In the second week of January 2017, I visited EcoPeace Middle East’s office in Amman, Jordan and the Sharhabil Bin Hassneh EcoPark (SHE), a Jordanian EcoCenter operated by EcoPeace Middle East, 3 kilometres from the Israeli border. There I met with Abdel Rahman Sultan, an environmental engineer who is one of few to have catalogued the region’s wildlife. Through my discussions with locals, I learnt more about Jordan’s perspective on environmental cooperation in the Jordan Valley and EcoPeace’s work on the proposed Red Sea-Dead Sea water conveyance project.
Like Auja’s EcoCenter, the SHE provides an example to local Jordanians of the economic and environmental benefits of water-saving initiatives, such as grey water recycling. Locals explained the value of the SHE as a real example that can convey benefits to politicians and Jordanian citizens who have been reluctant to accept water saving measures that contribute environmental flows to the Jordan River.
One of my primary objectives in Jordan was to understand the Jordanian perspective on regional environmental peacebuilding cooperation, especially as several resources on the Jordan Valley concentrate exclusively on issues related to Israel and Palestine. One respondent indicated that at times Jordan feels as if it’s the only member of the trilateral organisation maintaining full cooperation between all members, especially when Palestinians and Israelis are reluctant to engage with one another. One local indicated that some Palestinians too frequently blamed any setbacks on the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and that this mentality had stifled their ability to develop creative solutions to their challenges. Although Auja EcoCenter is the only Palestinian-run environmental educational in the Jordan Valley, it does not attract as many people as it should.
Others addressed the propensity for Palestinians in the West Bank to frame their water concerns alongside water consumption by Israeli settlements in the West Bank. For example, Jericho’s new wastewater treatment plant has allowed Jericho city to effectively treat wastewater and supply the area with an additional source of water. Jericho’s municipal officials and the Palestinian Authority (2016) explained that initial reluctance by farmers to use treated water was based on scepticism of its quality. However, one interviewee asserted that the primary reason was because farmers viewed it as unjust to use treated water when Israeli settlements consumed much larger amounts of freshwater.
Abdel Rahman Sultan is an environmental engineer who co-authored the Field Guide to Wild Life of the Sharhabil bin Hassneh EcoPark, one of the few resources that catalogues the region’s wildlife. He explained that this book was the first step towards understanding the region’s ecology, as only a small amount of the Jordan Valley’s flora and fauna are documented. Abdel presented me with an Israeli book from 1993 that displayed distribution maps of mammals exclusively within Israel’s borders, indicating species that would likely exist on both sides of the Jordan River (i.e. In Israel, Palestine and Jordan). Of the 33 mammals that the book suggests are likely to be in the region, almost none have been witnessed by staff in the SHE. These few resources indicate the possible extent of environmental degradation, but also the value of Abdel’s work ensuring wildlife in the Jordan Valley can be documented. From this, a baseline understanding of the region’s ecology can be established, allowing staff to monitor change and determine which species are most vulnerable.
Jordanian environmentalists, like their Palestinian counterparts, are working against a significant obstacle – to convince the public and decision makers of the need to restore the Jordan River to health. The SHE, and efforts to record its wildlife, are important measures to understand the most pressing environmental issues and to be able to convey them effectively.
Al Sheikh, B, Kumamotott, M & Rahman Sultan, A, Field Guide to Wild Life of the Sharhabil bin Hassneh EcoPark, EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME).
Palestinian Water Authority 2016, ‘التوعية المجتمعية لمشروع الصرف الصحي تياسير/عقابا/طوباس ‘, YouTube, viewed 16 January 2017, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJ4x9kWIXwc&feature=youtu.be>.