Abdel Sami Abu Dayya, Archeologist at the Jordan Department of
Antiquities, Amman, Jordan (absami50@yahoo.com), Marcello
Benedini, UNESCO Consultant, Rome, Italy (benedini.m@iol.it)
and Mosè Ricci, Professor at the University of Pescara, Italy, and
UNESCO Consultant (ricci@riccispaini.it).

The Middle East has always plaid a fundamental role in human
history and culture, and the maintenance of historic monuments is
therefore a mankind’s obligation. Archaeology must comply with the
peculiar water resources and environmental problems, in an area in
which the scarcity of natural water is a limiting factor. That area is
now undergoing a deep economical evolution, for which the use of
the available water is essential, but with the risk of contamination due
to an increasing discharge of pollutants. The protection of the Quseir
Amra ensemble in the Jordan desert can be an example of the
problems arising in those particular zones. A decision has been taken
to build a wastewater treatment plant about 7 km northwest for about
20,000 inhabitants. The Jordan Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities,
fearing some negative impacts on the ensemble and, consequently, a
backlash on tourism and all the local economy, has expressed its
categorical disapproval and requested UNESCO to intervene with its
mandatory competence. Besides the limits imposed by the natural
scarcity and the requirements for the environmental protection, the
necessity of emphasising the historical values increases the number of
constraints on the rational water exploitation.

KEYWORDS: archaeological conservation, water resources
management, wastewater treatment.

The Middle East is one of the few areas in the world in which the
civilisation has left behind a long sequence of proofs of its evolution
in the past millennia. Beside the remnants of the biblical period,
which was exclusively tight to the area and has been the origin of a

worldwide revolution, the ruins of the Roman Empire underline
centuries of very intensive life of advanced culture, scientific
knowledge and efficient political and administrative structures. The
Islamic period, which followed immediately, with its continuous
innovations in the cultural and scientific concern, can be also
recognised by the numerous ruins of religious, residential and military
interest. After many centuries, these ruins stud the new urban
agglomerations and the desert. It is therefore justified the interest for
tourism, attracting visitors from all over the world. Tourism is
expected to be soon one of the main activities in the area and the
principal source of economical development.

This peculiar aspect of archaeological concern is inserted in a
particular environment, in which the scarcity of water resources is
predominant. The area is in fact one of the driest corners of the world
and the way the inhabitants have been able to harness the available
water is another proof of their skill and aptitude. Moreover, the
typical climatic pattern shows events of intense rainfall that seem to
counterbalance the long-lasting drought. Sudden inundations are very
often recorded, particularly in low elevation zones, with the risk of
damage for the historical buildings.

The modern age is now facing the area with its typical problems of
water management and environmental protection, which in other parts
of the world have been debated during many decades beside the
technological development. The main problem of the area is therefore
how to transfer the technological breakthrough envisaged in the
industrialised countries and how to adapt it to the peculiar situation,
harmonising the management of water resources with the
environment protection and the integrity of the local heritage.

In such a framework the problem of wastewater management is very
crucial. The discharge from the urban agglomeration is relatively high
and the typical environmental situation does not allow the usual
procedures of the western world to be applied, because the absence of
surface water bodies does not favour the dilution and the abatement of
the pollutant discharged.

Among the numerous cases of protecting the archaeological sites in
the more general context of water management and environmental
preservation, the Quseir Amra ensemble, in the Jordan desert, can be
an example of the problems arising in many parts of the Middle East
(Khouri, 1988).

Fig. 1 – Location of the Quseir Amra Ensemble ( ● ) in the Azraq Desert of East

Included in the World Heritage List of UNESCO, Quseir Amra bears
exceptional testimony of the Umayyad civilisation, which was
imbued with a pre-Islamic secular culture whose austere religious
environment only left behind insignificant traces in the visual arts.
The Quseir Amra paintings constitute a unique achievement of that
period. Moreover, recalling that the principal remnants of the period
are only those visible in foreign museums, Quseir Amra is the best
conserved and most complete architectural ensemble of all the
Umayyad palaces and castles existing in the Middle East.

