification,
Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping,
Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Located in the Middle East, northwest of Saudi Arabia. Total area,
is about 89,213 sq km, while the land area is 88,884 sq km.
The climate of Jordan is marked by sharp seasonal variations in
both temperature and precipitation. Temperatures below freezing
are not unknown in January, the coldest month, but the average winter
temperature is above 7° C (45° F). In the Jordan Valley summer temperatures
may reach 49° C (120° F) in August, the hottest month, but the average
summer temperature in Amman is 26° C (78° F). Precipitation is confined
largely to the winter season and ranges from about 660 mm (about
26 in) in the northwestern corner to less than 127 mm (less than
5 in) in the extreme east.
Jordan is an Arab kingdom on the East Bank of the River Jordan
in the heart of the Middle East.
The country is bordered by Syria; Iraq; Saudi Arabia; Israel; and
the West Bank, a territory west of the River Jordan. Amman is Jordan's
capital and largest city.
For most of its history since independence from British administration
in 1946, Jordan was ruled by King HUSSEIN (1953-1999).
A pragmatic ruler, he successfully navigated competing pressures
from the major powers (US, USSR, and UK), various Arab states, Israel,
and a large internal Palestinian population, through several wars
and coup attempts.
In 1989 he resumed parliamentary elections and gradually permitted
political liberalization; in 1994 a formal peace treaty was signed
Size: About 91,880 square kilometers.
Topography: Most of East
Bank (see Glossary) consists of arid desert. Dead Sea lowest
point on surface of earth (more than 400 meters below sea level).
Jabal Ramm (1,754 meters) is Jordan's highest point. Except for
short coastline on Gulf of Aqaba, country landlocked.
Population: In 1987 East Bank population--about
70 percent urban--2.9 million with annual growth rate variously
given as between 3.6 and 4 percent.
Languages: Almost all Jordanians speak a dialect
of Arabic as mother tongue; increasing numbers speak or understand
Modern Standard Arabic. Most of those people who have another native
language (e.g., Circassians, Armenians) also speak Arabic.
Ethnic Groups: Significant distinction between
--estimated 55 to 60 percent of population--and Transjordanians
. Small numbers of non-Arabs originating elsewhere include Circassians,
Shishans (Chechens), Armenians, and Kurds.
Religion: Most Jordanians Sunni
Muslims; about 2,000 Shia
Muslims. Christians (Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholics,
Roman Catholics, a few Protestants) constitute between 5 and 8 percent
of population. Also other small religious groups, such as Druzes
Education: First six years (primary) and next
three years (preparatory) compulsory and free; grades ten through
twelve (secondary) also free. In 1987 more than 900,000 students
enrolled in 3,366 schools with approximately 39,600 teachers. Nearly
68 percent of adult population literate; nearly 100 percent of ten-to-fifteen
Health: Water shortage and concomitant sanitary
problems contribute to health problems. Steady increase in health
facilities and medical personnel in major urban areas. Following
adoption of primary health care concept, facilities and personnel
better distributed in rural areas than in past. In 1986 life expectancy
at birth was sixty-five years.
Data as of December 1989
The territory of Jordan covers about 91,880 square kilometers.
Until 1988, when King Hussein relinquished Jordan's claim to the
West Bank, that area was considered part of Jordan, although only
officially recognized as such by Britain and Pakistan. At that time
the West Bank--which encompasses about 5,880 square kilometers--had
been under Israeli occupation since the June 1967 War between Israel
and the states of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.
Jordan is landlocked except at its southern extremity, where nearly
twenty-six kilometers of shoreline along the Gulf of Aqaba provide
access to the Red Sea. A great north-south geological rift, forming
the depression of Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee), the Jordan Valley,
and the Dead Sea, is the dominant topographical feature.
Data as of December 1989
Except for small sections of the borders with Israel and Syria,
Jordan's international boundaries do not follow well-defined natural
features of the terrain. The country's boundaries were established
by various international agreements, and, with the obvious exception
of the border with Israel, none was in dispute in early 1989.
The de jure border with Israel is based on the Armistice line agreed
on in April 1949 by Israel and what was then Transjordan, following
negotiations held under the auspices of a United Nations (UN) mediator.
