Disaster risk reduction and mitigation: green growth in Jordan’s humanitarian sector

green growth in jordan

We travelled to Azraq, Jordan to conduct an evaluation of green growth in Jordan’s humanitarian sector. The evaluation explored climate risk, green growth potential and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) for the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) and programme funder GIZ. Our work explored how host and refugee communities could reduce their vulnerability to climate impacts through employment in emerging green jobs and industries that support disaster risk measures.

Our role in Azraq was to assess the climate risk to the community, now and in the future, and determine how this risk could be reduced through investment in the labour market, directly linked to the green economy. The project has recently been finalised with a summary report soon to be made available in Arabic.

E Co. has previously undertaken DRR projects such as developing project proposals focused on climate resilient livelihoods in Sao Tome with the GEF, and in Ethiopia with the World Bank. In addition, E Co. has partnered with the GCF in Vietnam to address the infrastructural vulnerability of industries exposed to disasters and work on building resilient economies.

Let’s explore this project.

About Azraq – a community under ecological stress

Azraq is located 100 km from Amman, in the eastern desert of Jordan. The Azraq community is facing severe ecological changes in the hydrological cycle leading to extreme events such as flash floods, prolonged floods, droughts and desertification – which brings us to our work on Disaster Risk Reduction in the area.

Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR): The concept and practice of reducing disaster risks through systematic efforts to analyse and manage the causal factors of disasters, including through reduced exposure to hazards, lessened vulnerability of people and property, wise management of land and the environment, and improved preparedness for adverse events [1].

The Azraq Wetlands Reserve once supported an abundant wildlife, but today it is close to ecological collapse. Decades of poor water practices have seen this former oasis dry out in 1992. Water use is increasing in Azraq, with supply unable to meet demand. 2100 scenarios on the current baseline, signal a water insecure future with decreased precipitation by up to 20%, a 4.5-degree Celsius temperature rise and 28 out of every 30 years being drought. This is combined with increasingly complex changes to the social and economic landscape of the community.

The town’s residential population comprises approximately 12,000 Jordanians and ethnic minorities of Druze and Chechen origin. This doubles annually with the arrival of temporary seasonal agricultural workers. 5,000 Syrians also now have permanent residency in the town. On the outskirts of Azraq is Al Azraq Refugee Camp, home to a predominantly young refugee community of 40,000 from war torn Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Sudan. Adding to the town’s stressors, is a high unemployment rate of 14% with jobs mainly centred around agriculture, textiles and ecotourism supporting the Wetlands Reserve.

Azraq is not unique in the many challenges it faces. However, Azraq has a special opportunity to address its collective challenges through a central solution, a skilled DRR labour market. In understanding what this means, let’s look at the relationship between Cash Based Interventions and community climate impacts.

Cash Based Interventions – a new approach to Disaster Risk Reduction

The impetus for DRC and other humanitarian organisations to implement Cash Based Interventions, specifically Cash for Work (CfW) modalities is clear. The Global Green Growth Institute supports skilled labour in six sectors to provide green growth in Jordan’s economy: energy, transport, water, agriculture, waste and tourism [2]. Given the current gap in private sector funding, humanitarian funding is needed to pay for refugee training and labour. It is also an investment in safeguarding against future community loss and damage, while also growing the green economy.

Cash for Work (CfW): Cash payments provided on the condition of undertaking designated work. This is generally paid according to time worked (e.g. number of days, daily rate), but may also be quantified in terms of outputs (e.g. number of items produced, cubic metres dug). CfW interventions are usually in public or community work programmes, but can also include home-based and other forms of work [3].

Cash Based Interventions (CBI): The provision of money [or vouchers] to individuals or households, either as emergency relief intended to meet their basic needs for food and non-food items, or services, or to [access] assets essential for the recovery of their livelihoods [4].

CfW tasks includes building of walkways and restoring wetlands in Azraq. Photo credit: Imelda Phadtare.

Diversification of CfW interventions and work permits into priority DRR measures, is something the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Municipality of Azraq welcome as a viable option to mitigate flash flooding impacts in the town and Al Azraq Refugee Camp. There are no early warning systems; damaged infrastructure and tents are putting people’s lives at unnecessary risk. A labour force skilled in integrated water management is vital and CfW programming could include: wetlands restoration, flood mitigation, building reservoirs and water retention ponds, reinforcing and raising homes, installing urban rainwater harvesting and water efficiency measures, reforesting and tree planting. Capacity building and water smart awareness raising also contributes to a climate-resilient Jordan.

