Azraq Wetlands

January 24th 2024 in Explore
Azraq Wetlands

Azraq Wetlands

Nestled in the heart of Jordan, the Azraq Oasis Ramsar Site is a true natural wonder. Its unique geography and rich history make it a site worth visiting. But what makes it truly special is its management by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN). The RSCN has made it their mission to conserve the site's natural beauty while providing a sustainable livelihood source for the local community. From preserving the diverse flora and fauna to creating new job opportunities, the Azraq Oasis Ramsar Site is a shining example of responsible conservation and community development.

The Ramsar Site is located at the lowest point of the Azraq Basin, covering 36,000 square kilometres. Beneath the basin lies an aquifer that stretches from Syria through Jordan to Saudi Arabia. The Oasis has significant historical importance in providing freshwater for the Bedouins in the region and materials like reeds and food such as fish and wild game. As a result, the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature designated a 73 square kilometre area of the Oasis as a Ramsar Site in 1977 and a smaller 12 square kilometre area as the Azraq Wetland Reserve in 1978. The organization, the oldest environmental NGO in the Arab region, manages the site.

In the mid-1980s, water pumping from the aquifer for agricultural and urban purposes intensified, causing a significant and alarming decline in the water level. This decrease had a direct impact on the springs on the surface, which could no longer flow due to the lack of water. As a result, the surrounding areas experienced a water shortage, which severely impacted the flora and fauna of the region.

In response to a threat to the Ramsar Site, the site was placed on the Montreux Record in 1990, which raised international concern. To find solutions, several projects were initiated to address the issue, including Ramsar Advisory Missions. One solution was to pump water from the aquifer at a rate of around 1.3-1.5 million cubic meters per year, which was agreed upon by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation. However, the rate has since been reduced.

RSCN recognized that working with the local community was crucial to addressing the problem of water over-abstraction. To gain their support, they launched awareness campaigns, developed livelihood projects (such as the production of handicrafts for sale by RSCN), and employed staff only from the local community. This approach was very successful and has been adopted at all 10 RSCN-managed protected areas in Jordan, including the Fifa Nature Reserve Ramsar Site, which was recently designated.

To effectively manage and protect their protected areas, the RSCN (Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature) has developed an approach that aims to improve the livelihoods of the local community while conserving the natural environment. Each RSCN-protected area must produce an annual socio-economic beneficiary report to support this approach. This report provides detailed information on the direct and indirect financial benefits provided to the local community due to the conservation efforts. These benefits can include increased job opportunities, improved access to resources, and increased revenue from tourism. By producing these reports, the RSCN can ensure that their protected areas preserve the environment and contribute to the sustainable development of the local communities.

In January 2017, the Jordanian Government took a significant step by expanding the boundaries of the Azraq Wetland Reserve from its original size of 12 km2 to a sprawling 73 km2 area. This move aimed to align the reserve's borders with that of the Azraq Oasis Ramsar Site, a globally recognized wetland of international importance.

As if nature was in perfect sync with this decision, a remarkable event occurred in mid-April 2017. A heavy downpour of rain lashed the region, drenching the Azraq Wetland Reserve with water. The heavy rain filled up the 73 km2 area, a sight that locals had not witnessed in over two decades.

The sudden deluge clearly indicated the impact that wise conservation efforts could have on the environment. It reminded us that even the most minor efforts to preserve natural habitats could lead to remarkable outcomes.