chapter  7
- Rehabilitation of a Historic Wetland: Jordan’s Azraq Oasis
Pages 32

In 1996 I visited the Azraq Oasis in western Jordan for the rst time. I had been attracted to the area to see the old Umayyad “castle” (really a desert fort) that had housed T. E. Lawrence during his 1917 campaign on Damascus. He had written quite favorably about the “magically haunted” area despite the harsh climatic conditions that were experienced by his army during their winter stay there: “The blue fort on its rock above the rustling palms, with fresh meadows and shining springs of water” (Lawrence 1999). From background reading, I knew that Lawrence was part of a long tradition of people (Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Mamlukes, Ottomans, Druze, Chechens, etc.) who had been attracted to this crossroad oasis that contained expansive freshwater pools and surrounding forests-the only permanent such oasis within 30,000 km2 of desert-and that had apparently been inhabited since Paleolithic times, some two hundred thousand years ago (Figure 7.1). It was a shock, then, to see the extent of wetland devastation that greeted me on that rst visit to this former cradle of life in the Syrian Desert through the near complete absence of standing water (Figure 7.2). A few years later, a guide book quite accurately described the situation: “Although ragged palms survive, the pools are stagnant, the buffalo are dead and the migrating birds now head for Galilee instead. Dust storms are more common today than ever before. The underground reservoirs, exploited almost to exhaustion, are slowly turning brackish” (Teller 1998). By the time I returned to the area more than a decade later, I was greeted by

Introduction ..............................................................................................................85 The Place ..................................................................................................................87 Water in Jordan ........................................................................................................87 Rehabilitation Efforts ...............................................................................................90 Acknowledgment ................................................................................................... 115 References .............................................................................................................. 115

a partially restored ecosystem and a wetland interpretive center run by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN). This chapter briey reviews the intriguing history of the Azraq Oasis, which I believe to be the most successful wetland restoration project in the Arab Middle East. The project has gained international attention (Pearce 2004; Mitchell 2005) and may offer many practical insights into how such future endeavors might be undertaken in neighboring Iraq.