For biodiversity, COVID-19 a double-edged sword

Biodiversity-Amjad Taweel
COVID-19 took its toll on efforts to protect biodiversity in Jordan as some rangers were unable to obtain permits to patrol for poaching, according to officials from the RSCN (Photo: Amjad Taweel/JNews)
AMMAN — Despite a surge in domestic tourism after the first wave of COVID-19 hit Jordan in June and July of 2020, the pandemic still left its mark on Jordan’s burgeoning ecotourism sector.اضافة اعلان

COVID-19, and the economic loss it brought with it, affected the work of the Royal Society for Conservation of Nature (RSCN), which relies directly on the returns of ecotourism to help protect biodiversity in Jordan, according to officials at the society.

In an interview with Jordan News, Yehya Khaled, director general of the RSCN noted that RCSN made over 2 million Jordanian Dinars from ecotourism initiatives in 2019, according to financial statements listed on their website. These funds make up 50 percent of the operational expenditures allocated to manage and protect parks and biodiversity.

However, that revenue dropped off significantly in 2020 due to the pandemic. The RSCN saw its revenue from ecotourism plummet by more than 50 percent, to around JD760,000, Khaled said. Visitor numbers also slid by 35 percent.

“We took out a loan in 2020 from the Central Bank … of around JD1 million to fulfil our obligations,” Khaled told Jordan News.

Another hit to the RSCN’s income came to their social development sales, which dropped from around JD850,000 in 2019 to around JD200,000 in 2020, Khaled said.

According to the RSCN, ecotourism initiatives are meant to generate self-sustaining income that supports protection efforts, changes attitudes towards conservation, and creates jobs that do not put strain on the environment.

 “We have asked for permits for the rangers. We asked for permits for 40 rangers and they only gave us 10,” Khaled told Jordan News.

In a phone interview, Khalid Al-Irani, president of the RSCN’s board of directors RSCN, told Jordan News that biodiversity in Jordan was already facing challenges such as urbanization, overgrazing, agricultural activities in areas of biodiversity, and overhunting.

However, these challenges intensified during the pandemic, due to governmental restrictions imposed on movement and a decline in number of rangers allowed to work during curfew hours, he said.

The RSCN added that the pandemic was a double-edged sword for biodiversity. The reduction in development projects and tourists helped biodiversity by largely leaving flora and fauna alone. But the loss in revenues is likely to take its toll on an industry that was just finding its footing in Jordan.

The Jordanian Environmental Protection Law No. 6 of 2017 is the current applicable environmental law. These laws include protections for nature reserves and parks. However, Irani said that the enforcement of environmental laws in Jordan is currently weak.

“The resources coming for biodiversity from the government are very minimal. There is no serious investment in biodiversity from a governmental point of view,” said Irani.

Jordan News attempted to contact the Ministry of Environment but they were not available for comment.