By Hana Namrouqa

AMMAN – Land bordering part of the heavily polluted Zarqa River will be turned into a breathing space by the end of the year under a pilot project designed to address one of the country’s main environment hotspots.

Under two agreements signed on Tuesday, a 500-metre section of the riverbank will be cleaned up, rehabilitated and turned into a park for Zarqa residents.

The JD150,000 pilot project, supported by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), entails planting trees along the riverside in the designated area and upgrading infrastructure.

The Zarqa River, which emits foul odours during the summer and attracts insects and rodents because of the sewage and waste dumped into it, is severely polluted due to wastewater leakage, nearby factories, car wash stations, flooding manholes and sewer systems.

Minister of Environment Taher Shakhshir yesterday said the level of pollution has declined after authorities intensified monitoring of industries, some of which used to dump their waste in the Zarqa River.

“There is progress in addressing the pollution, but more time is needed to feel a difference… we need 10 years to see real change in the river,” he said during the signing ceremony.

The ministry, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Zarqa Municipality signed the two agreements.

IUCN Regional Director for West Asia Odeh Jayyousi underscored the relationship between the economy and environmental sustainability, highlighting that environment protection sets a country apart and attracts eco-tourists.

“Environment protection and economic development are closely linked… countries around the world annually lose 2-5 per cent of their gross domestic product due to environment degradation,” he noted.

Meanwhile, AECID General Coordinator Gregorio Maranon said that the lack of water resources in Jordan dictates that all measures should be taken to enhance their quality.

“Inadequate water resources tend to impact the most vulnerable in society: women, youths and the poor,” he added.

Maranon noted that the pilot project is implemented as part of the AECID-funded Capacity Building for the Rehabilitation of the Zarqa River Basin Project, which aims at improving the capabilities of related institutions in managing water resources.