Monday, January 23, 2006

Tourism and nature protection

The issue of forest protection in Jordan has been brought to a head the new agriculture law. As was the case with the temporary income tax law, this law was passed under dubious constitutional premises. The house rejected it, along with the income tax law and two other pieces of temporary legislation.

Aside from the constitutional issues, objection to this law has been voiced by environmentalists. The law allows for the delegation of state forest lands to investors in "governorates which need social and economic development in their areas". The implied purpose is to help create jobs and wealth in rural areas such as Ajloun. The danger is that this will lead to the destruction of the precious little forests that we have. On the economic and social side, large hotels and restaurants don't provide the types of jobs needed for local communities, because these jobs require special training and carry social stigmas that one might not agree with, but needs to deal with none the less.

Of course, Jordan is not the first country to be faced with a dilemma of choosing between tourism development and nature protection. This dilemma has led to creation of the concept of ecotourism. The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature in Jordan has developed a number of sites in Jordan as ecotourism sites, the most notable of which is in Dana. The head of the RSCN has called for the rejection of the agricultural law.

Ecotourism is defined as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." This is brought about by creating opportunities for local people, by allowing them to provide hospitality, indigenous foods, guide services and local handicrafts directly to the ecotourists. In essence, it allows for the preservation of the cultural and natural context of the site while creating economic opportunity for home owners, farmers, artisans and others. The bonus is that by creating such opportunities, it encourages local people to actively protect the resource which provides them with these opportunities (nature).

Arab tourists visit Ajloun in droves during the summer. People rent out their empty rooms, sell food and local products as well as give our guests an opportunity to learn about what Jordan is outside the lobbies of five star hotels. I have seen similar (actually more advanced) entrepreneurship in the mountains of northwest Syria. Tourism is thriving in Slinfeh, east of Lathiqiyeh, despite the fact that the only hotel in the town is shuttered.

It is too bad that most Jordanians know little about their country outside their immediate environment. People have picnics on the airport road, and have little awareness of the fantastic beauty of places such as Wadi Tawahin (Ajloun), Sila'a (south of Petra) or the forests of Birqish (south of Irbid). Ecotourism marketed to Jordanians would increase awareness and bonding with the country and its nature, as well as provide economic opportunities for the people who live in these areas. One major failure of the RSCN in its ecotourism approach is the weak marketing to Jordanians. Had it placed more emphasis on this, it would have found more Jordanians calling for the rejection of the new agriculture law.

4 Comments:

At 3:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Khalaf, as always it is not only a pleasure but an education to read your posts.
I have been dying to read your comments on and to know what your opinion is of "freedom square". It has been increasingly in the news the past couple of days. You don't seem to consider it worthy of your effort--which, I suppose, is in itself a comment on it!
I read the papers online but my Arabic isn't what it should be, and I am sometimes not sure whether I am reading political doublespeak or my limited linguistic abilities make it seem so.

 
At 5:15 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Anon: (blush). Thank you for your kind words.

I might get along to freedom square, if I run out of material. In essence, I don't think it would work. Neither the government nor the society are willing to accept unorthodox views. We need more time to be able to accept diverse thinking.

Doublespeak is designed to fool people, so don't feel bad if you don't catch it every time. Our educational system doesn't emphasize critical thinking, so most people don't give a second thought to what they hear or read from the government. Because of this, the practice is still crude and hasn't been elevated to an art form as it is in the US.

Cheers.

 
At 11:51 PM, Anonymous Rakan Mehyar said...

Well, I just have to agree with everything you wrote... Jordanians do lack environmental and ecotourism values... five stars tourism establishment can only contribute to destruction of local cultures. Take the Sweimeh village in the Dead Sea for example, what has it benefited from all the luxury hotel chains over there? they are hired as low level employees working under bad conditions and rediculous salaries... who said slavery has been abolished?! I am definately against five star resorts in Jordan; such establishments can only stress the fragile environment of the country... We should think sustainable tourism... the government should think as well!

And by the way, isn't it rediculous that the new agriculture low gets approved by the government whose minister of environment is the head of the Royal Sociely for the Conservation of Nature?!!!

 
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