By Hana Namrouqa

ZARQA/BALQA – Increasing water flow in the Zarqa River and removing sewage pipes from the waterway are the starting points for rehabilitating the heavily polluted river, ecologists and environmental experts said on Monday.

Addressing the pollution of the Zarqa River, which originates from Ras Al Ain in Amman and flows into the King Talal Dam, has been a top priority for the Ministry of Environment since its inception, according to officials.

But the severe pollution of the river, caused by flooding sewage and violations by factories and farms located along its banks, coupled with low water flow, is hindering salvage efforts, officials said.

A project launched in 2008 by the ministry and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to rehabilitate the Zarqa River Basin aims at improving the environmental conditions of the river by building the capacities of concerned authorities and raising the awareness of people and farmers residing along its banks.

“The fact that a sewer pipeline passes through the river constitutes a major problem… Efforts are currently under way in cooperation with the Ministry of Water and Irrigation to remove the pipeline,” Falah Odwan, project coordinator from the IUCN, said on Monday during a media tour to the Zarqa River.

Odwan underscored that the low water flow is also hindering rehabilitation efforts, noting that revival of the river ecosystem requires an adequate current.

He added that the environment ministry and the IUCN are coordinating with the Ministry of Water and Irrigation to increase the discharge of treated wastewater from Khirbet Al Samra into the river to that end.

The Zarqa River is the second largest tributary of the lower Jordan River, after the Yarmouk River. Its watershed encompasses the most densely populated areas in Jordan, including Zarqa Governorate, which is home to 52 per cent of Jordan’s industries and has a population of around one million.

Under the project, which is funded by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation, the IUCN and the ministry are encouraging farmers along the river bank to adopt environment-friendly methods, which involve drip irrigation systems and the use of organic instead of chemical fertilisers, according to Odwan.

“The idea is to encourage farmers to continue planting their crops along the river bank in order to create green spaces, especially since many are abandoning their farms, while urban expansion is swallowing the remaining farms,” he highlighted.

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.