By Hana Namrouqa

AMMAN – A United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) delegation arrived in the Kingdom on Saturday to evaluate Jordan’s nomination of Wadi Rum as a World Heritage Site.

The delegation, which comprises experts and representatives of UNESCO’s consulting institutions, is scheduled to tour the southern desert and meet with local communities, officials, private sector representatives and NGOs during a nine-day visit, according to Tarek Abul Hawa, national team leader of Wadi Rum’s World Heritage Site bid.

“Jordan is the only Arab country in the Levant and the Arab Gulf to nominate a mixed cultural and natural site,” he told The Jordan Times over the phone yesterday.

If Wadi Rum is inscribed as a mixed cultural and natural site, it will share the distinction with 25 World Heritage Sites across the world.

“We are expecting to get greater support from the international community if Wadi Rum is approved as a World Heritage Site. This will help us achieve sustainable development in the area and improve local community awareness on the importance of preserving Wadi Rum’s distinctive natural and cultural heritage,” Abul Hawa said.

The official underscored that if approved as a World Heritage Site, more eco-tourism job opportunities will be created, thus improving residents’ living conditions while safeguarding the site’s environment.

The Ministry of Environment, in cooperation with the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority, the Ministry of Tourism and the USAID/Jordan Tourism Development Project (Siyaha), prepared a nomination file that was referred in late 2009 to the National World Heritage Committee.

“The experts’ visit seeks to examine the three defining factors: To Wadi Rum’s outstanding universal value, its integrity and authenticity and the site management,” Abul Hawa noted.

The World Heritage Committee will vote on Wadi Rum in its 35th session in Bahrain next year.

The Wadi Rum Protected Area, 300 kilometres south of Amman, encompasses 720 square kilometres of desert wilderness with distinctive mountains and sandy valleys that are home to bedouin tribes and a range of desert wildlife, including the Arabian oryx.

Archaeological finds in the area indicate that Wadi Rum has been inhabited as far back as prehistoric times, with its unique landscapes and water sources offering a place of refuge for those travelling from the Gulf to the Levant.

Nabataean inscriptions, bedouin culture and tradition lend an intrinsic value to the site and attract hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the world. Along with nearby Petra and Aqaba, the site is part of the so-called golden triangle of tourism in the southern region.

Wadi Rum is present in historical records and religious texts. The area was referred to as Aramwa by Roman geographer and astrologer Ptolemy. The area is mentioned in the Old Testament as the centre of the emirate of the Prince of Aram, while according to Christian tradition, Iram was a name given to one of the sons of Noah, whose descendants lived in the region. Iram is also mentioned in the Holy Koran, linking it with a tribe called Ad, whose name was discovered in an inscription on an ancient temple at ?he site, according to archaeologists.

The Kingdom is currently home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: The Nabataean city of Petra, the Byzantine ruins and mosaics of Um Rasas and the Umayyad desert palace of Quseir Amra.