Conservation of three heritage sites to begin in July

Conservation work at three cultural heritage sites in Mafraq, northern Jordan, is set to begin by mid-July. UNESCO announced this during a technical committee meeting to discuss maintenance and tourism development plans for the targeted sites. Funded by the EU’s Madad regional trust fund, the interventions are managed by UNESCO in partnership with ILO and the Department of Antiquities to support livelihoods through cultural heritage development. The project was designed to respond to the Syrian crisis whose impact is particularly harsh in Mafraq and Irbid Governorates.

Speaking during the technical meeting for project partners, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, His Excellency Mr. Nayef Al Fayez, said “It is important to work together to achieve results that are meaningful to communities living around the cultural heritage sites that are being conserved in northern Jordan.”

And Professor Fadi Bala’awi, Director General of the Department of Antiquities said “We must preserve these sites which are part of our past, our heritage and if managed properly, can also be part of our future. We are grateful for this partnership with the EU, UNESCO and ILO, it is an innovative approach to site conservation with participation from the local communities who are the true custodians of our heritage.”

The EU funded project began with activities at Umm Qais, one of the Decapolis sites in the north of Jordan and the nearby Bronze age site of Tall Zira’a where 259 Jordanians and Syrian refugees were employed to carry out basic site conservation and tourism development interventions. Umm Qais is a big archaeological site but previously, tourists were unable to appreciate it in full scale as they mainly focused their visit around the central section of the Roman Colonnaded street and the southern theatre and rarely toured the northern and western sections of the site where equally remarkable monuments are located.

“The creation of tourist trails and maintenance of existing structures has made Umm Qais more accessible to potential tourists, giving them an opportunity to learn about Jordan’s rich heritage. At the same time, vulnerable Jordanians and Syrian refugees benefitted from short term employment while developing life-long skills in the culture sector. We are excited to continue this work in the remaining five heritage sites,” said UNESCO Jordan Representative Min Jeong Kim.

Similar conservation work will be undertaken at five other heritage sites of Umm as Surab, Rihab and Al Fudayn (Mafraq) from mid-July, and at Pella and Beit Eidis (Irbid) from the end of August. The sites, belonging to either pre-historic, Roman, Byzantine or Islamic periods are representative of Jordan’s rich and diverse history and contain cultural assets requiring different kinds of conservation and tourist presentation interventions.

By following the ILO employment intensive approach, the Madad project will employ and train over 1000 Jordanians and Syrians, including women, to undertake these maintenance and conservation works. A baseline assessment conducted in Mafraq and Irbid communities revealed that 12 per cent of the sample surveyed feel that the society is not supportive of female employment. The survey also showed that nearly 25 per cent of the respondents worry about being harassed on the way to work, while 24 per cent are worried about harassment in the workplace.

Country Coordinator for ILO in Jordan, Ms Frida Khan said “the project has been successful in attracting women to jobs that are quite unconventional such as masons, and conservators for the preservation of heritage sites. This is mainly due to the decent working conditions that we ensure – fair wages paid equally to women and men, regulated working hours, safety on worksites, zero tolerance for harassment, and social security coverage. Decent work is the key to encouraging women’s participation not only in our projects but across the labour market.”

Ahead of the commencement of works at the sites, UNESCO and ILO organized awareness campaigns in Irbid and Mafraq to engage the communities on the upcoming project and the importance of women’s participation in heritage conservation. The level of participation from the local community, specifically women, was encouraging