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Wadi Rum gains World Heritage status

27 June 2011

On 25 June, UNESCO announced that Wadi Rum, a protected area of desert in southern Jordan, had been added to the list of World Heritage Sites for both its natural drama and cultural significance.

For Rum background, click here, herehere and here.

Few outsiders know Wadi Rum as well as British climbers Tony Howard and Di Taylor. Since their first visit 27 years ago, Tony and Di have been exploring trekking paths and climbing routes all across these rugged landscapes in partnership with the Bedouin, bringing local knowledge to a global audience with unique sensitivity and insight. Several books have resulted, notably Treks and Climbs in Wadi Rum and its partner volume Jordan: Walks, Treks, Caves, Climbs and Canyons. Tony remains an authority on sustainable adventure tourism to Jordan and many other destinations – his publications list takes in Norway, Oman, England and Palestine. His most recent book, Troll Wall, describes his pioneering 1965 ascent of Europe’s tallest rock face. Tony returns to Wadi Rum every year, staying for weeks at a time with the Bedouin.

When the news of Rum’s UNESCO listing broke, I asked Tony if he would like to contribute an article for this website. I’m delighted he said yes. This is what he wrote:

Wadi Rum’s UNESCO World Heritage status has been a long time coming. Some may say it’s not come soon enough; others wonder if it should have happened at all. But Lawrence‘s “Rum the magnificent” is more than deserving – its natural and archaeological wonders are outstanding and both the Old Testament and the Holy Koran are believed to make reference to its culture.

Why then any concern? For many, the main worry is can the area and its people – the Bedouin – cope with the huge increase in tourism that the designation of World Heritage Site will bring? Despite the best efforts of Jordan’s RSCN to protect the core area, it already shows signs of overuse: one must accept that Rum village has grown out of all proportion – when we first arrived in 1984, only Bedouin tents and half a dozen houses surrounded Rum’s fort – but the valley-wide proliferation of vehicle tracks that now head south from the village to the tourism hotspots can hardly be described as welcome. Nor can the ever-increasing number of ‘tourist camps’ which already dot most of the valleys. It is, of course, good that as always the local people are taking the initiative, but while some of these camps are discreet and well managed, others are incongruous – and some are not even owned by Bedouin.

One wonders what type of accommodation the new Rum will have, and where, and how that new accommodation will impact on the site and the ongoing success of the existing Bedouin-run tourist camps.

At peak periods in Rum there are already too many tourists. What then, when the numbers double (as they could)? What effect will that have on the ambience of Rum, its quiet valleys and those people still trying to live their lives peaceably, in the desert? Will outsiders with no knowledge of Rum, its wild places, its culture, its tourism be drafted in as guides and drivers? What new rules and regulations will appear? Will the almost year-round mainstay of Rum’s sustainable tourism – the environmentally aware adventure tourists, trekkers and climbers enjoying what’s been dubbed the world’s best desert climbing area – be faced, as they are in Petra, with ill-considered and impossible demands to hire guides, when in truth guides are not needed by those with sufficient experience? Already Rum has insufficient guides for those visitors who do require them.

And will any of this benefit the area – and more importantly its people? If the evidence of the Wadi Rum Visitor Centre is anything to go by, the answer is probably not. Prior to its construction in 2004, the Bedouin of Rum could wait in their houses until it was their turn in the rota to drive tourists into the desert. Now all the drivers must go 7km to the Visitor Centre and sit around all day waiting for business. No shelter is provided for them. All these cars doing miles of pointless driving pumps unnecessary pollutants into the valley air every day.

So if Rum’s new World Heritage status is to protect the area and benefit its people, its culture and its visitors (both adventure tourists and mainstream tourists), a lot of work has to be done – and quickly. Let us hope that those who undertake this task will work fully with the local people to understand their needs – and the needs of all types of tourists.

Article is © Tony Howard, 27/06/2011. Author contact here.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. 28 June 2011 6.23am

    But isn’t this, in effect, the conundrum of all tourism in general? They said the same thing about Ladakh in India, and indeed about every secluded place on the planet. And by the way, my prayer for those Brazilian tribes who have just been discovered, is that I hope they are left alone!