In general, the border represents the battle positions held by Transjordanian
and Israeli forces when a ceasefire went into effect and has no
relation to economic or administrative factors. Until the Israeli
occupation of the West Bank that occurred during the June 1967 War
(also known as the SixDay War), the demarcation line divided the
city of Jerusalem, with Jordan holding the Old City and most of
the holy places.
Jordan's boundaries with Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia do not have
the special significance that the border with Israel does; these
borders have not always hampered tribal nomads in their movements,
yet for a few groups borders did separate them from traditional
grazing areas and water sources. By the time political boundaries
were drawn across the deserts around Transjordan after World War
I, most of the nomadic tribes in that region had longestablished
areas lying within the confines of the new state. To accommodate
the few cases where tribal peoples traditionally had moved back
and forth across the country's borders, agreements with neighboring
countries recognized the principle of freedom of grazing and provided
for a continuation of migratory practices, subject to certain regulations.
The border between Jordan and Saudi Arabia (only partially delimited
by a series of agreements between Britain and the government of
what eventually became Saudi Arabia) was first formally defined
in the Hadda Agreement of 1925. In 1965 Jordan and Saudi Arabia
concluded a bilateral agreement that realigned and delimited the
boundary. The realignment resulted in some exchange of territory,
and Jordan's coastline on the Gulf of Aqaba was lengthened by about
eighteen kilometers. The new boundary enabled Jordan to expand its
port facilities and established a zone in which the two parties
agreed to share petroleum revenues equally if oil were discovered.
The agreement also protected the pasturage and watering rights of
nomadic tribes inside the exchanged territories.
Data as of December 1989
The country consists mainly of a plateau between 700 and 1,000
meters high, divided into ridges by valleys and gorges, and a few
mountainous areas. Fractures of the earth's surface are evident
in the great geological rift that extends southward from the Jordan
Valley through the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea, gradually disappearing
south of the lake country of East Africa. Although an earthquake-prone
region, as of early 1989 no severe shocks had been recorded for
By far the greatest part of the East Bank is desert, displaying
the land forms and other features associated with great aridity.
Most of this land is part of the great Syrian (or North Arabian)
Desert . There are broad expanses of sand and dunes, particularly
in the south and southeast, together with salt flats. Occasional
jumbles of sandstone hills or low mountains support only meager
and stunted vegetation that thrives for a short period after the
scanty winter rains. These areas support little life and are the
least populated regions of Jordan.
The drainage network is coarse and incised. In many areas the relief
provides no eventual outlet to the sea, so that sedimentary deposits
accumulate in basins where moisture evaporates or is absorbed in
the ground. Toward the depression in the western part of the East
Bank, the desert rises gradually into the Jordanian Highlands--a
steppe country of high, deeply cut limestone plateaus with an average
elevation of about 900 meters. Occasional summits in this region
reach 1,200 meters in the northern part and exceed 1,700 meters
in the southern part; the highest peak is Jabal Ramm at 1,754 meters.
These highlands are an area of long-settled villages. Until about
the 1940s, persons living in these villages depended upon rain-fed
agriculture for their livelihood.
The western edge of this plateau country forms an escarpment along
the eastern side of the Jordan River-Dead Sea depression and its
continuation south of the Dead Sea. Most of the wadis that provide
drainage from the plateau country into the depression carry water
only during the short season of winter rains. Sharply incised with
deep, canyonlike walls, whether wet or dry the wadis can be formidable
obstacles to travel.
The Jordan River is short, but from its mountain headwaters (approximately
160 kilometers north of the river's mouth at the Dead Sea) the riverbed
drops from an elevation of about 3,000 meters above sea level to
more than 400 meters below sea level. Before reaching Jordanian
territory the river forms Lake Tiberias, the surface of which is
212 meters below sea level. The Jordan River's principal tributary
is the Yarmuk River. Near the junction of the two rivers, the Yarmuk
forms the boundary between Israel on the northwest, Syria on the
northeast, and Jordan on the south. The Az Zarqa River, the second
main tributary of the Jordan River, rises and empties entirely within
the East Bank.