The Ministry of Water and Irrigation of the Kingdom of Jordan has
taken the decision to build a wastewater treatment plant about 7 km
northwest of Quseir Amra. An advisory committee, consisting of
members of many ministries and governmental institutions, has
proposed this location after some in situ investigations and following

some general criteria in the framework of the national economical
planning. The proposed location has been approved by the
responsible authorities, but the Jordan Ministry of Tourism and
Antiquities, fearing some negative impacts of such a plant on Quseir
Amra, has expressed its categorical disapproval. To support its
position, the Ministry has requested UNESCO to express its
professional opinion on this matter and contact the concerned

The location of Quseir Amra is indicated in Fig. 1, while a general
view of the monument is shown in Fig. 2.

                  Fig. 2 – External view of the ensemble.

Quseir Amra is in the Azraq basin, one of the largest regions of the
Kingdom of Jordan, the centre of which is Al Azraq city, located
about 110 km east of Amman. The Azraq basin is situated in the
middle of the Eastern Desert, in a strategic position at the cross point
of the roads between Amman and Baghdad and between Damascus
and Mecca. In this region and close to its borders are located the most
important Umayyad desert castles in Jordan.

The basin [Al-Zubi et al., 2002] is a closed catchment draining into a
central depression surrounding a narrow mud flat core. Its total area is

of 12,710 km2, over 94 % of which belongs to Jordan, less than 5 %
to Syria and 1 % to Saudi Arabia.

The Azraq basin is one of the driest areas of the Kingdom, having an
average annual rainfall of the order of 88 mm; the total annual
precipitation is estimated 1,119 million m³, concentrated mostly in
October, November and April, and characterised by irregular intensity
and duration. The surface runoff is estimated at 27.85 million m³/year.
Somewhat lower is the infiltration rate, which allows the local
aquifers to be replenished. The rate of evapotranspiration is of the
same order of the rainfall.

Some flood events occur mostly in January and March, after which
some quantity of water remains on the soil where its major part
eventually evaporates. The most reliable resource is groundwater,
which consists of two permeable aquifers at different depth, in coarse
material, separated by an impervious layer. Groundwater is
withdrawn in many parts of the basin causing worrisome depletion,
particularly in the shallow aquifer.

Basin’s population, estimated several thousands, is scattered in small
villages and deals with agriculture and animal breeding. All the area
is under particular attention of the Jordan Government and short and
medium range economical development plans are now in progress.
Tourism is the principal activity, expected to grow up in the next few
years, as visitors from abroad will be attracted by the various
monuments and historical remnants.

Water planning in the basin is in line with the Government’s
initiatives regarding the economical development of all the Jordan
territory. The average water demand for the domestic use can be
estimated around 100 l/percapita/day. At the present time such a
demand is met almost exclusively by means of groundwater.

The most important residential area is the city of Al Azraq, with a
population of about 12,000, This agglomeration, with several villages
scattered in the surroundings, is the main source of the polluted
wastewater to be treated and disposed, for a total population of 20,000
inhabitants, estimated in the next future.

Agriculture is the main water consuming activity and relies
particularly on groundwater, about 25 million m³ of which are
currently abstracted for irrigation. At the present time large
percentage of high quality water is consumed for low value crops.

The soil is contaminated due to the combined effect of fertilisers,
excessive irrigation and high evaporation. In the area are also located
some industrial activities, among which mining and quarrying,
impacting on water resources.

The plant’s location is some 30 km away from Al Azraq. In the
residential area there are not collecting networks suitable to convey
wastewater to a central receiving point. As usual in this kind of urban
agglomeration, septic tank is the current practice of wastewater
collection and disposal, separately for each household. This practice,
expected to last also in the next future, will be maintained for the
proposed scheme of wastewater reclamation (Fig. 3). Mobile tankers
will periodically provide to empty the septic tanks and carry the
wastewater to the plant, to achieve the final level of treatment. No risk
is expected for the residential area, which will be concerned only with
the correct running of septic tanks and the safe working condition of
mobile tankers.