  2. 28 June 2011 7.45am

    True, Marryam – thank you for your comment. Sensitive management of wilderness areas is a pressing problem around the world. In Jordan, as Tony Howard notes in his article, it’s clear that mistakes have been made at Petra. Let’s hope they aren’t repeated in Wadi Rum…

  3. 28 June 2011 8.11am

    Yes, tourism doesn’t often accompany utter respect for the places visited. But I think it must also be remembered that this is the price paid for prosperity.

    I first went to Rum over 25 years ago, and I was more struck by the dirt and the dilapidated trucks in service than by the beauty of the scenery. A lot of the dirt in the village has disappeared now, and the small boys who were shouting “give me pen” are now driving modern (and more comfortable) vehicles, they are building houses for their children with “proper” bathrooms and their wives have washing machines instead of washing clothes by hand in cold water.

    While the authorities are making what seems to be a sincere effort to keep tourism in the hands of the local Bedouin, the rules allow men from Petra to bring tourists in their own 4×4 to do a jeep tour, and a number of these “outsiders” do go a long way into the desert.

    The overuse that Tony describes comes mainly from the two hour tourists, who arrive in large tourist coaches for a desert tour that barely goes as far as the sand dunes. Certainly the tracks around there and around Khazali are pretty marked (although “valley wide” is perhaps an exaggeration). The camps are confined to a area, within a certain distance of the village.

    Like Tony I am extremely sceptical of what benefits the Bedouin will get from this new situation. When one compares the way in USAid is being administered in Wadi Rum with the way it is administered in Madaba, one has the impression that a great deal of money is being spent in Rum on the administration. See the oversized Visitors’ Centre, the walls around the houses and – for a while – the vast expenditure of electricity for street lights all night. The huge salaries paid to the management of the Protected Area is also shocking to the Bedouin, compared with the average monthly take of the individual “guide”.

    The village is growing, certainly, but the restrictions on building mean that a number of young men have no prospect of being able to build houses for themselves. The land, in theory owned by many of them, is in fact completely useless because of these restrictions.

    More and more of the younger guides are trying to be professional, using the Internet to attract clients for several days and taking them to the distant corners of Wadi Rum – but they get very little help. Where are the first aid courses that several people have proposed? This is neither difficult nor expensive to set up, there are three doctors working at present for the Authority.

    Subsidies were offered for those who built a fixed kitchen and bathroom, but the money ran out when these were half built, leaving the guys to finance them. That’s not a bad thing in itself – but when the subsidies had been promised?

    There is a lot to be done in Rum before attracting more tourists there.

  4. 28 June 2011 8.14am

    Ruth – a pleasure to see you here. Thank you for some fascinating insight.

    I would be really interested to get some official perspective: I wonder if someone from JTB, MoTA, ASEZA or even USAID is reading this?

  5. 1 July 2011 7.21pm

    Hi Matt. Let me join you and recognize the work Tony and Di have done to help promote Wadi Rum and its people. Kudos.

    While some of what was mentioned in both comments above requires a bit of tweaking to reflect facts on the ground, I do agree with the general thrust of the discussion that protection needs to be chief on the agenda of policymakers responsible for Wadi Rum management. The good news is that Wadi Rum has been run as a protected area under the watch of local authorities. Now that it has been inscribed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, it has become under the watch of the World, chiefly UNESCO and IUCN, among others.

    This is great news for all of us that want to prioritize sustainability of the site over exploitation. UNESCO inscription often brings with it a heightened level of care, both to satisfy needs of more discerning and environmentally-concerned visitors, as well as watchdog agencies. We, at UASID/Jordan Tourism Development Project are pleased not only because we played the primary technical role behind Wadi Rum’s inscription, but because we are almost done with updating the Wadi Rum Protected Area management plan. This plan was in need of update anyway, but now with inscription it is a mandate and we are fully supporting its completion. A team of primarily locals is working on it, leaving behind an improved set of skills among Wadi Rum staff to better manage their prized asset.

