Mobile Peoples and Conservation: Crossing the Disciplinary Divide. Opening Address to the Conference at the Dana Nature Reserve, Jordan

Article excerpt

I am delighted to be with you here in Dana, which I think is probably one of the most beautiful areas of Jordan. But in addition to providing an exquisite setting for your meeting, this nature reserve depicts a pioneering approach to conservation: one that seeks to integrate the needs of nature with the needs of the local people, many of whom are still nomadic, and dependent on the natural resources of the reserve.

Nature conservation, or biodiversity conservation as it is also known, and the fate of mobile peoples, have become a critical issue. As the destruction of natural landscapes continues largely unabated throughout the world, protected areas, nature reserves, national parks, game reserves and the like--have come to embody islands of fundamental importance in an expanding sea of urbanisation and degradation. For the mobile peoples who live in protected areas, or use them seasonally, these islands are also becoming increasingly valuable, as reservoirs of vital natural resources. As a result, human pressures on protected areas and the wild species they support are growing and are causing serious ecological damage, due to excessive practice of activities such as grazing, wood collection, hunting and water extraction.

This is clearly demonstrated here in Dana, where in times of drought, local tribes now converge on the nature reserve as the only place left in the locality offering perennial water sources and relatively good grazing for their goats. Consequently, the difficulties of reconciling these kinds of strains with the need to conserve endangered habitats and species can sometimes lead to open conflict with local communities.

We have long put aside the forced evictions of the twentieth century and are, at last, recognising the need to involve local communities in shaping protected area strategies. But we still have a long way to go in acknowledging and respecting the rights of mobile peoples in determining the fate of their land. These communities should not be forced to give up their ways of life or their culture, nor should they be displaced by development or by long-term and large-scale commercial tourism, which often goes under the name of eco-tourism.

Jordan is no stranger to the issue of mobile people. Indeed throughout time, they have formed an inherent part of the Jordanian landscape, as we know it today. A significant part of the country's cultural heritage derives from the legacy of its Bedu tribes. The unique city of Petra, for example, was created by the Nabateans, who were originally desert nomads, guarding the trade routes between the Arabian Peninsula and the Mediterranean. And more importantly in contemporary times, the Jordanian state was to open its doors, more than any other country in the world, to the refugees of Palestine.

Nevertheless, in the case of both indigenous Bedu and refugees, serious considerations presently need to be addressed in relation to the use of Jordan's remaining natural areas. …