On December 6th, 2014, I visited the Sharhabil Bin Hassneh EcoPark (SHE), located north of the Dead Sea, near Jordan’s eastern border. The EcoPark is part of EcoPeace Middle East’s (formerly Friends of the Earth Middle East) Neighbors Path program, which provides walking trails, natural spaces and local ecotourism opportunities for Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli communities. Neighbors Paths are a key component of EcoPeace’s Good Water Neighbors program. Prior to my visit, I learned from SHE’s website that the park has three main objectives:
- Highlight the importance of preserving ecological habitats in the Jordan River Valley
- Increase public awareness and interest among both the local and international community
- Promote sustainable development efforts in local communities
I was able to see all of these goals in action during my visit on a sunny weekend afternoon with the Girl Scouts Troops of Amman. The young girls are a diverse group – Jordanians, Americans and Europeans from international schools in Amman, and Iraqi refugees – and the EcoPark is a wonderful space in which to bring everyone together. The tour of the park was conducted in both Arabic and English, and provided a chance for the girls to learn about local plants and ecosystems and simply enjoy the fresh air, climb trees and run and play in the grassy open fields – pleasures that are difficult to experience in urban Amman. Visitors to the park also have an opportunity to see sustainable development models in practice, such as solar-powered hot water heaters and electricity generators, composting and recycling, and internal water purification systems. The park also encompasses the Sharhabil Bin Hassneh Dam (Ziqlab Dam), which was Jordan’s first dam, constructed in 1964.
After I enjoyed a walk with the Girl Scouts through the forested trails near EcoPeace’s Information Center and ecotourism lodges, I went to see the park’s newly installed 26-kilowatt solar panels, aptly positioned on a ridge behind the lodges with full exposure to the dazzling sun. These panels provide power to the information center and tourism lodges; they are carbon neutral, efficient, and sustainable. The panels are also a smart technology, built with solar trackers to adjust automatically to the position of the sun.
The rolling green hills, shady forest of tall pines, and sounds of birdsong are a sharp contrast to the barren land that the park once was. EcoPeace Middle East, along with the help and continued collaboration of local Bedouin communities, has transformed the region into an invaluable natural space for environmental education and natural resource conservation.
This post is contributed by Olivia Gilmore, GWN intern at the Amman Office