    World Heritage status will serve to further improve Wadi Rum’s appeal and will likely lead to attracting more visitors. But more visitors is not necessarily a bad thing. First, those interested in World Heritage sites tend to be of a profile that cares about site preservation and respect for the rules than visitors to other attractions. Second, however, increased visitation may be fine as along as it is properly managed: delineation of visitation zones, managed entry and exit, numbers control on volume of daily visitors, penalties and enforcement for non-compliance with the rules, etc. Increased visitors should also lead to increased incomes for locals on such matters as handicrafts, guided tours, Bedouin experiences, etc.

    There is a current cap on the number of licensed camps in the protected area. These, also, have strict standards for licensing. Standards are in need of enforcement, so in our view the worry is about quality, not quantity, so long the cap on licenses is not opened (which does not seem a likely occurrence, at least for now).

    The Visitor Center was build with World Bank, not USAID, financing.
    We’re hopeful that the recognition Wadi Rum has received will lead to improved livelihoods for locals and better protection for the site.

    Ibrahim Osta
    Chief of Party
    USAID/Jordan Tourism Development Project
    http://www.siyaha.org

  6. 7 July 2011 12.12pm

    Many thanks, Ibrahim, for such a detailed and insightful response. I’m very grateful for your intervention.

    I would like to let Tony Howard, the author of this post, respond – but I also just want to address a couple of points you raise.

    You’re right that more visitors is not necessarily a bad thing. But the numbers who will come to Jordan specifically because of WR’s UNESCO listing are probably tiny. Instead, the UNESCO publicity will merely boost Jordan’s existing portfolio. My guess is that WR will be hosting many more general-interest tourists than specifically culturally minded or UNESCO-aware visitors – and that they will mostly be bussed in & out in a few hours, as currently. Even if they stay overnight, I would be interested to know how much of each JD such tourists spend in Jordan actually stays in Rum.

    When you say “increased visitation may be fine as long as it is properly managed”, alarm bells start ringing for me. You’re absolutely right – but, then again, increased bureaucratic control & restrictions on numbers & movement does not necessarily equal proper management. I’d rather see a more flexible approach – one which actively fosters innovation and long-term vision among local entrepreneurs, and which is also able to deliver variety and cultural authenticity to every visitor. That hasn’t happened at Petra. I’m worried for Wadi Rum.

    But thank you again for responding, and for correcting those mistakes. Very much appreciated.

    Tony (and others!) – over to you.

  7. Hazem Malhas permalink
    7 July 2011 12.33pm

    The most critical issue is communications and not legislation alone, we have many challenges in Jordan to demonstrate our capabilities to create Sustainable development Examples.
    There were many challenges between RSCN, the local Community, Aseza and even USAID itself, mainly due to lack of proper communication.
    The local community deserve to be given a chance, first by involving the young educated and well trained individuals in the whole process of managing the site, creating awareness and ownership.
    I was the minister of the Environment during 2010 and I tried to my best to support the effort of the national team, thanks to Siyaha/USAID we had the funding to bring the experts and support the project, but this is only the beginning of a long journey.
    we need to learn from our mistake and celebrate our successes, Jordan has many important protected sites, the performance vary from one to another, but the most critical today is the Petra Archeological Part (PAP), there was an opportunity to create a lot of quality jobs by implementing the management system, but again, lack of communications and the weakness in the department of Antiquities in Jordan led to many challenges and issues today.
    Thanks to the whole team, Wadi Rum is now getting a chance to become an example of what could become an opportunity for the local community to align its livelihood to the values of the site itself.
    Greed will always be our ultimate enemy.
    Thanks
    Hazem

  8. 7 July 2011 1.22pm

    Interesting debate! can I comment on some of Ibrahim’s useful input?

    Ibrahim says: World Heritage status will serve to further improve Wadi Rum’s appeal

    How and why would you want to ‘improve Wadi Rum’s appeal’?

    Ibrahim says: …and will likely lead to attracting more visitors. But more visitors is not necessarily a bad thing. First, those interested in World Heritage sites tend to be of a profile that cares about site preservation

    Not at all sure about that – the bulk of visitors are mainstream tourists who haven’t a clue about mountain and desert eco-systems or Bedouin culture or Rum’s history, which is already distorted. They frequently dress inadequately, and leave litter as if it’s some kind of extended beach holiday.

