Roadmap for Restoration of the Zarqa River Laid Out

A strategy for restoring the heavily-polluted Zarqa River in Jordan was presented at a meeting in Amman on December 7th hosted by IUCN WESCANA Regional Office under its Regional Water Project and the Jordanian Ministry of Environment.

Zarqa river in Jordan

The event was attended by more than 40 representatives of the Government of Jordan and international donor agencies. The meeting was chaired by Minister of Environment HE Eng. Khaled Al-Irani. “The government is strongly committed to the restoration of the Zarqa River. It is a high priority for the Ministry of Environment. Restoring the river will deliver benefits for economic development, especially in communities in the river basin affected by poverty.” Al-Irani said.

Participants were shown a moving film on the sad state of the Zarqa River, depicting its startling deterioration over the last several decades. It is now very seriously polluted, reduced to a blackened and foul-smelling stream running between denuded and rubbish-strewn banks. In the words of the film, “its former beauty is now known only to our parents and grandparents as a distant memory.”
The degradation of the river costs far more than the loss of scenic beauty. It has become a danger to the health of people and livestock living nearby. Irrigation with water from the river creates a serious risk of food contamination, threatening valuable agricultural industries. Habitat for birds, fish and other biodiversity along the river has been destroyed.

The meeting was told, however, that it is not too late to save the river. New pollution control facilities are about to be opened at the Al-Samra Waste Water Treatment Plant downstream from the cities of Amman and Zarqa. In 2007, pollution in the river is set to decrease. "Now is the perfect time to restore the river. Cleaner water will mean that life can be brought back to the river, so that we can rebuild the benefits it brings to the people of the Zarqa basin" said Dr Mark Smith, IUCN Water Management Advisor.

The proposed strategy for river restoration will have 3 phases. In the first phase, which will run over 3 years, urgent pilot restoration activities will show people how progress can be achieved and the benefits of a healthy river. At the same time, planning will take place for cleaning up the rubbish in the river, re-establishing riverside vegetation and managing water resources sustainably. This will be backed by participation of river users and communities in decision making and action. Economic benefits from restoration will grow, including opportunities in the agricultural, recreation and tourism sectors. Under phases 2 and 3, the whole river and its ecosystems will be restored to health, over a period of 10-15 years.
"This project will adopt the systemic approach for restoring and managing the river, involving different stakeholders from government, private sectors, NGOs and local communities." Nadia Juhari, Regional DGCS Water Project Manager said.

Dr Odeh Al Jayyousi, Regional Director of IUCN WESCANA, recommended the restoration project to participants in the meeting, citing it as an example of localization of the Millennium Development Goals in action. Restoring the river will bring important benefits to people in the Zarqa basin, for sanitation, water supply, health, food security and income generation.

Minister Irani agreed, “Restoration of the Zarqa River is doable. This is an attractive project that for the first time, gives us a strategy for putting restoration of the Zarqa into action.” This was a view shared by many attending the event, which expressed alarm at the gravity of the situation, but recognized that now is the time for urgent action. Preparations for the project will now continue, with the aim of coordinating investment by the Government of Jordan and international donors and enabling restoration of the river to commence in 2007.

For more information please contact Ms. Nadia Juhari or Dr. Odeh Al Jayyousi

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