A 380-kilometer-long rift valley runs from the Yarmuk River in
the north to Al Aqabah in the south. The northern part, from the
Yarmuk River to the Dead Sea, is commonly known as the Jordan Valley.
It is divided into eastern and western parts by the Jordan River.
Bordered by a steep escarpment on both the eastern and the western
side, the valley reaches a maximum width of twenty-two kilometers
at some points. The valley is properly known as the Al Ghawr .
The rift valley on the southern side of the Dead Sea is known as
the Southern Ghawr and the Wadi al Jayb (popularly known as the
Wadi al Arabah). The Southern Ghawr runs from Wadi al Hammah, on
the south side of the Dead Sea, to Ghawr Faya, about twenty-five
kilometers south of the Dead Sea. Wadi al Jayb is 180 kilometers
long, from the southern shore of the Dead Sea to Al Aqabah in the
south. The valley floor varies in level. In the south, it reaches
its lowest level at the Dead Sea (more than 400 meters below sea
level), rising in the north to just above sea level. Evaporation
from the sea is extreme due to year-round high temperatures. The
water contains about 250 grams of dissolved salts per liter at the
surface and reaches the saturation point at 110 meters.
The Dead Sea occupies the deepest depression on the land surface
of the earth. The depth of the depression is accentuated by the
surrounding mountains and highlands that rise to elevations of 800
to 1,200 meters above sea level. The sea's greatest depth is about
430 meters, and it thus reaches a point more than 825 meters below
sea level. A drop in the level of the sea has caused the former
Lisan Peninsula to become a land bridge dividing the sea into separate
northern and southern basins.
Data as of December 1989
The major characteristic of the climate is the contrast between
a relatively rainy season from November to April and very dry weather
for the rest of the year. With hot, dry, uniform summers and cool,
variable winters during which practically all of the precipitation
occurs, the country has a Mediterranean-style climate. In general,
the farther inland from the Mediterranean Sea a given part of the
country lies, the greater are the seasonal contrasts in temperature
and the less rainfall. Atmospheric pressures during the summer months
are relatively uniform, whereas the winter months bring a succession
of marked low pressure areas and accompanying cold fronts. These
cyclonic disturbances generally move eastward from over the Mediterranean
Sea several times a month and result in sporadic precipitation.
Most of the East Bank receives less than twelve centimeters of
rain a year and may be classified as a dry desert or steppe region.
Where the ground rises to form the highlands east of the Jordan
Valley, precipitation increases to around thirty centimeters in
the south and fifty or more centimeters in the north. The Jordan
Valley, lying in the lee of high ground on the West Bank, forms
a narrow climatic zone that annually receives up to thirty centimeters
of rain in the northern reaches; rain dwindles to less than twelve
centimeters at the head of the Dead Sea.
The country's long summer reaches a peak during August. January
is usually the coolest month. The fairly wide ranges of temperature
during a twenty-four-hour period are greatest during the summer
months and have a tendency to increase with higher elevation and
distance from the Mediterranean seacoast. Daytime temperatures during
the summer months frequently exceed 36°C and average about 32°C.
In contrast, the winter months--November to April--bring moderately
cool and sometimes cold weather, averaging about 13°C. Except
in the rift depression, frost is fairly common during the winter,
and it occasionally snows in Amman.
For a month or so before and after the summer dry season, hot,
dry air from the desert, drawn by low pressure, produces strong
winds from the south or southeast that sometimes reach gale force.
Known in the Middle East by various names, including the khamsin,
this dry, sirocco-style wind is usually accompanied by great dust
clouds. Its onset is heralded by a hazy sky, a falling barometer,
and a drop in relative humidity to about 10 percent. Within a few
hours there may be a 10°C to 15°C rise in temperature. These
windstorms ordinarily last a day or so, cause much discomfort, and
destroy crops by desiccating them.
The shammal, another wind of some significance, comes
from the north or northwest, generally at intervals between June
and September. Remarkably steady during daytime hours but becoming
a breeze at night, the shammal may blow for as long as
nine days out of ten and then repeat the process. It originates
as a dry continental mass of polar air that is warmed as it passes
over the Eurasian landmass. The dryness allows intense heating of
the earth's surface by the sun, resulting in high daytime temperatures
that moderate after sunset.
Data as of December 1989