08 Nov 2018
Amman, Jordan
Sustainable Tourism

Alia EcoVillage harks back to a simpler, sustainable mode of living — and, according to manager Khaled Shorman, you need not reach far back into Jordanian history to find it. “I was born in a mud hut during the 1960s, when Jordan was mostly villages,” he said. “There were no ‘cities’ in the real sense of the word; even Amman was basically a village.” Shorman recalled that his family collected rainwater, harvested its own food and did not rely on the public electricity grid. “95 percent of consumption was locally produced,” he claimed.

“Then, in the 1970s, bang!” Shorman exclaimed, “we took everything down and [replaced it with] concrete.” Jordanians started flocking from the countryside into burgeoning, modern cities — a rural flight bolstered by refugees from places like Palestine and Syria. Shorman laments this increasing emphasis on urban living as wholly unsustainable. “It [was] not urbanization … it [was] destruction.”

As countries the world over grapple with the challenge of dwindling resources, Jordan faces a particularly dangerous outlook. Desertification has ravaged the country’s capacity to produce food, with 70 percent of arable land disappearing over the past three decades. The World Bank defines “water scarcity” as having less than 1,000 cubic meters of water per capita annually; Jordan does not even get 15 percent of the way to hitting that target. “We do not have the luxury of buying everything, so we must go back and restore sustainability,” said Shorman. “Otherwise, a country like Jordan will disappear.”

The Masar Center, the Amman-based NGO that Shorman works for, has constructed Alia EcoVillage as an antidote to mass consumption. The model town will offer dining, conference and accommodation facilities in a completely green setting. “The whole village is a model of sustainability,” said Shorman. The project’s official opening is imminent, when the Masar Center will begin showing Jordanians how to make their homeland’s future less precipitous.

Into the wild:

Since 1994, the Masar Center has engaged with the community from its Amman headquarters through programs aimed at democracy promotion, human rights training and environmental education. For many years, it pursued this third objective by giving presentations on issues relevant to sustainable living.

The Masar Center’s environmental program took a significant turn in 2005, when the organization purchased a tract of forest land 25 kilometers west of Amman — the property on which Alia EcoVillage now stands. “We thought to ourselves, why not restore Jordan’s lost, sustainable green heritage?” said Shorman.

For Shorman, the Alia EcoVillage project would help translate the Masar Center’s words into action. “We had been educating the community about sustainability, but instead of speaking, we needed to show … what we mean when we say sustainable,” he said.

The project got underway in 2012, taking until earlier this year to purchase an adjacent piece of land. Spread across 11,000 square meters, Alia EcoVillage is expected to be completed by the end of next year. It relies on sustainable building materials, with traditional mud buildings serving as the basic “unit” of construction. (Volunteers are still invited to help out with the building process.) Services onsite are provided by solar power, rain catchments and treated water, and organic farming.

Alia EcoVillage will host a broad range of activities and functions. Shorman offers the example of a large corporate retreat — an event that the Masar Center would welcome with open arms, provided that guests respect all sustainability rules during their stay.

The Masar Center does plan to give Jordan’s nascent eco-friendly sector a prominent role at Alia EcoVillage. Shorman says that the facilities will perform a kind of incubator function, providing training from the Center’s experts and resources for green entrepreneurs. “We will help the local community to begin with, and then we can expand [to other parts of the country],” said Shorman.

 

Reducing risk:

The Masar Center plans to continue owning and managing Alia EcoVillage as a non-profit enterprise, reinvesting profits into the on-site entrepreneurship program and other initiatives. If all goes to plan and Alia EcoVillage thrives, Shorman says that the project will become the “main focus” for the Masar Center.

Alia EcoVillage will require outside investment to take this next step — existing funding alone cannot develop the project to its full potential. Shorman claims that the Masar Center has completed its due diligence and is confident that Alia EcoVillage has the target market and business strategy to succeed.

That said, Shorman adds that a lack of investment would not lead to unnecessary waste. “I cannot see any challenge [for the project] that would lead to failure. Either we will be generating money or taking no action, with no [further] costs being incurred.”

This resourcefulness and contingency planning suits Shorman, whose mother taught him from a young age that a little can go a long way. “My mother was born in a big mud hut and lived with four to seven families — not partitioned or anything!” he said. Alia EcoVillage will offer slightly more privacy to its 21st century guests, but it will still remind them that “newer” does not always mean “better.”

 

Learn more about Alia EcoVillage through the Masar Center’s Facebook page.

Photos courtesy of Alia EcoVillage

Since getting his Master's in Middle Eastern Studies last year, David has worked as a freelance journalist based in Accra, Ghana and Cairo, Egypt.David Wood
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Alia EcoVillage Sustainable Tourism
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