By Nada Atieh
The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature is the authority for biodiversity in Jordan and manages almost 5 percent of the country’s nature reserves in nine protected areas. It protects hundreds of registered plant and animal species in the Kingdom.
Additionally, the organization introduced the principles of ecotourism to this country, Khalid Irani, former minister of environment and energy, and chairman of RSCN for seven years told Venture.
As well as his senior role with the RSCN, he is also on the board of BirdLife International, a global conservation network spanning 120 countries. Irani is also a firm believer in green economy and heads his own renewable energy company.
How has the work of the RSCN developed down the years?
RSCN was established in 1966 but until the 1980s, the approach was purely protection. We changed that and introduced ecotourism in the 1990s. There was high demand from Arab countries for training so we also developed training programs and established an academy at the entrance to the Ajloun reserve. Its function is to train rangers and reserve managers.
What would you say are the RSCN’s priorities?
Managing Jordan’s nature reserves is our number one objective. Our mission is to set up protected areas within the country that conserve ecosystems and habitats and we also have a vested interest in empowering local communities through ecotourism. We want to create jobs for people living around the protected areas so they see benefits from nature conservation. We have an education department and work with schools to introduce environment conservation, water conservation and nature conservation. In the 1990s, RSCN introduced environmentalism to the national curriculum. We reviewed books from the first grade to the twelfth and worked closely with the Ministry of Education. We now have an education officer in each protected area, who we employ from among the locals to work with schools in each area.
How important is ecotourism to Jordan?
I’m a strong believer in ecotourism, but it has to benefit nature and local communities. When we started in the 1990s, you could count the number of people who would go out and hike. This is why we established Wild Jordan on Rainbow Street. We decided if we can’t bring people to nature, we’ll bring nature to people. Last year I think we got 150,000 visitors in our protected areas. Without those visits to protected areas, there are no jobs. We are the largest employer in these areas. The rangers and director of the reserve are all engaged and we don’t hire from outside the community. We train them in our academy. For example, in the Azraq Reserve, we employ chefs, waiters, education officers, and rangers. We create jobs and work with women too because they are less empowered in villages and when they develop their economic status, their status is raised. We don’t exist to do ecotourism; it’s just a tool to sustain us so that we can continue to manage protected areas and generate income for the local community so they can support the conservation of nature.