After treatment, the reclaimed wastewater will be spread on the
nearby ground for irrigation. Care will be taken in order to maintain
the typical crops that are characteristic of that particular desert

Fig. 3 – Scheme of wastewater reclamation with the proposed
treatment plant.

The proposed wastewater treatment plant, and the irrigation area that
will benefit from the reclaimed wastewater available, will be
therefore in the vicinity of the Quseir Amra ensemble. In spite of an
expected high level of technology that guarantees safe running with a
limited impact, the risk of failures persists and justifies the objections
motivated by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
According to a worldwide experience (E.P.A., 1980a, b), the main
probabilities of failures of a wastewater treatment plant are related to:
        breakdown of pumps and other mechanical devices that
        mobilise water through the various steps of the process;
        alteration of the basic chemical and biological reactions of the
        occurrence of meteorological events that can change the
        composition of incoming raw water;
        discharge of the final effluent in wrong places and at wrong
        leakage of pipes, reactors and tanks;
        absence and malfunctioning of covers and protection barriers.

These failures are tight to the capability of keeping the plant under
effective control and can increase in the particular climatic conditions
of the Azraq desert, very different from those characterising the
situation in which the successful examples, described in the technical
literature, have been conducted.

Besides the failures indicated above, the emission of odours, mostly
relevant to high concentration of hydrogen sulphide, could become
particularly determinant in increasing the hostility of the interested
people. It has been proved that in the desert an unpleasant odour
propagates very easily and intensively, and can be perceived after
long distance from the source, in a measure deemed much higher than
in a usual urban context.

Moreover, the solution of conveying wastewater to the plant by
means of mobile tankers cannot entirely guarantee the absence of
casual spilling and odour emission along the road.

The impact of the proposed treatment plant is therefore strictly
dependent on the peculiarity of the site and can be expected to
severely hit an environment that has been so far completely
uncontaminated and appreciated for its genuine natural

Because the agricultural use is normally restricted to some months,
according to the needs of the crops, while the wastewater is
continuously available all over the year, suitable storage capacity
should be opportune, in order to retain the unused water and make it
available for the next demand period. Retaining in a surface reservoir,
for a long while, wastewater only partially treated can be risky for the
sanitary protection of the surrounding zones. Odour, insects and
disease propagation are the principal reasons that discourage this kind
of solution. The improved technology of treatment plants can help to
overcome large score of such impacts. In any case a thorough and
continuous monitoring of all the devisable works is necessary.

Obviously, if overwhelming reasons will oblige to adopt the solution
proposed by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, the treatment plant
shall be constructed and run under the most rigorous control,
performing permanently all the measures able to guarantee its safest
working conditions.

Following the objections raised by the Jordan Ministry of Tourism
and Antiquities, and supported by UNESCO, several Jordan
Authorities and Institutions are concerned about the possibility of
adopting other solutions for the treatment of Azraq wastewater.
Besides the protection of the Quseir Amra ensemble, other aspects
can be taken into consideration.

The use of reclaimed wastewater is a promising solution, but is
practically essential in a place having scarce natural resources, like
the majority of countries of Middle East. Efforts should be done in
order to conserve the greatest quantity of water discharged from the
urban agglomeration. The agricultural use of this water should direct
the responsible authority towards the identification of the best
location of the treatment plants, in a position at the shortest distance
both from the source and from the crops to be watered.

The opportunity of conveying the reclaimed wastewater to an area in
which the agricultural activities are more productive should be
emphasised. In the case of Al Azraq, such an area, which is closer to
the urban agglomeration, could bring a better economical return if
properly harnessed with irrigation. A location of the treatment plant in
the vicinity could be preferable and eventually more useful, in
comparison with a plant that discharges in the middle of the desert.

