Conservation of the Dana Wildlands and the Azraq Oasis


The RSCN Dana Reserve Management Plan (1996) follows the guidelines of the NCC (Natural Conservancy Council, UK) and is one of the first fully comprehensive management plans for the sustainable conservation of a Reserve anywhere in the region.


Dana Wildlands and Azraq Oasis, Jordan

Problem Overview:

Preservation of natural resources in the face of socioeconomic development and rapid population growth


Conservation of the Dana Wildlands and the Azraq Oasis and Institutional Strengthening of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature – Jordan

Azraq Oasis is a priceless national resource with immense biological, cultural, and socioeconomic value. Socioeconomic development and rapid population growth drove a rapid acceleration in the pumping of water from Azraq in recent decades. This led to the rapid degradation of the oasis.

The Dana Wildlife Reserve encompasses an area of 308 km2 which contains an outstanding variety of natural habitats, extending from the Mediterranean semi-arid to the sand dune desert of the Wadi Araba lowlands. This variety of habitats results from a complex topography of mountains and wadis, falling in altitude from 1,500 metres above sea level to 100 metres below sea level within a transition zone of only 15 km.

Within the Reserve have been recorded 555 plant species (including 93 which are rare) and 565 animal species. It has been identified as one of the most important non-wetland sites for conservation of birds in the Middle East.

In addition, surveys have identified 98 sites of archeological interest spanning from the Epipaloelithic (Stone Age) to Islamic periods. The Reserve was under growing pressure, mainly from poor and marginalized people with very limited options, but also from tourism and other development activities, such as mining.


Government of Jordan, Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), UNDP/GEF, local communities


The RSCN Dana Reserve Management Plan (1996) follows the guidelines of the NCC (Natural Conservancy Council, UK) and is one of the first fully comprehensive management plans for the sustainable conservation of a Reserve anywhere in the region.

During the first phase of the GEF funding a socio-economic study identified a pastoral community living in and around the Wadi Dana. Ecological studies have demonstrated that the excessive grazing of large numbers of livestock was having a detrimental effect upon the Reserve.

The Reserve Management Plan accentuates the necessity to control livestock grazing and reduce it to optimal levels through implementation of a conservation oriented grazing regime. Under the pilot phase project attention was focused upon the pastoral users of several areas of the Reserve; a system of grazing permits was introduced in conjunction with the establishment of a socio-economic project in Dana village.

The socio-economic context of the Dana Reserve has nevertheless presented challenges for the RSCN. The communities with the strongest interest in the Dana Reserve are the village of Dana and the pastoral communities in the lower part of the wadi. The Dana Reserve, like many such places, is a sort of last refuge for marginalized people who are being progressively pushed out of surrounding areas.

When the project started its efforts to improve the management of Dana Reserve, these communities bordering the reserve were positively hostile towards both the reserve and its proponents. For its part, the RSCN board tended to see the Bedouins in particular as an irritant to be excluded.

This project had proven to be a classic “learning experience” for all involved. Dramatic changes have come about in the attitudes and activities of both project proponents and the communities they work with.

The RSCN’s work at Dana Reserve was complemented by a highly successful institutional strengthening programme designed to enhance their capacity for managing Jordan’s protected areas.

Constraining Factors:

Even though the conservation of Dana Wildlands and Azraq Wetland project succeeded in building political support to bring the Azraq oasis back to life, a long term solution will require fundamental changes in national water policy to ease pressure from growing urban water demands. Experience in Jordan also shows that arrangements to address local problems - e.g., establishing legal tenure for refugee pastoralists to land in buffer zone adjacent to the Dana Reserve - can sometimes be made only if they are acceptable at the national level and do not set what could be considered by others as precedents for change elsewhere.

Results and Replicability:

Here are some of the main project lessons which further understanding of community projects:

Project leaders must understand and work with the community.

A project’s approach to working with the community should be clearly and carefully planned from the very beginning.

Diversity in the local community/ies increases the demand on the time, energy and resources of project staff working with them.

Suspicious or hostile attitudes or reactions from some parts of the community will likely remain a constant factor to manage, even in the best of circumstances.

Good projects can orient national policy framework (not just the other way around).

Private sector participation is important, but must be oriented to ensure it supports public interests.

An obvious, visible problem helps galvanize community and national support.

The project succeeds when people do things for themselves.

Submitted by:

Contact: Iyad Abu Moghli
Senior Programme Officer
Environment and Natural Resources

Information Date: 1997-01-01
Information Source: United Nations Development Programme

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