    Ibrahim says: increased visitation may be fine as along as it is properly managed: delineation of visitation zones, managed entry and exit, numbers control on volume of daily visitors, penalties and enforcement for non-compliance with the rules, etc.

    Sounds Draconian to me. Visitation zones were tried before and theoretically shut Bedouin out from traditional areas and climbers out from mountains very infrequently visited except by experts who understand about conservation. And as for numbers control, what if independent climbers/trekkers arrive having spent their annual holiday money to visit Rum only to be told it’s full. Not on. There is a long way to go before Rum is full of climbers! I am also very concerned that actions similar to those that seem to have been taken in Petra (closing trekking routes, requiring trekkers to take a guide, banning climbing even far from the archaeological site) are not carried out in Rum. As the World Bank acknowledged, it was Rum’s ‘discovery’ by climbers that made it popular in the first place!

    Ibrahim says: There is a current cap on the number of licensed camps in the protected area…in our view the worry is about quality, not quantity,

    Quantity is crucial – there shouldn’t be tourist camps in every valley and it’s heading that way… nor should there be non-Rum Bedouin camps.

    I hope these comments are of some interest – we all want the same result, which is a Wadi Rum that is protected for the benefit of the environment and eco-systems, as well as for the benefit of the local people.

  9. 8 July 2011 10.33am

    Thanks, Tony, for coming back – and thank you, too, Hazem, for your insight. Very interesting what you say, particularly with regard to communication between the various parties. How could communication be improved, do you think?

    Ownership, as you say, is key to sustainability: your support for the idea of the local community being given a chance to manage Wadi Rum is very welcome. I am now wondering how such enthusiasm might be translated into policy – and whether current plans for Rum take such important opinions into account.

    I would also be interested to hear more about that “weakness” you identified in the DoA, and why it has led to an unsatisfactory situation at Petra…

    A fascinating debate. Thank you. More opinions always welcome! Ibrahim, would you like to respond to Tony’s points?

  10. 8 July 2011 5.15pm

    I think the most needed to wadi rum is to share the locals in managing wadi rum , there is major mistakes done by some of ASEZA chiefs was bringing managers to wadi rum they did not have any experience in Tourism or in managing Protected Areas ,and the did not speaks english language ,and they have no experience to work with the locals of wadi rum .

    So the first thing the goverment should do is to give more care of wadi rum not by bring projects to the locals but by development of the plans of the area and the law inforcment to protect wadi rum for the new generations .

    Thanks

    Nasser Al-Zawideh

    Wadi Rum Protected Area

  11. Lianne Romahi permalink
    9 July 2011 8.33am

    Tony, regarding Ibrahim’s comment on ‘proper management’, which you find ‘draconian’, I would argue that you are making an assumption: that management styles will remain as is the status quo – that the same methods that were used before will be used again. When the site was initially zoned into three areas, yes, prohibition techniques were used. Note however, that zoning and volume limiting doesn’t necessarily mean prohibition. Being a UNESCO heritage site may imply the use of techniques that allow limiting access based on acceptable change to the area, i.e. the change that we can tolerate at any moment in time in a specific area, but does not necessarily imply prohibition. Limiting techniques have been introduced in the new management plan, (although implementation can be a challenge). Last but not least, the reality is that if the zoning plan at the start of the last decade was not introduced (draconian or not), Wadi Rum would have arguably been in a lot worse shape.

    There are a number of other challenges that, in my opinion, should precede any discussion of detailed management issues. These are some of the issues Nasser mentions – strong leadership and political support. The tourism economy in Jordan is perceived as the means towards achieving economic growth (unlike other countries that typically use income from tourism to diversity their economy), and thus you can understand why leadership is primarily concerned with short-term gains. Sustainable tourism practices require large investments and expect longer-term return on investments, which are less favored as they do not bring fast cash in hand. This is where I would argue that Wadi Rum’s becoming a UNESCO heritage site will place pressure on government officials and policy makers to re-think their short-term objectives and strategies. This is already happening: one example is Wadi Rum Protected Area’s buffer zone. There were ghastly rumors about 5-star lodges in the buffer zone, but at this point ASEZA will have to develop a bi-law to protect the buffer zone from unsustainable investments and practices.

