Petra joins UNISDR Cities Campaign

From left: UNISDR Chief, Margareta Wahlström, and the Mayor of Petra, Mohammed Abu Al-Ghanam.
 
By Denis McClean

AQABA, 19 March 2013 - Petra is the first of the "seven wonders of the world" to join UNISDR's Making Cities Resilient Campaign, an event which was officially marked this week during a visit to Jordan by UNISDR Chief, Margareta Wahlström.

The Mayor of Petra, Mohammed Abu Al-Ghanam, said he was very pleased to join the campaign and to be recognized by UNISDR alongside other UNESCO world heritage sites such as Venice and Byblos for their efforts to pursue sustainable growth, protect the local population and to focus on reducing risk to cultural artifacts of priceless value to civilization as a whole.

Mayor Abu Al-Ghanam told UNISDR Chief Margareta Wahlström that his goal was to see Petra become a world class tourist destination. The city already attracts 85% of Jordan's tourists and tourism overall accounts for 14% of the country's GDP.

Ms. Wahlström said: "You are protecting something that belongs to the rest of the world as well. We hope other cities which are guardians of other cultural properties of our common heritage will follow your example and join the campaign."

Jordan Ryan, Director of UNDP's Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, congratulated Petra on becoming a member of the UNISDR campaign and said it was a sign that Petra is now a long-term partner with the Government of Jordan is improving disaster risk management capacities.

With the strong support of UNDP, UNESCO and UN Resident Coordinator, Costanza Farina, Petra is acting on a Strategic Master Plan designed to help it withstand a host of threats including earthquakes, flash floods, soil erosion and desertification.

Over the last 40 years Petra has been affected by at least 14 major floods. In the course of a detailed briefing on the disaster risk challenges, Mayor Al-Ghanam showed images of the damages done to roads, sewage and electricity cables by a recent flash flood which resulted in a landslide and rock falls.

With the support of UNDP, a Disaster Risk Management Unit has been set up within the Petra Development and Tourism Authority (PDTRA) and has conducted an integrated risks assessment and established an early warning system for flash floods that will also help the rest of southern Jordan. The DRM Unit is now fully operationalized under PDTRA Commissioner for Environment & Local Community Development, Dr. Mohammad Al Farajat, who explained that the objective is to create a balanced approach to development in the Petra region.

"The history of Petra is one of respect for the natural resources in our region and we need to continue to balance economic development with respect for the local communities. We have integrated this philosophy in the new Master Plan for the Petra region and Disaster Risk Reduction measures are important tools for preserving the environment as well as the lives of people from our local communities," Dr. Al Farajat said.

Hussein al Hasanat, Head of the PDTA's Disaster Risk Reduction Unit which has a large display of the Ten Essentials of the Making Cities Resilient Campaign said it had taken six weeks to fill in the campaign's new Local Government Self-Assessment tool but it had been a very valuable exercise for information gathering and sharing across the municipality. "I was still working on it last night," he joked.

Dr. Emad Hijazeen, Petra Archaeological Park Commissioner, explained that flash floods were a major consideration in managing tourist flows during the rainy season. "When we have heavy rain we have to close the park," he said.

The historical city and archaeological site is surrounded by a modern urban development where some 19,000 people live, many of them dependent on the tourist industry for their livelihoods. Dating back to the 4th century BC the ancient capital of the Nabateans is cut into, and out of, the limestone and sandstone cliffs and gorges for which it is famous. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. UNESCO has described it as "one of the most precious cultural properties of man's cultural heritage."
The Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction will take place in 2015 The Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction will take place in 2015.
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