UNESCO and PDTRA in partnership continue to safeguard Petra from natural hazards

UNESCO has presented the results of a pivotal project focused on the protection of the Petra World Heritage Site against flash-floods.

Over the past decade, several initiatives for the protection of Petra against natural hazards have been jointly implemented by UNESCO, the Petra Development and Tourism Region Authority (PDTRA) and the Department of Antiquities (DoA).

Another significant step along this partnership has now been achieved. Following nine months devoted to data gathering, field investigation and studies, the main outcomes of UNESCO’s initiative “Surveys, studies and preliminary project design for developing flood control measures to protect the Petra Archaeological Park against flash flooding hazards” were presented to PDTRA during a virtual meeting with Chief Commissioner, H.E. Dr. Suleiman Farajat, Park Commissioner, Eng. Majed Hassanat, and the Director of the Cultural Resource Management Unit at the Petra Archaeological Park, Mr. Ibrahim Farajat.

The project is funded by the Heritage Emergency Fund (HEF) at the World Heritage Centre, a multi-donor trust-fund established to enable UNESCO to respond effectively to crises resulting from armed conflicts and natural or human-made disasters all over the world.

This is a comprehensive study that represents a fundamental step for the protection of Petra against flooding hazards. For the first time, PDTRA can rely on a solid baseline to move into a more operational phase and start implementing effective strategies to enhance the protection of the site and its visitors

Dr Suleiman Farajat, PDTRA Chief Commissioner

Petra is exposed to a number of hydro-geological hazards including flashfloods, landslides and earthquakes, which have been increasingly impacting on the site over the last centuries. Flashfloods are recurrent events that occur during the winter and spring seasons. The Nabataeans, the ancient inhabitants of Petra, created an ingenious water management system to collect precious water for everyday uses and simultaneously mitigate the dangerous effects of flashfloods at the site.

Over recent years, flashfloods have been increasingly affecting the site, due to the progressive deterioration of the Nabataean water systems, climate change phenomena and urban expansion in the site neighboring areas.

In November 2018, a major flooding event impacted the site and visitors, raising even more awareness on the urgency to take action to mitigate this phenomenon.

UNESCO and PDTRA have joined efforts to protect the site from flooding hazards since September 2018. Commencing in July 2019, the HEF funded initiative has produced, in collaboration with the consulting company DAR Al Handasah Shair & Partners Co, an integrated hydrologic-hydraulic model grounded on extensive topographic, hydrological and hydrographic studies of the Wadi Musa watershed (approx. 60 km2). This was created to define the flood plain and identify high-risk locations within the Petra Archaeological Park.

According to Professor Khaldoun Shatanawi, expert hydrologist and UNESCO Consultant, “The development of an integrated hydrologic-hydraulic model represents a major step to understand the complexity of the Wadi Musa watershed. The analysis conducted not only has taken into account multiple variables affecting the runoff for a design event, but it has also been continuously refined, tested and verified using field observations. The model has been a major tool in evaluating the effectiveness of the measures proposed to mitigate the flood hazards along Wadi Musa and the Petra Archeological Park.”

This initiative represents another concrete achievement in the long-term partnership between UNESCO and PDTRA to implement disaster risk reduction approaches in Petra. The robust outcomes presented today will provide a significant decision-making tool to contribute to protect the site and its communities from flooding hazards

Ms Costanza Farina, UNESCO Representative to Jordan

As a final output of the study and design process, a number of structural and non-structural solutions have been proposed by taking into consideration their compatibility with the specific characteristics and values of Petra as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and thus supporting a sustainable approach to its comprehensive safeguarding.

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