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 Maâ€™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 wonâ€™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.