$6 million UN-backed project pumps life back into Jordanian oasis

25 September 2001

The Azraq oasis in Jordan's eastern desert is staging a "remarkable" ecological recovery thanks to a $6 million rehabilitation initiative funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), UNDP announced today.

According to the agency, the project has restored a mosaic of critical habitats at the core of the oasis' wetlands that were degraded beyond recognition a few years ago, and is helping to improve livelihoods in the community.

By pumping water back into the oasis, the initiative is reviving habitats for an array of wildlife, including hundreds of thousands of migrating birds, which made Azraq famous among nature lovers around the world, UNDP said. Thousands of tourists are once again visiting the Azraq region to enjoy its vegetation, set like an island amid one of the driest deserts in the Middle East. Visitors can see water buffaloes, blue-necked ostriches, Nubian ibexes, dozens of dragonfly species, and archaeological sites that include renowned desert castles.

"Many of the birds for which the oasis was so well known are coming back," said Chris Johnson, Director of Development of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, a civic organization in Jordan. "Over 160 bird species have returned to the wetlands." Mr. Johnson also noted the re-introduction of the killifish, a fish species found nowhere else in the world.

The project has also created new jobs, including reserve management staff, rangers, ecologists, community liaison officers and arts and crafts workshop managers. The workshop has trained young women from the community in production of handicrafts and sweet foodstuffs made from locally grown dates.

Azraq's problems began decades ago when increasing demand for water for agricultural use and for use in the capital, Amman - where about half of the country's 5.5 million people live - drained the oasis. By 1993, after more than 20 years of pumping, the springs dried up and fires burned across the landscape.

According to UNDP, fundamental changes in national water policies to ease pressure from growing urban demand are needed to protect Azraq in the long-term. In response, the Government will soon launch a $600 million project to supply 100 million cubic metres per year of additional water to Amman.

The project is funded in part by GEF, a financial mechanism that provides grant and concessional funds to developing countries and those with economies in transition for projects and activities that aim to protect the global environment.

 

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