By Hana Namrouqa

AMMAN – The Ministry of Environment is creating a new technical unit in charge of rehabilitating the Zarqa River Basin, one of the Kingdom’s major environmental hotspots, according to Minister of Environment Yaseen Khayyat.

Based at the ministry, the unit will be supported by several government agencies and will coordinate efforts to rehabilitate the Zarqa River Basin, he said during the closing workshop of a five-year project for the rehabilitation of the basin on Thursday.

Khayyat underscored that further efforts are still needed to restore the ecological and cultural value of the river, which has suffered from pollution and depletion over the past three decades.

“The main goal of the rehabilitation programme is to change perspectives of the river as a landfill or a health hazard… stopping pollution of the river is a national responsibility,” he noted.

Addressing the contamination 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 establishment, according to officials.

But the severe pollution of the river from the influx of sewage and dumping by factories and farms located along its banks, coupled with low water levels, is hindering salvage efforts.

Khayyat said the first step towards rehabilitating the river is preventing pollution by controlling the disposal of solid and liquid waste, as well as managing the river’s water flow.

“The ministry seeks to maintain a continuous flow of water in the Zarqa River and replenish it with unconventional water resources, such as highly treated wastewater, harvested rainwater and grey water,” the minister noted.

He commended the Ministry of Water and Irrigation for helping address the causes of the river’s pollution by prohibiting wastewater treatment plants, manholes or pumping stations from leaking untreated wastewater into the river.

The rehabilitation project, launched in 2008 by the environment ministry and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), aims at improving the Zarqa River Basin’s environmental conditions by building the capacities of concerned authorities and raising the awareness of people and farmers residing along its banks.

The second largest tributary of the lower Jordan River after the Yarmouk River, the Zarqa River’s watershed encompasses the most densely populated areas in the country, 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, funded by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation, the IUCN and the ministry encouraged 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 the ministry.

Spanish Ambassador to Jordan Javier Sangro de Liniers said the unit for the rehabilitation of the Zarqa River will start operating next month, highlighting that the project promotes coexistence between human beings and nature.

“The project demonstrated the concept that humans and nature can, and should, coexist in a way where development activities take into consideration the ecological needs of the system surrounding them,” the ambassador noted.