    I support Hazem’s view on communication although I find it somewhat simplistic in Wadi Rum’s case. It is not simply about communicating between stakeholder groups. It is about managing stakeholder interests whilst ensuring their rights and negotiating balances of rights. For example, to some extent Tony’s views represent the climbing community, which can contradict the view of local community members, conservationists, etc… Thus communicating with, balancing views (such as weighing up the cost and benefits of these views and solutions), gaining consensus and translating into action is all part of the continued communication and stakeholder involvement process. Again these aren’t easy jobs, and strong leadership is key.

    The last issue I want to raise, which deviates slightly from the topic at hand, is the absurdity of rhetoric such as ‘local community engagement’, ‘local ownership’ and ‘local benefits’. I have yet to see examples of this happening in mainstream tourism around the world. Even in the world of alternative tourism, worldwide examples are bogus claims used for marketing purposes. The absurdity of this whole situation is, local communities are excluded from decision making in every sector of the economy. I am obviously not condoning this just because ‘this is the way the world works’, I just can’t help but see how absurd this situation is, when all of us are victims ourselves of a culture that does not involve community members in decision making.

    Similarly, in terms of local benefits, I would like to highlight the issue of distribution of wealth and increase disparity within the Wadi Rum communities as a result of tourism growth. Past efforts in Wadi Rum have attempted to deal with more community engagement and benefits seeping back to them, however, it has resulted in unfair power play and income disparity. In reality this exists in every sector of our free market economy – a global failure. If your father is a successful entrepreneur in the tourism industry in Wadi Rum, your sons have more capital and knowledge to start their own campsites within the reserve. Some of these campsites are actually owned by different members of the same family, while other families receive no benefits from tourism. Is this fair? I don’t know. I just know that it is typical of the world we live in.

    (I don’t represent an official party. All the views expressed here are my personal ones.)

  12. 9 July 2011 8.54am

    wise words, Nasser. The key to Rum has always been with it’s people, Tony

  13. 9 July 2011 9.04am

    Thank you all. Fascinating stuff.

    Just to clarify, Lianne Romahi is (was?) director of Fair Trade Jordan, and has been closely involved with Wadi Rum planning. (Apologies if I’m out of date, Lianne!)

    Because each comment is held in a queue for approval, Tony did not see Lianne’s long note before he added his “wise words, Nasser” comment.

  14. 9 July 2011 9.59am

    Hi Mathew, you didn’t warn me I might have to spend my days writing when you asked for that first critique!

    Hi Lianne, excellent input, and generally speaking, I wholeheartedly agree, though words like ‘numbers control’, ‘penalties’, ‘enforcement’, ‘non-compliance with rules’ worry me – I hope you are right. And I am not convinced the previous zoning plan made any positive difference. On the negative side some visitors avoided it by crossing the desert directly from Aqaba into southern Rum, so a relatively pristine area previously little visited began to see increased numbers of tourists. And for a while we had the joke of a bulldozer chugging noisily round Rum pumping diesel fumes out to keep desert tracks open for tourist cars driven by Bedouin so the desert would be protected. How crazy was that? About as crazy as making the local people drive quite unnecessarily to and from the Visitor Centre, adding untold miles of pollution from their vehicles – and then having to stand around as no room had been reserved for their use in the Centre. Not much concern for the local people and environment there!

    I especially like your reasoning that “Rum’s becoming a UNESCO heritage site will place pressure on government officials and policy makers to re-think their short-term objectives and strategies.” And I trust there will indeed be “a bi-law to protect the buffer zone from unsustainable investments and practices.”

    I am worried you think the views of the climbing community could contradict the view of local community members, conservationists, etc… I would hope the opposite is true. Climbers have a good record of supporting local communities and conservation around the world. The RSCN was one of the first organisations we visited on our arrival in Jordan in 1984. You will find conservation guidelines written by us for RSCN and approved by them in our guidebook to Rum.

