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Marine Pollution in Aqaba

Derek Schlennstedt, Tara Smaith and Krystal Mizzi

Photograph by Krystal Mizzi

Photograph by Krystal Mizzi

27 kilometres of coastline faces ongoing challenges of pollution.

The Aqaba Gulf is under scrutiny as solid waste levels are rising, and industrial pollution is amplifying.

Nedal M. Al Quran is the project manager of Mainstreaming Biodiversity Conservation into ICZM in Aqaba.

Nedal has been witness to the rising issues, however still maintains the quality of marine bio-diversity in the Aqaba Gulf.

According to Nedal, rubbish generated by beach goers, the local tourists and the garbage disposed into the sea from vessels, are the main environmental issues facing the gulf.

“The people of Jordan are educated but we still suffer the level of awareness in some groups who are still not up to the necessary degree of understanding, so, many NGOs focus their activities on raising awareness,” he said.

Nedal is more concerned with the industrial sector of Jordan bringing the pollution to alarming levels and is difficult to monitor and control.

“I would say one of the main sources of pollution is the industrial activities” he said. Aqaba has an industrial complex in the southern part of the city, which includes fertilizer plants and power plants. “Such facilities use the sea water for cooling purposes.” This is the main concern, he said.

“We have rich marine diversity, it’s unique, especially in terms of quality in comparison to our neighboring countries on the Gulf,” said Nedal. However he is pushing for locals to make more of an effort “to keep it safe and to maintain this quality”, he said.

“We do not have a problem with the oil pollution because we do not import huge quantities of crude oil or huge tankers, so oil pollution is minimal in our region,” he said.

The coral reefs of the Red Sea are well known for their diving and snorkeling. However, even this activity has a cost. “We suffer on a small scale from the physical damage on the coral reef communities as a result from diving activities.”

Rubbish from the sea. Photograph by Derek Schlennstedt

Rubbish from the sea. Photograph by Derek Schlennstedt

In 2002 Aqaba was transferred into a special economic zone. This bought new projects and major developments.

“We have prepared a State-of-Coast Report, and it’s the first time in the region, we prepared a Sea-User Plan which specified the different uses along the coastline,” said Nedal.

The Aqaba Marine Park, which is a government entity managed by the local authority, is carrying out educational and awareness activities on the importance of the marine environment.

“The annual budget allocated for The Aqaba Marine Park is about 0.7 million JD,” said Nedal.

One of the projects Nedal has been involved in is the Coastal Zone management project. This main goal of the project is to internalize biodiversity as an asset and for infrastructure to take into consideration the sensitivity of the ecosystem

He says these issues are being managed by projects and activities implemented by the local government and NGOs.

“The government and NGO sector try to secure funds from national donors to fund these activities.”

The Global Environment Facility funds different projects to promote marine bio-diversity, terrestrial bio-diversity and solid waste management programs.

The European Union and private sector are also contributors to environmental conservation.

Nedal said, “if I gave a list of the environmental challenges we are facing, water scarcity is at the top.

“When we deal with our water resources we have to adapt to the existing situation we have to modify our behavior on the use of the water resources.”

Photograph by Krystal Mizzi

Photograph by Krystal Mizzi

We Depend on Tourism

Caitlin McMullen, Michael Thompson and Edwina Toohey

Photograph by Edwina Toohey

Photograph by Edwina Toohey

“We don’t have petrol,” says Faleh Badarneh, the supervisor of the Captain Tourism Hotel in Aqaba.

Without any oil reserves to depend on, the southern Jordanian resort city is heavily reliant on tourism. But Badarneh, who works in the lobby of the three-star hotel, says tourism is in decline and that workers like him are deeply affected.

“This is the main sector, it’s very important,” he says. “We need to work, it affects me.”

In the week we visit Aqaba, the holy month of Ramadan is beginning, so the streets are silent during the day. Although they come alive at night, several locals are concerned that the city is much quieter than usual, due to the low numbers of visiting tourists.

 Feras Ajlouni is the Tourism and Marketing Director at the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority, which administers the autonomous economic region and promotes tourism and development. He says the drop in numbers is dramatic.

“The decline accelerated this year, with the number of overnight visitors down by 50% in the first two months of 2015.”

Ajlouni says that there is concern that thousands of tourism jobs could go with the lack of tourists.

There are several major issues affecting the Jordanian tourism sector. These include the need to increase the ratio of overnight visitors, along with the volume of tour packages. Another priority is to increase investment in hotels and resorts.

So tourism is also dependent on the overall state of the Jordanian economy, which Ajlouni says is showing some positive signs, compared to neighbouring countries.

“Jordan’s economy is doing slightly better than the regional average, with 3.4 percent growth projected for 2015, compared to 1.2 percent growth of the Middle East and North Africa.”

What does the future hold for tourism in Aqaba?

Badarneh says that Aqaba won’t close any hotels as it relies heavily on tourism.  Without historic sites, like Petra, an hour’s drive north, Aqaba must continue to develop its tourism infrastructure.

