Jordan is a land of contrasts. From our political system to our social interactions, it always feels like there are two opposing forces, each with their own directional instincts, each working in the same small space, and yet each somehow managing to collide with one another. Case in point: deforestation in Ajloun.
Here’s what I know:
A construction project (an academy of some sort) is underway in the Ajloun area, and it involves the cutting down of 2,200 trees, some of which are rare, and some of which are over 500 years old. These are not plans. This is not a proposal. This is happening now. These trees are being cut down as you’re reading this.
To the non-Jordanian reader who is wondering what the big deal is (as if 2,200 trees being cut down anywhere wasn’t a big deal enough), it should be noted that we live in a country that is less than 1% forested and every single tree is of utmost value. Unfortunately, our education system and our general society teaches us very little about respecting wildlife, the environment or trees, and many of us can be found cutting down trees, littering around them, and even breaking off their branches if we should be standing anywhere next to them with nothing better to do. We have roughly the same relationship with water as we are one of the poorest countries in the world when it comes to water resources, yet we are likely one of the most wasteful populations. We are taught and brought up to be this way. It’s in our behavioral DNA.
So yes, the cutting down of 2,200 trees in Ajloun – a region in Jordan where many Jordanians travel to have picnics because it is one of the few places left with any actual forestation – is not only unusual, it is pure insanity.
But again, we are a land of contrasts. While the destruction of these trees was ongoing – a situation rightfully described by activsts as a “massacre” – Jordan “celebrated” Arbor day. How? Well, for starters, this photo made the front pages of local newspapers:
Their Majesties King Abdullah and Queen Rania plant trees during a ceremony to mark Arbor Day at the Wasfi Tal Forest in Balqa Governorate. During the ceremony, held by the agriculture ministry, Their Majesties planted several trees and listened to a briefing by Agriculture Minister Tayseer Smadi on the ministryâ€™s plans to protect the Kingdomâ€™s forests and increase its green cover, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported. [source]
Also, on the same day, a pretty great initiative was launched that seeks to change the way the next generation percieves their local environment:
â€œA tree for every studentâ€ initiative will be launched today to increase the countryâ€™s less than 1 per cent of green cover, officials said on Saturday. Minister of Agriculture Tayseer Smadi announced the initiative last week to mark Arbor Day. One million saplings will be distributed to schoolchildren today to plant at their schools, homes or locations of their choice, Agriculture Ministry Media Office Director and Spokesperson Nimer Haddadin told The Jordan Times yesterday.
â€œAs students plant the trees and become responsible for watering and caring for them, a new generation that is aware of the need to protect trees will be created,â€ he said. Haddadin underscored that the countryâ€™s forests are being threatened by illegal logging and wild fires, in addition to lack of rain due to climate change.
â€œWe are looking into stiffening penalties against people who cut down trees or start wild fires, deliberately or as a result of negligence,â€ he noted. [source]
The irony is abundant. The contrast is overwhelming. While something positive happens on one hand, something completely negative happens on the other. Trees planted on one end; trees uprooted on the other.
In any case, it is unknown to me if there is actually an Environmental Impact Assessment report conducted in the first place, as is required by law but is some times ignored by various parties for whatever reason. Which leads me to an even bigger dose of irony. For the last time I recall Ajloun’s forests and trees being threatened was when the current Prime Minister, Samir Rifai, was head of Jordan Dubai Capital, an investment corporation that had plans to uproot 100 trees in the area to put up a hotel. That spawned a national campaign spearheaded by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, and taking place mostly online. The campaign did manage to spare a big enough debate and controversy to put an end to the plans. Things come full circle in one way or another.
There is perhaps nothing sound about any of this. If no EIA was conducted, then someone broke the law. And if it was conducted and the conclusion was “yeah, sure, go ahead and cut down 2,200 trees” then something is terribly fishy. Either way, whether the law was followed or not, the outcome is not sound.
Oh, one last dose of irony.
The UN has designated 2011 as the International Year for Forests.