Beyond securing human rights for refugees, there is recognition that the local economy needs an injection of funds and people need jobs. This need has been supported by the Jordanian Government which in 2016, became the first country from the Arab region to facilitate issuing work permits for Syrian refugees [5]. So far 11,300 work permits have been issued in Azraq, with UNHCR supporting refugees secure work in limited sectors including: construction, textile, hospitality and agriculture.

Some of these permit holders have been employed by the DRC-GIZ as part of their CfW in construction jobs programming. This is in partnership with the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) which runs Azraq Wetland Reserve and connected safari park, ecolodge and cultural tour businesses, for international and domestic visitors. Refugees have been working alongside the host community to restore the wetlands, now 10% of its original size, with early success such as the return and hatching of migratory birds to this RAMSAR listed site. 

Building climate resilience – preserving wetlands for community protection

Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world and can be thought of as “biological supermarkets” as they support an enormous amount of biodiversity. They play a critical role in the hydrological cycle, receiving, storing and slowly releasing water through the surface, ground and plants. Preserving and restoring wetlands provide a level of flood protection, especially in an urban context, that is otherwise delivered through very expensive dredging and levee works. Often, these local works are not deemed priority from centralised governments, leaving local communities to bear the cost of construction, or the cost of flood recovery. In addition, wetlands act as water filters for run-off and are carbon sinks.

Local communities such as Azraq, derive significant economic and health benefits from the Wetlands Reserve which naturally advance climate mitigation, adaptation and DRR needs. The RSCN and the refugees we spoke to believe that with the right CfW support, they could grow Azraq’s ecotourism markets and restore the wetlands supporting DRR for flash and prolonged flooding events, supporting green growth in Jordan. 

The impact of DRR on the agricultural community and gender inclusion

Azraq farmers explain the climate impacts they face and possible DRR measures, Photo credit: Imelda Phadtare.

Local farmers and the Agricultural Directorate agree and described how a flood every 10 years had become an annual event impacting crops and inundating wadis (a valley which is typically dry except in the rainy season) where people live. Farmers also shared the impact of drought leading to farm abandonment due to the prohibitive cost of water or well-deepening. The Municipality, with donor support, is considering allocating plots of land to community members in combination with climate resilient agriculture and market value chain capacity building to include focus on refrigerating, preserving and exporting product.

The President of Azraq Women’s Association and female refugees see a niche opportunity for gender inclusion in CfW DDR measures within the home. Owing to cultural behaviour, only women are able to enter homes with other women when no male family member is present. Women can be trained as energy and water technicians to advise on and install PV panels and energy efficiency equipment, in addition to rainwater harvesting and water efficiency home-based climate smart solutions. This intervention will also address the impact of more frequent heatwaves and the need for more cooling systems. Female plumbers are currently being trained in Azraq and female waste collectors have also been part of recent CfW programmes. A step beyond this would engage the circular economy and aid green growth in Jordan. 

Female refugees share their interest in working in the green economy. Photo credit: Imelda Phadtare.

Innovative government policies, humanitarian programming and green growth partnerships establishing CfW employment linked to climate risk mitigation, represents a win-win solution to addressing Azraq’s economic, social and environmental issues.” The World Bank has similarly made the following observation:

“Participation from local communities in designing public works programmes is one way to enhance adaptive capacity, build broader resilience to climate change and create local employment [6].”

Although this project has been finalised, we are proud to share that some of E Co’s short-term recommendations have already been integrated in DRC-GIZ 2020/2021 programming and will go towards ensuring green growth in Jordan. E Co. remains focused on Jordan’s climate change imperatives and is currently developing a GEF proposal focused on e-mobilty. 

You can read our summary report of the project here.

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[1] UNISDR. 2009. UNISDR terminology on Disaster Risk Reduction.

[2] Global Green Growth Institute. 2017. A National Green Growth Plan for Jordan.

[3] UNHCR. Cash Based Interventions for WASH Programmes in Refugee Settings.

[4] UNHCR. Cash Based Interventions for WASH Programmes in Refugee Settings.

[5] Source: https://reliefweb.int/report/jordan/jordan-issues-first-their-kind-work-permits-syria-refugees-arab-region

[6] World Bank. 2012. Climate Responsive Social Protection.

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