A milestone in the evolution of the civil Jordanian environmental advocacy “lobby” is currently being laid within the context of the social campaign against the proposed military academy project in Bergish/ Ajloun that would cut down 2,200 natural trees, some of them are 500 years old, in the first phase.
Above: Quercus Tree in the location (by M.T.Asfour)
The campaign organized by the coalition of environmental NGOs, a group composed of 10+ NGOs that usually come together in times of crises (i.e Dibben resort case, 2007-2009) is moving smoothly and effectively to put this issue on the table of public discussions and removing the taboo label from it. The project which will be implemented by the Jordanian Armed Forces to establish a branch for the renowned Sand Hurst Academy was thought to be as “untouchable”. The Jordanian press and publication law forbids any coverage, let alone criticism of plans implemented by the military establishment. The collective Jordanian mind, based on decades of involvement of basically all Jordanian families in the military establishment bears a huge respect to the army and falls short of any “questioning” of what it does.
that included until now 1044 names. The momentum was gained rapidly and it resulted in supporting the position of the Ministry of Environment that required an Environmental Impact Assessment study before implementing the project. The EIA study should include options for alternative sites that are not within the pristine forest, as well as a public scoping exercise that would identify main environmental and social impacts that are to be mitigated.
Even the mainstream media took the cause and several articles were published in daily Arabic newspapers, while Dr Dureid Mahasneh former SG of the Jordan Valley Authority and a renowned environmental expert published an op-ed in the Jordan Times that focused on the intrinsic values of the trees for Jordanians
Above: Pistacia sp. in the project site (by M.T.Asfour)
The next phase in the process of building the political support was the Lower House of Parliament. The environmental NGOs committee met last week with the members of the Environment and Health Committee and discussed possible scenarios. Although all of the MPs from Ajloun were keen on keeping the project within the governorates for the hopes of creating jobs and driving development in the area, an agreement was reached to study the project blueprints compared to aerial photographs of the area to make sure that no trees will be cut.
The most plausible outcome of this campaign could be the relocation of the project into another area in Ajloun that is not ecologically pristine and sensitive. This will be a compromised result rather than a principle-based outcome but it can serve a lot of purposes:
1- Even the military establishment should abide by national environmental laws and not immunity should be given to any sector.
2- Any future project will be very careful to try to outsmart its way through, as counter mechanisms are available to regulate the process.
3- The social campaign can be supportive for the Ministry of Environment and will strengthen its position in the face of any pressures.
What remains to be developed is the ability of the environmental civil movement to reach up to the local communities, as many people of Ajloun expressed their frustration of the possibility of “taking away” another so-called development project from their area as they feel marginalized in the process of allocating developmental gains. The debate between conservation and development which is always sensitive should be taken to the local level to gain the support of local communities.
Another important reference point should be the Jabal Ajloun masterplan that was adopted by the government in 2008 and was driven by a Royal request. This masterplan identifies all possible landuse types in the Jabal Ajloun area and certainly does not include the military academy in the most ecologically pristine forest area.
Last point to remember, this year 2011 was designated by the UN as the International Year of Forests!!
Update: 24 January 2011
Here is the outcome of the meeting that was held in the Parliament yesterday that included ministers of environment and agriculture, members of the health and environment committee in the Parliament, representatives from the armed forces and representatives of NGOs, as summarised by HaltAjlounDeforestation
1. Only 2% of the area now to be built upon is covered with trees
2. The buildings will cover 100,000 m2
3. 95,000 m2 will be open space
4. 110,000 m2 will be green space
5. Water harvesting methods will be used
6. Grey-water treatment will be put in place
7. New trees will be planted to replace those that are cut down
8. Instead of 2,200 trees as originally planned, a total of 500 trees will now be cut down, some orchards and some wild, but mostly orchards
Why is it now 500 trees and not 2,200 trees?
1. The location of some buildings has been shifted
2. The helicopter landing pad will not be built, as there is one already closeby
3. Staff buildings will be built near the village, instead of on the site.