Unheard Voices: The Dana Nature Reserve and the People of Dana

Part two of a two part series

Considerations for tourists with a social conscience

The relationship between the local community (the people of Dana and Qadisiyah villages), and the Dana Nature Reserve is complicated and multi-layered.

The Reserve is managed by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN). At first glance, it appears that the RSCN has created a nurturing and supportive environment for the flora and fauna within the Reserve, and for the members of the local community too.

Unfortunately, the local community was largely ignored in the conservation processes culminating in the Reserve’s establishment. It is also largely ignored in the Reserve’s management.

The unheard voices of the Ata’ta and their unrecognised expertise

The Reserve was created in part of the customary land of the people of Dana (the Ata’ta tribe). The Ata’ta (العطاعطة or العطاطة) managed the land for centuries using traditional land management methods (Al-Hima). They preserved the flora and fauna, until an imposed reforestation project in the 1950s altered the balance between the land, nature and themselves.

The tribe’s ability to maintain its balance with land and nature eroded as modern conservation processes, and land use restrictions, progressed across their customary land. There was no attempt by the RSCN (the managers of the Reserve) to combine modern and traditional conservation approaches; even though the Al-Hima method fits the modern conservation concept of an ICCA (Indigenous and Community Conserved Area).

Ironically, the imbalance created by the modern conservation processes justified to the RSCN (and the Jordanian authorities) that the area needed protection from the local community. The over-grazing of sheep and goats was one example provided. Not stated, however, was that overgrazing occurred because pasture land was lost due to the reforestation project. (The project planted and protected trees in areas of pasture land.)

To better understand how these modern conservation processes impacted on the tribe’s land and traditional way of life read the first post in the series.

The marginalisation of the local community

The Ata’ta lived in an isolated, rural location. They lacked education and were unaware of their legal rights. They were poor, and lacked the means of self-empowerment.

There was no proper consultation with them before the reforestation project began, nor was there proper consultation before the establishment of the Dana Nature Reserve.

The Government authorised the RSCN to create a protected area in 1989, and the Reserve was formally established in 1993. The period between was deemed a consultation period.

The local community was not properly consulted during the consultation period, nor was it sufficiently compensated for its losses. Locals claim that promises made at that time were not kept, especially promises of job opportunities related to the Reserve.

The reforestation project, and the creation of the Dana Nature Reserve, placed a priority on flora and fauna above the well being and livelihoods of the people of Dana.

Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is an important concept in land governance, and in the recognition and rights of the land’s original owners. It is recognised in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The diagram below explains the components of FPIC. There is no evidence that either the RSCN, or the Jordanian authorities, applied FPIC during the process of creating the Reserve. Nor is there evidence that FPIC has been applied in the subsequent management of the Reserve.

Marginalisation and the management of the Dana Nature Reserve

Despite the people of Dana being the original owners of the land, and managing it for centuries, they have no official role or representation in the management of the Dana Nature Reserve.

The method of conservation used in the Reserve is the fortress model. This model is based on the premise that the best way to protect biodiversity is to create areas where ecosystems can function away from human disturbance. It assumes that local people damage natural resources and the environment, and cause biodiversity loss.

The fortress model marginalises and silences customary land owners. It ignores traditional knowledge and land management, and traditional expertise. At best, the model could be described as paternalistic.

There is a general assumption that the RSCN considers and represents the views of Dana’s local community. This is incorrect. The RSCN has never been authorised by the local community to speak on its behalf.

Marginalisation and copper mining, a current day issue

In August 2021, a much publicised debate began between the Government and the RSCN. The Government intends to explore the feasibility of copper mining in the western area of the Reserve, but the RSCN is refusing to cooperate. It is concerned about damage to the area’s biodiversity. Jordanian conservationists are in support of the RSCN, and there is a ‘Save Dana’ media campaign.

Once again, all parties have failed to consider or include local community representatives in the ongoing debate. Media reports have either sought the opinions of people living in the town of Tafilah (the main town in the Governorate), or the opinions of RSCN employees.

This time round, however, the local community (the people of Dana and Qadisiyah villages) are determined to be included in consultations, and to be fully involved in the decision making process.

Additional complexities

Is the RSCN a good guy or a bad guy in regard to the local community?

Local people’s views about the role and contribution of the RSCN in the Dana area vary. Direct beneficiaries (families who have a member employed by the RSCN) are more likely to align themselves publicly with the organisation, and its management of the Reserve.

The RSCN has developed tourism in the Reserve, resulting in an influx of international visitors to the area. This has brought some direct income into the local community (employment for 54 people), and also indirect income. None of the locals employed by the RSCN hold senior positions.

The influx of tourists has enabled tourism ventures within the local community. The Dana Cooperative set up and operates community-owned sustainable tourism projects Wadi Dana Lodge and Dana Hotel. In addition, local families who are not part of the Dana Cooperative have also set up tourism projects.

There is another factor to take into account. The RSCN has its own view on who is considered part of the local community. For example, it includes the people currently living in the Feinan area.

The RSCN built the eco-acclaimed Feinan Eco-lodge on part of the Ata’ta’s customary land, but the people working in the Feinan Eco-lodge and living in Feinan village are not Ata’ta. Rather, they moved into the area after the Reserve was created. The Reserve’s boundaries disrupted access routes from Dana to Feinan, and made it difficult for the Ata’ta to continue to use the western part of their land, including the Feinan area.

Find out more about the impact of the Reserve’s boundaries on the customary land and traditional way of life by reading the first post in the series.

Is Dana’s protected area a Biosphere Reserve or a Nature Reserve?

Dana Nature Reserve was the original name for the protected area managed by the RSCN. Its name changed to Dana Biosphere Reserve when it was included in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, in 2007.

Biosphere reserves are ‘learning places for sustainable development’… Biosphere Reserves involve local communities and all interested stakeholders in planning and management.

https://en.unesco.org/biosphere/about

Those who believe that the local community has been marginalised continue to use the original name of Dana Nature Reserve. They believe that the Reserve does not meet biosphere status because of the marginalisation.

Further Reading

Cornered by protected areas – UN Special Rapporteur on Rights of Indigenous Peoples

This post is the second in a two part series about the Dana Nature Reserve. The first post is Customary Land and the Dana Nature Reserve: Impact on Traditional Life


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