By Hana Namrouqa

AMMAN – Long faced by hurdles and local community rejection, Qatar and Ghor Fifa in Wadi Araba have joined Jordan’s protected areas network to preserve unique ecosystems and locally and globally endangered species.

In the meantime, negotiations between the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) and the local community in Rahmeh, a proposed protected area in Wadi Araba, continue due to local objection to the idea.

With the newly approved protected areas in Qatar and Ghor Fifa, Jordan is now home to 10 nature reserves, which also include Dana, Azraq, Shoumari, Mujib, Ajloun, Wadi Rum, Dibbeen and the Yarmouk River Basin.

Four areas in Wadi Araba were proposed to become protected areas, including Ghor Fifa, Qatar, Rahmeh and Jabal Masouda, under the Integrated Ecosystem Management-Jordan Rift Valley Project (IEM-JRV), a World Bank-funded project.

The Jordan Valley Authority has approved this month announcing Qatar and Ghor Fifa as protected areas, while Jabal Masouda was dropped from the list and the RSCN is working on persuading the local community in Rahmeh with the benefits they would reap if the area was added to the list.

In Qatar, located 40 kilometres north of the Gulf of Aqaba, the local community resisted the idea of announcing their area as a protected area, fearing for their interests and claiming that their cattle will no longer have lands to graze.

“The local community in Qatar has accepted the idea after the RSCN suggested redrawing the boundaries of the protected area, which have been moved to the east of the Wadi Araba road instead of the west on Jordan’s borders with Israel,” IEM-JRV Director Tarek Abulhawa said.

Authorities were also in favour of the new design of the Qatar protected area, Abulhawa said, highlighting that the old map would have intercepted with the proposed route of the Red-Dead Water Conveyance Project.

Qatar, a small village inhabited by 207 people, consists of different habitats, including acacia woodland, sand dunes and mudflats. It is home to 16 types of vegetation, six kinds of mammals, five types of reptiles and 32 species of birds, according to the RSCN.

“Although the boundaries of the Qatar protected area have been changed, the new site still represents the same ecosystems we seek to protect. With this decision, we gained the support of the local community, who are our partners in preserving the area,” Abulhawa noted.

At the southern tip of the Dead Sea lies Ghor Fifa. The area contains remnants of sub-tropical vegetation and freshwater streams that have created an oasis in an arid area, thus attracting migrating birds. Ghor Fifa is also home to the Syrian wolf and the majestic caracal, according to the RSCN.

“We have established management units at the two newly approved protected areas, and we are currently designing socio-economic projects to ensure sustainability of preservation programmes and generate job opportunities for local residents,” Abulhawa noted.

As for Rahmeh, the RSCN will continue deliberations with the local community, he said.

“We need the government to facilitate negotiations with the people in Rahmeh to convince them that they will benefit from the proposed protected area,” he added.

Some 1,279 people live in Rahmeh, located 55 kilometres north of Aqaba. The proposed protected area’s landscape would be 53 square kilometres. It is home to 24 types of plants, 13 animal and 17 bird species, according to the society.

Meanwhile, Abulhawa said that the RSCN is currently scouting for a new location to replace Jabal Masouda, which was dropped earlier this year from Jordan’s list of proposed protected areas.

Jabal Masouda, located in Maan Governorate, was removed from Jordan’s list of proposed protected areas because it lost its ecological significance that qualifies it to become a protected area, in addition to the local communities’ rejection of establishing a protected area within their tribal wajihat, which are lands allocated to Jordanian bedouin tribes in the pre-state era for grazing and cultivation purposes