Tourist Site Safety In Jordan

I wanted to talk about this since the Jordan Festival but lately, Tim of “culture rage” inadvertently refreshed my memory with this story of a death in Wadi Ma’in. A Jordanian man drowned because neither he nor his friends knew how to swim in the 5-meter deep waters of the canyon. These canyons have been attracting a great deal of local and tourist attraction, as adventurous and beautiful sites, and indeed they are. However, they are also very isolated. It took an hour and a half for someone from the Civil Defence to show up, and I’m guessing that he was actually rushing. That’s how long it takes to get in sometimes. But in this case he didn’t have any way of communicating with his unit beyond a cellphone in an area with bad reception. To quote Tim:

The civil defense was another story that I won’t go too far into. They just could not decide if they were going to get a helicopter in or if they were going to carry the body out. We explained to them at 2pm that it would be impossible to carry the body down before sundown. It usually takes us 2 hours to hike out of the canyon but carrying a body through the terrain there would take 6+ hours.

There was confusion. That’s usually indicative that either there are no efficient guidelines for such rescue operations, or, there’s a black hole in the training for such instances.

Last summer, during the Jordan Festival, I went to the Domingo concert in Jerash, which has been the stage for many many concerts over the years. It was probably not as full as it was when some of the Arab pop stars came to town early on in the concert series, yet, it was still pretty full. Climbing up those stairs there’s the realization that there is absolutely no safety whatsoever. If you should slip, you will likely tumble all the way down the steep steps, causing hordes of people behind you to fall like dominoes right after. There are no rail guards, no ushers. And in the darkness, people use their cellphones to guide them up. It is a miracle that we haven’t heard anyone getting hurt at one of these things.

Every year there seems to be a death in the Dead Sea or in Petra. A tourist drowned, another fell. Some times it’s locals.

These sites, as they are, are simply beautiful in a preservative state. However, if the intention is to transform them in to high-level tourist sites, then a lot more has to be done to ensure the safety of the visitors, be they local or foreign. And if the intention is to boost tourism in this country, then a lot more has to be done now. This is one of the reasons why many critics argue that Jordan is not ready for high-level tourism, simply because there is no infrastructure for it. This is part of that infrastructure. Safety. Regulations. Procedures. All of that has to be in place and functioning in order to receive tens of thousands of people.

At the Roman theaters, I see no problem with them putting up removable rail guards, and LED guide lights for the concerts. When it comes to the canyons, every group should be forced to have a guide. The government can even hand the site over to a tourism company willing to do it under a B.O.T.

It also doesn’t hurt to ask if people can swim.

There should be recognition of the fact that every error, every injury and every death is a setback for tourism in the country. In the long run, tourism may increase but so will the casualties if that infrastructure remains missing.


  • The Civil Defense guy that got up there in an hour and a half had to have been bookin’ it! Super-fast! It took us just over 2.5 hours to get where he had. By the way… in the end they carried the body out of the canyon by flashlight and arrived at the highway at 11:30 at night.

    While I agree that it would be nice to have the canyons and tourist sites regulated, other than the biggies (Petra, Wadi Rum, etc.), I just don’t see how it is feasible.

    In regards to the concerts… I can understand the government not wanting to maim the local ruins from Millennia gone by. That being said I agree with you still… the answer is not to do nothing! IF safety is indeed a priority for them then the demonstration of that priority would be
    a) disfigure the ruins for safety’s sake
    b) hold the concert elsewhere

    That’s it.

  • I think the best you can do in these cases is increase the awareness of people towards the risks and dangers associated with going into some of these places. I’m trying to think of my time in Colorado where there are literally a thousand places to go in the mountains and be adventurous, and you almost never see more than a sign that goes through some of the rules and warns of some of the risks involved. People get hurt real bad all the time there and sometimes fatal accidents occur.

    The difference is that when such accidents occur, you immediately hear about them on TV and on the radio, but the story gets covered in a way that’s more than just “a young man died today after falling down a cliff while hiking with some friends on the such and such trail.” People get interviewed, be they witnesses, rescue workers or guides or frequent visitors to the spot, and there is always a warning to the listener or viewer of what the dangers that caused the accident were. The viewer, listener or reader is left with a very clear lesson learned from the incident, and the story sometimes gets reported twice via a follow up report that makes it a little more personal and sheds more light on the tragedy experienced by the family after the incident.