The construction of a wastewater treatment plant and its daily running
cannot be severed from the more general aspects of water resources
management in the area, taking into account the foreseeable water
scarcity in the near future. The necessity to meet the demand of
agriculture imposes an accurate evaluation of all the usable water,
relying on the best available technology.

It should be remembered that the Kingdom of Jordan is characterised
by a very poor natural availability of water. Recent investigations (Al-
Salihi and Himmo, 2003) have pointed out, for the present time, an
estimate of 840 million m³/year, with the possibility of increasing up
to 1,669 million m³/year in 2040, assuming a medium population
growth. The increased availability is supposed the effect of several
measures, including the best use of groundwater, the construction of

reservoirs and the use of “non conventional resources” such as treated
wastewater and desalination. The major contribution is expected in
the reclamation of urban and industrial wastewater, which should
increase from the actual amount of 99 million m³/year to 523 million
m³/year. All these figures are relevant, as an average, to the entire
territory of Jordan, which is characterised by great variability from
one site to the other, but, in particular, the Azraq desert, which has
less favourable conditions, requires greater attention and more
favourable intervention (Scott et al., 2003).

All these considerations must be developed in the light of preserving
the archaeological site, which is expected to increase its role of
primary interest in the cultural and tourism future of Jordan and the
neighbouring countries as well.

At the same time, to avoid risks of cancelling or altering the
significance of the landscape heritage that is present not only in the
Quseir Amra site, the process of identification of landscape resources
could be improved, using in a more appropriate way the historical-
cultural profiles, beside the naturalistic and morphological aspects.
This process is targeted on the reconstruction of a holistic image of
the territory, which should consider the landscape as an element of
heritage and identity, to be protected and planned with guided
policies. It also attempts to re-establish in an integrated manner (and
therefore through critical interpretation) the dynamic links between
the various categories of resources that give form to the composite
identity of a landscape.

Particularly in the case of the Umayyad roots in the desert, the image
of landscape allows to go beyond a sectorial or atomised conception
of cultural heritage, extending the field of action from single objects
to the complex drama of the relations which structure and give visible
form to the territory.

The rational use of water resources is to be inserted in such a context,
as a challenge for a better life, today and in the next future.

The authors express their thanks to the UNESCO World Heritage
Centre - Arab States Unit - and in particular Mr. Giovanni Boccardi,

Ms. Franca Miglioli and Ms. Mizuko Ugo -, for the chance and the
responsibility of participating to such an interesting problem. Thanks
also to the Jordan Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and all the
other Jordan Authorities and Institutions that have provided useful
information and guidelines.

Al-Salihi, A. H. and Himmo, S. K. 2003. “Control Management
        Study of Jordan’s Water Resources”. Water International, 28,
        (1), 1 – 10.
Al-Zu’be, Y., Shatanawi, M., Al-Jayoussi, O. and Al-Kharabsheh.
        2002. “Application of Decision support System for
        Sustainable Management of Water Resources in the Azraq
        Basin – Jordan”. Water International, 27, (4), 532 – 541.
E.P.A., 1980a. Operation of Wastewater Treatment Plants. Vol. I, II
        and III. U. S. Envir. Prot. Agency,, T900690010, Washington
        D. C., U. S. A.
E.P.A., 1980b. Design Manual, Onsite Wastwater Treatment and
        Disposal Systems. U. S. Envir. Prot. Agency, Washington D.
        C., U. S. A.
Khouri, R. G. , 1988. The Desert Castles: A brief guide to antiquities.
        Al Kutba Publ., Amman, Jordan.
Scott, C. A., El-Naser H., Hagan, R. E. and Hijazi,A. 2003. “Facing
        Water Scarcity in Jordan: Reuse, Demand Reduction, Energy,
        and Transboundary Approaches to Assure Future Water
        Supply”. Water International, 28, (2), 209 – 216.


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