The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is bordered by Syria in the north, Iraq in the northeast, Saudi Arabia in the east and south, and Israel and the West Bank in the west. The country is land-locked except for a 27 km stretch of coastline bordering the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea in the extreme southwest. The majority of the population inhabits the western strip, either in the agriculturally rich Jordan Rift Valley, or in the highlands east of the Rift Valley. The desert supports only nomadic pastoralists and a few villages and settlements set widely apart.
The country consists of distinctive topographic units shaped by the Jordan Rift Valley which trends in a general south-north direction from the Gulf of Aqaba through the Dead Sea to Lake Tiberias Climatically, much of Jordan can be classified as semi-desert, with only the western highlands enjoying a Mediterranean climate. Over 95% of the land area has an annual rainfall of less than 200 mm, while only 2% has more than 350 mm. Temperatures in the Jordan Valley, Wadi Araba and Aqaba region can rise to 45oC in summer, and the mean annual temperature is 24oC. In winter, the temperature in these areas falls to a few degrees above zero, and frost is a rare event. Most precipitation falls in the form of rain. Snowfall occurs generally once or twice a year over the highlands. The rainy season extends from October to April, with the peak of precipitation taking place during January and February.
This large desert oasis formerly comprised a complex of spring?fed marshes and pools adjacent to a large seasonally flooded mudflat (Qa Al Azraq) covering some 12,000 ha. However, within the last 15 years, the spring?fed marshes have suffered drastically as a result of the extraction of groundwater for water supply and irrigation purposes and consequent depletion of the aquifer.
Jordan lies on a major migration route for Palearctic waterfowl. The wetlands of Azraq Oasis formerly supported large numbers of migratory waterfowl during the migration seasons and in winter, but with the drying out of these wetlands in recent years, the majority of migratory waterfowl have shifted from the Azraq area to the Jordan Valley. Migrating waterfowl are now more widely dispersed than was formerly the case, and occur in substantial numbers at many different water bodies throughout the Jordan Valley.
The floral and faunal diversity of the wetlands has not as yet been thoroughly surveyed. Key species of wetland plants include Phragmites communis, Juncus maritimus and Nerium oleander, while the non-bird fauna includes 18-20 species of freshwater fishes (e.g. Tilapia spp., Barbus spp., Aphanius spp., Gara rufa and Claris lazera), the frogs Rana ridibunda and Hyla arborea, the Tessellated Water Snake Natrix tessellata and the Common Otter Lutra lutra.
BirdLife International's regional office for the Middle East, established in 1994, is based at the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature in Amman. This regional office will monitor the status of Important Bird Areas, many of which are wetlands, throughout the Middle East, and will promote the establishment of protected areas wherever possible.
Azraq Oasis was declared a Reserve by Royal Proclamation in 1965. In January 1977, the Government of Jordan acceded to the Ramsar Convention and designated the greater part of the oasis (7,372 ha) for inclusion in the List of Wetlands of International Importance.