“Its very dangerous for economics. No Petra nothing, we depend on tourism. " 

He is enthusiastic about the creation of a Swiss-owned hotel with private access to the coveted city centre, which opened on the 20th April 2000.

“We have for example Movenpick, private beaches with swimming pools everything,” he says.

“I think Aqaba will be best in ten years,” he says.

Aljouni agrees that Aqaba will have a positive future, especially if more developments get underway.

“We are very optimistic that tourism will boost and will be (the) gateway to the whole of the kingdom,” he says.

Photograph by Edwina Toohey

Photograph by Edwina Toohey

Burbeyta Village Life

Krystal Mizzi, Tom Wharton, Michael Thompson and Chad Phillips

Burbeyta. Photograph by Micahel Thompson

Burbeyta. Photograph by Micahel Thompson

Burbeyta lies at the bottom of a remote valley in southern Jordan. It is home to farmers, many of whom are Egyptian, providing support for their families across the borders.

Shaaban lives alone in the valley, tending to his patch to support his father back home in Egypt.

He numbers amongst the hundreds of thousands of Egyptian labourers on work permits in Jordan.

Chain Talking. Photograph by Michael Thompson

Chain Talking. Photograph by Michael Thompson

“I was sent a contract and a visa direct from Egypt and I came straight here” said Shaaban.

The Jordanian Labour Ministry estimates that Egyptians make up over 60% of the foreign labour force in Jordan.

Shaaban plants mainly fruit and vegetables in Burbeyta, with guava trees, tomatoes and peppers providing the main source of income.

Shaaban begins work at 5am, working through until 10am before it becomes too hot to be outside. He rests and goes back into the fields at 4pm for another six hours.

One of the challenges facing Shaaban and other Egyptian farmers is the lack of electricity within the Burbeyta area; after the sun goes down they work in darkness.

He says, “I feel I need light, so I can see the plants if there is any snakes any scorpions he can see them, we are living in darkness.”

Meanwhile facing similar problems with work in nearby Tafila is Abdullah, a security guard for the Afra Hot Springs.

Abduallah. Photograph by Michael Thompson

Abduallah. Photograph by Michael Thompson

There are few troublemakers for Abdullah to deal with, for the simple reason that there are so few visitors to the hot springs.

Abdullah says that a lack of good roads to the hot springs has seen a decline in people coming to the area.

“There is no road access so it’s really isolated, so we don’t get people coming,” says Abdullah.

The hot springs got a visit from the mayor of Tafila two months ago.

“The mayor of Tafila came and they visited and nothing happened,” says Abdullah.

Abdullah says there are “lots of flies, at night there is mosquitos, lots of insects, there are a lot of snakes at night, it is a dangerous area.

“There is electricity… but it is not working, there is not enough people here so there is no access to electricity.”

Both Abdullah and Shaaban face an uphill climb to get the services and resources they need from the government.

A Bedouin Life

Aaron Ralston, Stefania Di Paola, Stephen Jones and Edwina Toohey

Bedouin children. Photograph by Edwina Toohey

Bedouin children. Photograph by Edwina Toohey

With no proper house or structure to live in, the Bedouin people of Jordan rely on the land.

“Life is shit. We need a home, we need a building,” say the Bedouin family. “We live with the snakes.”

Living on the desert hillside of Burbeyta village, the family work as farmers and herders to survive.

“It doesn’t bring anything, very little, it’s not enough for food, not enough for much at all.”

The Bedouin people are recognised by their nomadic lifestyle and this family have lived like this since their great grandfathers.

In September, when winter comes, the family will move several kilometres away to the “black caves” to keep warm.

In the summer the family live in makeshift homes, made of tarps, carpets and worn-out foam mattresses.

Flies surround the area, a main cause of illness in the family.

“The kids get sick often from the heat and the flies.”

The family own a car, which is used by the father to get to and from work, along with taking his family to hospital and collecting water.

The father works as a farmer, where he tends to sheep and planting crops.

He starts work at 7am and when it becomes too hot he returns home and then recommences until 10pm.  

There are seven boys and three girls living in the same tent.

The mother is the sole carer, feeding and looking after the children.

She bakes bread and collects milk, however they do not sell it, they use it for themselves.

The children receive a free education from grade one to six at a public school.

From grade seven onwards they pay for school fees and amenities. The trek to school each day is 5 kilometres.

The eldest son wishes to be an engineer and wants to work for the Jordanian Police with the United Nations. The UN has been deploying police officers for peacekeeping operations since the 1960s. 

He believes that going to Pakistan would be a good source of income and provide him with a better life.

When asked if they receive help from the government they answered, “nothing, you’re young, so you can work.”

The family are in the low ranks of Bedouin tribes; they mainly stay near cultivated regions of Jordan, Syria and Iraq.

The Bedouins appear ready to accommodate the changing times but still want to maintain their traditional culture of farming and herding. In some respects, the want for housing is contradictory to their nomadic lifestyle.