    You are right in your paragraph about “the absurdity of rhetoric such as ‘local community engagement’, ‘local ownership’ and ‘local benefits’ etc. Though when you say, “all of us are victims ourselves of a culture that does not involve community members in decision making”, you may be right though some of us are aware of that and try to do something about it. The very first people we spoke to in Rum – and asked for their permission to be there, and for their approval of our plans to explore and help promote the area as a climbing destination – were the local community, the Zalabia Bedouin of Wadi Rum. We also subscribe to and follow guidelines of Tourism Concern http://www.tourismconcern.org.uk.

    You are also right about “the issue of distribution of wealth and increased disparity within the Wadi Rum communities as a result of tourism growth” and about some campsites being “owned by different members of the same family, while other families receive no benefits from tourism”. As you say, “it is typical of the world we live in”, though benefits can and do filter down; some (maybe all?) of the Bedu who are successful (for whatever reason) are also generous, sharing in their success, giving work and surplus food from tourism to those who most need it.

  15. 9 July 2011 12.41pm

    Thanks Tony … You are the most who knew wadi rum .

    Dear Lianne agreat talk need to be areal . and as I mentioned the plans can keep wadi rum in agood health if we develop it and work on it .

    I remember when we began to work in wadi rum we always talk to people of wadi rum and work hand by hand and we trained the locals even the are drivers or local guides or camp owner(by the way we open the door to locals to have camps but the only who did it in that time who was realy work in tourism ) and every year we have training programme .But….. when we ignore them and did not take there opinion in stratigic things they look to us as there enemies who want just the entranc fees with out looking to the people who do all the activites in rum .finaly I think the sucsses of wadi rum is with its people who protect it for thousand of years .

    thanks

  16. 9 July 2011 5.15pm

    Kind of you Nasser, though I don’t think I know the most about Rum. It’s the people of Rum who know the most. But anyway here are two thoughts for the day – relevant quotes from organisations we are members of:
    1. Tourism concern, webpage: http://www.tourismconcern.org.uk/index.php?page=cultural-conflicts
    “As tourists, we are lucky enough to see and share experiences with different cultures, religions, dress, ideas. However, behind the scenes those very cultures that help to make our holidays so special are being violated.
    Indigenous people suffer greatly due to tourism. Their cultures, beaches, sacred and religious sites, heritage, homes and livelihoods have been wrecked in many instances by tourism. They often live in areas with unspoilt landscapes making them an ideal target for the tourism industry where it is often imposed on them without agreement or discussion – where little or no economic benefit is gained and where their lives are changed drastically.
    Some areas where cultural conflicts occur: Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Bali, China, Cambodia, Egypt, Honduras, Jordan, Kenya, Namibia, Peru, Senegal, Tibet, South Africa, Thailand, Zanzibar.”
    Note that Jordan is on the list.

    2. Survival International, webpage: http://www.survivalinternational.org/info
    As far as Rum is concerned, the term ‘indigenous people’ is preferable to ‘tribal people’, but here’s my chosen quote from SI, “We believe all countries must support and uphold, as minimum standards, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as ratify and apply the Indigenous & Tribal Peoples Convention (ILO 169).
    We also believe all companies and organizations operating in tribal areas must adopt, as a formal and binding policy, the commitment that they will take no action without the free, prior and informed consent of the tribal people. This also applies to conservation organizations.
    We stress that this consent can never be free and informed unless the tribal people are clearly told, at the beginning of any talks, that they have the right to withhold their agreement without facing negative repercussions.”

  17. 9 July 2011 10.34pm

    Thank you Matthew and Tony for the article!

    In my opinion, Wadi Rum deserves much more than just World Heritage status, I think we missed a huge opportunity to have it listed as one of the New Natural Wonders of the World, but that is another discussion. Now we have to be satisfied with sharing the Dead Sea with our neighbors, who already market Petra as their own… anyway… different discussion.

