By Hana Namrouqa

AMMAN – UNESCO has declared the Mujib Nature Reserve a biosphere reserve in recognition of its unique location as the world’s lowest-altitude reserve and its programmes integrating nature conservation with community development.

Mujib is among 18 new biosphere reserves that were added on July 1 to UNESCO’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves, which now numbers 580 sites in 114 countries, according to the agency’s website.

Biosphere reserves are places recognised by UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme where local communities are actively involved in governance and management, research, education, training and monitoring the service of both socio-economic development and biodiversity conservation. They are thus sites for experimenting with and learning about sustainable development, according to the organisation.

“Human activities have played a certain role in shaping many of the reserve’s habitats including agriculture, fishing, hunting, grazing, quarrying in small areas at the reserve’s boundaries, small scale settlements, wood cutting for fuel and collection of herbal and medicinal plants,” UNESCO said in a statement.

The area has more than 90 rare plant species at the national level, the organisation said on its website, indicating that Mujib is home to one fish species endemic to the Dead Sea Basin and 24 species of mammals of national, regional and global conservation importance.

Jordan is now host to two biosphere reserves: the Dana Biosphere Reserve and Mujib.

Mujib Biosphere Reserve Director Hisham Dheisat said UNESCO’s declaration of the site as a nature biosphere will promote the reserve locally and internationally.

“Being part of UNESCO’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves, Mujib Biosphere Reserve will serve as a learning site for programmes that integrate nature protection with local development and exchange expertise among biosphere reserves around the world,” he told The Jordan Times yesterday.

Mujib is home to high-altitude summits and waterfalls and it is the world’s lowest-altitude nature reserve… named after the 13-square-kilometre area Mujib Valley, which runs through it,” Dheisat noted.

Spread over a 212-square-kilometre area, the reserve, managed by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), is home to seasonal and permanent rivers that flow through several valleys, enabling the arid area to support diverse ecosystems and providing vital water resources for the shrinking Dead Sea.

The complex drainage system in the reserve is characterised by three large catchments: Wadi Mujib, Wadi Hidan and Wadi Zarqa Maeen, with permanent water flow throughout the year.

The reserve also a vital site for migratory birds particularly since it is located on the Rift Valley-Red Sea Flyway, the world’s second-most used route which hosts more than 1.5 million migratory birds during the spring and autumn.