Sunday, April 15th, 2012: The Visit
We stood on the edge of the cliff and took it all in. Suited parliamentarians from the Committee of Environment and Health in the Lower House of Parliament, FoEME staff, military members and journalists alike gazed at the view afforded by the blue sky, hazy mountains, and rolling fields. Several parliamentarians took up the binoculars lying on the table and leaned over the edge of the wall to get even closer to the nature that surrounded us.
We were in Bakoura. The word ‘picturesque’ was invented because of scenery like this. And here at FoEME, we are determined to make Bakoura into a national peace park that celebrates its historical, moral, religious, environmental and economic significance.
Bakoura, as previously mentioned in other posts is now a military-controlled region, on the border where Jordan meets Israel in the north. It is quiet and rarely visited, which is a shame since it is rich in important natural and cultural heritage. Located near the burial sites of several of the Companions to the Prophet Mohammed, this area could become a pilgrimage site, much like the Baptism site of Jesus, near the Dead Sea. Or a place where giddy history buffs could come to see the location of the first hydro-electric power plant built in the entire Middle East: the Palestinian Hydroelectric Plant, which was built by Pinchas Rotenberg under the auspices of King Abdullah the First. The economic benefits of an anchor for tourism in northern Jordan have the potential to rejuvenate the nearby towns. These parliamentarians, these military members, they realize this. They are here. And they are ready to act.
Lieutenant General Ahmad Al Rahamnieh and FoEME’s own Chairman and Director of the Amman Office, Munqueth Mehyar each spoke in turn. The Lieutenant General explained the historical significance of the park, detailing the military history of the region since the battles of Yarmouk and Hittin in 1187. Mehyar provided a detailed explanation of the goals and objectives of the national project, which would result in the declaration of a national peace park with historical, religious and touristic attractions.
The parliamentarians were supportive, asking questions and responding positively to such a project. The Chairman of the Health and Environment committee in the Lower House of Parliament, Dr. Motasem Awamleh, particularly stressed the importance of transforming Bakoura into an ecologically conscious national tourist resort. He thought that, “The project is expected to have positive outcomes for the residents of the area as well as the GDP.”
Parliamentarians, FoEME staff and journalists then visited the remains of the hydro-electric dam and three bridges spanning the quiescent Jordan River. The day ended with everyone making the short journey to the SHE EcoPark, to break bread together for dinner. The parliamentarians left with smiles on their faces, and repeated promises to make the Bakoura a park for everyone to enjoy.
April 17th, 2012: The Interview
FoEME didn’t stop there in our mission to make this vision for the future a reality. On April 17th, 2012, at 8:45AM, Abdel Sultan, a Deputy Director at FoEME’s Amman Office and the Director of the SHE EcoPark, was interviewed by Hazim Rahahleh of Jordan TV.
In his interview, Sultan discussed the water issues in the Middle East in general, and more specifically issues associated with the Jordan River. He noted that it is important for Jordan to move towards a diversified economy, so that Jordan does not fatally drain its water further. He noted that a study conducted in 2003 compared the economic yields of the major sectors that use water: industry, tourism, agricultural and municipal. Of these sectors, tourism was the most rewarding sector financially per unit of water used. It is for this reason that FoEME so strongly supports eco-tourism and created the Sharhabil Bin Hassneh EcoPark (SHE EcoPark) as a trailblazer. It is for this reason we are championing for Bakoura to become a national peace park.
Sultan pointed out that Bakoura is unique environmentally in many respects: it contains the confluence of the Yarmouk and the Jordan River, and 500 million migratory birds traverse the Jordan Valley here twice annually. He also noted that many surrounding communities were impoverished: for instance, North Shouneh is currently facing up to 40% unemployment. Creating an EcoPark in Bakoura would create around 200 job opportunities, primarily to be filled by people in the region itself.
FoEME’s Deputy Director ended his interview by describing his hope for the future: that the government would allow for the creation of the Bakoura peace park and that all people would visit pristine EcoParks in order to better appreciate nature.
Please feel free to watch the full interview. It is in Arabic.
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Please visit FoEME’s website for more information about Bakoura, and Friends of the Earth Middle East, as an organization. Want to contribute to our efforts to make Bakoura a national peace park? Make a donation today!