    Anyway, away from the academic point of view, and on to the grass roots level, I think Wadi Rum is moving more and more towards becoming similar in many ways to Petra… in a sad way. Here are a few observations of mine as a frequent visitor to the area…

    firewood:
    around all the existing campsites and all the popular stops of the 2 hour & 4 hour jeep ride tours, if you look closely, you will not find a piece of living Ratam, Ajram, Ghada, etc. no more greenery, no more firewood… who cuts the firewood? not the tourists for sure, maybe for their sake, yes, but sadly, we need to work with the locals that this is no longer a good idea, one can make tea by other means. The visitors are not just here to see the mountains, but the greenery, spring flowers, camels grazing at the greenery, etc.

    garbage:
    standing in the visitors centre, looking south, and east, all you can see on the ground are empty cigarette packs… who throws these cigarette packs? the tourists? not really… taking a hike in Wadi Rum, not necessarily climbing, but just walking around the mountains, sand dunes and in the canyons, again, what one can see is more and more empty bottles of water, cigarette packs, diapers, Pepsi and coke cans, all sorts of pollution… another area we need to work on. We really need to make those who leave this rubbish around feel it is truly THEIR reserve, not ours, and that by protecting it and keeping it clean it is more attractive for visitors.

    graffiti:
    I will not elaborate on this one, as the answer is very simple, if I had an empty 50 seater bus, I could easily fill a bus (or two) with people who’s names are inscribed over every possible place one could stop in the shade for a drink of water… or take a memorable photo of this unique place. This is sincerely a shame, and my heart sinks every time I look at these names… cause we all know them, in which village they live, their fathers, and their grandfathers… yes, they insist on inscribing their whole name…

    thanks again Matthew… you truly are one Jordanian star!
    cheers,
    Yamaan

  18. 10 July 2011 9.27am

    Hi Yamaan, good to see you in on this, though I suspect your comments are generally directed towards the local people? And to some degree you are right on all points, but to take them one at a time:
    Firewood, yes, the locals frequently make tea when waiting for people in the desert. It’s a custom. As you know, a few small twigs are used, so few it is surprising the kettle boils, but it does, and it passes the time pleasantly. Sitting by a Thermos flask instead of a kettle on some glowing embers wouldn’t be quite the same! But anyway, you are right, wood is vanishing from Rum, partly due to tourism and increased desert use and partly due to rapidly increasing population. It needs resolving.
    Garbage, I think, is predominantly left by tourists who even leave toilet paper – and worse – some Bedouin guides ask visitors to keep the desert clean and some explain it’s preferable to use water rather than paper, but no doubt some don’t; it’s a visitor problem. It’s not good and it needs resolving.
    Graffiti – no escape from that one, anywhere that tourists go there is graffiti, sometimes from the visitors, often from the Bedouin guide. It is awful. I don’t like it either. But here’s a question: when do graffiti become petraglyphs? We are happy to see – and guides earn money from taking tourists to see – rock art and other inscriptions. We even learn about Rum’s history from them. Is there a difference between those of the past and the present? Will today’s graffiti be the next millennium’s tourist attractions? I think not, but who knows?

    Good thoughts, Yamaan, and good to know so many people care about Rum, its people and its future.

  19. 11 July 2011 8.50am

    Nasser – thank you for some great comments: your point about bringing local people into strategic planning is very well made.

    Lianne – as Tony said, this is really valuable input: I hope it is read widely.

    Yamaan – great to see you here; thanks for dropping by! Perceptive points. Re. firewood: I wonder if Jordan couldn’t copy Abu Dhabi. In the UAE’s “Umm Az Zumul” desert reserve, the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency has planted a forest of arrak (Salvadora persica) to help with their oryx conservation. Wadi Rum has lots of springs: could water from one of them be used to plant ratam (juniper) or ghada (saxaul) specifically for firewood harvesting?

    The garbage around the visitor centre is a real problem. It sounds like this may be a result of what Tony says – making the locals drive up here every day to wait for business, but then giving them no facilities. This, surely, could be easily resolved?

    And sincere thanks, again, to Tony for raising these issues and keeping them alive. I also didn’t know your article would draw such attention!

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