    I somehow feel that these types of accidents only get a small type of reporting in our newspapers, and especially on our radios or on tv.

  • Nas, very interesting thoughts. I’ve had the same concerns as you going up the steps in Jerash and the Roman Amphitheater. Wait, I have them on the stairs at schools and in ofice buildings too… Safety is certianly not the same here, is it?

  • Isn’t the whole point with these natural sights that they are slightly wild and untouched? It seems obvious that an element of risk is involved when going hiking in some canyon, esp. with running water, so im not sure that meddling too much with what nature has given us is a good idea, if anything we might just end up killing the goose that lays the golden egg, at least with the lesser known sights.

  • eh … i’m going to sound slightly harsh here but this is a slight darwinian effect the whole point is that the goverment isn’t supposed to meddle with those things and simple thought would have resolved the issue.
    Man see water —-> man don’t swim in water —> man goes in water—> man drown
    Man see water —-> man don’t swim in water -X-> man don’t go in water —> man live !
    The allure to these sites is to be on your own … and its a large area so it can’t be regulated and accidents are bound to happen regardless of how strict the regulations are.
    on the other hand regarding safety in concerts that a totally different concern, its the job of the organizers and not the goverment.
    I’ll put my penny in the “safety for kids” hat ….

  • This is mean ..but here it goes. I hate retarded warnings such is “this coffee cup is extremly hot” do you not know what you’re getting yourself into when you order a hot cup of coffee? these warnings that state the obvious reduce humans into dummies, do you really need a warning when you have a sophisticated sensory system, instincts and a BRAIN. if you are swimming in a strong current in a shollow canyon with rocky banks there is a chance that you will drown or get slammed and break your neck..there is a reason it’s called an adventure.

    If you are going for a hike on a random hiking trail, and you are being stupid about it doing it wrong, with the wrong shoes then you will get hurt. a 10 year old boy can herd a dozen goats through valleys and mountains and street traffic and stay alive, why because he has better skills than a 30 year old cubicle robot who needs to be warned that his coffee is hot.

  • i just wanted to point out a few things from the comments..

    1) yes there is an allure for some of these adventurous sites. there is also an allure to walk on the abdoun bridge. that doesn’t mean people should do it. when it comes to tourism, i think there is a way to maintain the adventurous sense of these places while also ensuring a greater degree of safety than is available now. jordan is not the only country in the world with a tourism sector. let’s look at how other countries managed to do it.

    2) maim the sites? this is the 21st century. i think the fundamental technology that allows us to protect the sanctity of these sites while maintaining visitor safety is pretty much widely available.

    3) my focus is on tourists here as these are tourism sites, but yes, by default, I am also referring to these places for the sake of our children’s safety, and local safety of which the latter is probably more important given that the usage for some of these sites is altered for domestic use and that’s where some of the faults lie.

  • Maha, these safety warnings are in place basically to cover thyself! (for legal reasons, you could say) .. you know, so if Joe the plumber decides to sue McDonald’s because he spilled a sizzling hot cup of coffee on his hand and scared it then McDonald’s is not responsible for its warning was all over the cup!

  • I want to second Iman’s response as this incident actually happened at a McDonalds franchise a few years ago. .only that it happened with an elderly lady. She sued and thus received millions. She said she had no idea the coffee would be “extremely hot”.

  • Just wanted to say that I went with a group of friends to the 6 hour long trail and I almost died! The corrent was so strong that it pushed, I ended up stuck in between two rocks and under water…I had three man (including 2 guides) trying to pull me out and it took them a while….Initially they were struggling to pull me out and dropped me…I was under the water without being able to move for some seconds and really thought that was the end of my journey in this planet!

    I am now fine, except for bruises all over my body, but wanted to say that the guides were so unprofessional and really undermine the dangerous that such trail entails….the guides just wanted to finish the trail as soon as possible, they did not pay attention to the group and just assumed that all would be fine….

    We did not have helmets and some people also got hurt while climbing down the watefall…

    Shocking really! …to say the least!…

  • are you an adult ? are you lacking in any functionality?
    if no then you are responsible for your own safety and you should be grateful to the guides … shocking !

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