Restoring the river - restoring lives

01 July 2011 | News story

For decades, the Zarqa River in Jordan has been increasingly over-exploited and polluted. IUCN, in close cooperation with one of its Members, the Jordanian Ministry of Environment, is working to reverse this trend, coming to the rescue of the river basin itself and the people that need it to survive.

With only three river basins - the Yarmouk River, the Jordan River and the Zarqa River - Jordan has a critical water shortage. Water use per person in this country is among the lowest in the world. The impact that this has had on the Zarqa River has been particularly damaging and calls for urgent restoration action.

Sixty-five percent of Jordan’s total population and more than 90% of the country’s small and medium industries are concentrated in the Zarqa River area, putting it under increasing pressure. As a result, its natural flow has been seriously reduced due to the increasing demands for water supply. The quality of its water has been heavily degraded by domestic and industrial waste water.

“With the growing need for the river’s scarce resources for agriculture, industry and households, treated wastewater is gradually replacing freshwater,” says Mufleh Abbadi, Zarqa River Restoration Project Coordinator from IUCN’s Regional Office for West Asia. “Solid waste management is also a big challenge in this heavily populated and industrialized region, where poverty and degraded livelihood conditions prevail.”

But action is being taken to reverse this situation. The municipality of Zarqa, Jordan’s ministries of environment, water, and agriculture, and IUCN’s Office in West Asia are working together to help restore the river’s natural flow, support the economic development of the area and improve the living conditions of local communities.

The project aims to introduce more effective and economically-sound water management practices and promote active participation and cooperation of those that are most concerned by the river’s condition: local communities, the private sector and local authorities.

“Many people depend on the Zarqa river and on the quality of its water for food, health and business activity,” says Mufleh Abbadi. “But it is the same people that are putting enormous pressure on it, leading to its ongoing degradation. Through this project, we want to raise their awareness about how they can help improve the quality of the water and give them a louder voice in decisions related to the management of the river.”

Four pilot sites have been chosen as part of the project: Ruseifa, Zawahra, Shomar and Kaouf. The focus will be on reducing pollution and dumping of waste in the river and improving the agricultural conditions along its banks.

A series of workshops, meetings and public awareness campaigns have been conducted, targeting local communities, the private sector and other groups dependent on the Zarqa River, and encouraging them to bring forward their ideas that will feed into its rehabilitation. Two schools were selected within the river basin to raise students’ awareness on river rehabilitation and water management.

The three-year project is implemented by the Ministry of Environment in Jordan, an IUCN Member, and IUCN’s office in West Asia. It is funded by the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation.

For more information, please contact:
Mufleh Abbadi, Zarqa River Restoration Project Coordinator, IUCN‘s Regional Office for West Asia e-mail: mufleh.abbadi@iucn.org