The Case Of The Disappearing Trees In Ajloun

 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 ministry’s plans to protect the Kingdom’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:

“A tree for every student” initiative will be launched today to increase the country’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.

“As 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,” he said. Haddadin underscored that the country’s forests are being threatened by illegal logging and wild fires, in addition to lack of rain due to climate change.

“We are looking into stiffening penalties against people who cut down trees or start wild fires, deliberately or as a result of negligence,” 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.

Today, it’s no different as another campaign seems to be underway with similar goals. A petition has been launched and you can follow the news of the campaign on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

21 thoughts on “The Case Of The Disappearing Trees In Ajloun

  1. At the same even, the Minister of Agriculture said in a briefing that they will protect the kingdom’s forests and increase its green coverage. Guess no one got the memo!

  2. the situation is changing rapidly to the benefit of the trees thanks to the support of all stakeholders involved to resolve the conflict and clear the misunderstanding and ensure that jordan trees are protected and the law applied in a fair manner. long live jordan

  3. I don’t understand…why does the “academy” need to be in Ajloun? There is sooo much empty land in Jordan…the arid desert landscape might not be that appealing to the eye, but nor is seeing more of the country being turned into an arid desert landscape…very odd choice…instead of cutting down the trees to make room for the academy, how about planting trees wherever this “academy” is going to be built – why Ajloun?

    Like many things that happen here and around the region – I don’t understand the thought process behind this decision.

    Time to sign the petition.

  4. not only ajloun forests, all the forests in the north are threatened. the electricity company built a project in mandah oak forests( one of the most beautiful forests in jordan even more beautiful than dana with amazing flora and fauna),instead of converting them into nature reserve. these amazing forests that you cann’t believe your self you are in jordan when you visit them in spring.

  5. “وقال الشريدة في تصريح صحفي اليوم أن الموافقة التي منحت لإنشاء الأكاديمية العسكرية في منطقة برقش/ محافظة عجلون جاءت مشروطة بإجراء دراسة تقييم للأثر البيئي للمشروع وفق ماتنص عليه القوانين والأنظمة البيئية.”

  6. the info about Dibbeen in this article is not accurate, e.g. the RSCN was not responsible for that campaign, which actually failed; the project is running in the Dibbeen forest but the public was mislead to think the project was moved elsewhere.
    There are many areas in Ajlun / Irbid without natural forest, why not build the academy there.
    Environmental impact assessments in Jordan : fact is that no one is controlling/checking the quality of EIAs and the credibilty/qualifications of the “consultants” carrying them out, EIAs have become a business and at the same time justification to carry out the projects wherever, even in the heart of a natural forest; according to the latest published ecological assessment, the red-dead project is supposed to have minor impacts on the ecosystems, anyone who knows something about the scope of this project will know that is impossibly true!!??

  7. Antar: can you please update me/us on what happened with Dibbeen. As far as I know it was the RSCN that launched/lead the campaign both online (the now defunct http://www.savejordantrees.com) and offline (local newspapers). And as for JDC and the project, I remember it being downgraded from a hotel in to a chalet type, smaller-scale retreat.

    Agree with you red-dead, but note that I think it now being “sold” to donors as an environmental project, since selling it as a “peace” venture has naturally failed.

  8. Nasseem, with all due respect, It is really funny for me and many others to see a picture of “his and her majesty” to be depicted of the picture you posted as ” environmentalist “, that to me , like saying, George Bush is a peace maker, come on man, like they say, A pictures worth a thousand words , Nassem I myself,my grand father and my father have came from there and we have seen the destruction of our ancestral land through the so called ” economic developments” by “our” government through out the years.
    Going back to the picture you posted, if we look closely to “his and her Majesty’s” outfit ,we can realize easily how much money they have spent ,my estimates for that outfit is what i made in ten years, you got the picture I

  9. TheFreeJordanian: i’m not depicting his and her majesty as anything. this was a photo printed in papers yesterday and it shows them planting a tree for arbor day. no where does it say they are environmentalists, and no where did i say, attempt to say, show, or attempt to show, contextualize or illustrate them as being anything other than what the photo shows and what its caption reads. no more no less.

    in the context of this piece, my attempt here was to demonstrate the usual contrasts of one event and another related event. that is, king and queen plant trees…ministry distributes trees….all the while, trees are cut down to make room for a military academy.

    no more, no less.

  10. Just a correction, the Burgash forest is not in Ajloun –it is in Irbid.
    And there was another report in the newspapers about hundreds of trees being cut along the University Street in Amman for the BRT. What a shame!

  11. Three years ago, a landuse masterplan for the Jabal Ajloun area was developed and adopted, with support from HM King. The area where the academy is to built is within the boundary of Jabal Ajloun masterplan area and the best policy reference that should be compared to is this masterplan. The area where the work began is a previously private land that was owned by individual farmers who planted olive trees as you can see from the video.
    The EIA study should be done according to the law, and it should include alternatives to the proposed site. The issue here is the credibility of the study and the extent to which it will adhere to scientific and legal context. As far as I know, there will not be any cutting of trees in the natural forest area owned by the government before the EIA. The public campaign is an essential tool for pressure and advocacy, and it is proving to be influential as the issue will be discussed in the Parliament today. As long as the momentum is aincreasing and support gained also from the local community it will be much harder to implement this project in this particular area.
    The major issue here is again the debate between “development” and ‘conservation” but it will be a huge step if the project has been halted or moved. It will prove that the national law should also be implemented at the military establishment and not only the private sector. The public campaign is a strong tool that should be maximized.

  12. During the meeting between the environmental NGOs and the environment and health committee in the parliament today, it was clear that the deputees from Ajloun are highly supportive of the project as they think it will provide income and socioeconomic opportunities to the local people who have been deprived of developmental opportunities for so long. The outcome was to look for other alternative sites within Ajloun so that this “opportunity” will not get out of the governorate and to minimize environmental impacts. It seems that the environmental argument should be brought down to the level of local socio-economic conditions to be able to reach the local representatives.

  13. Im not from Jordan myself. But if I remember rightly Smadi family is from Ajloun… Does that add to the hypocrisy or even smell fishy?

  14. @nas: long story told short, the campaign lead by rscn was about something else though related; the “anti-Dibbeen tourist project” campaign was probably the first campaign of its kind lead by the public and some public figures and not an institution, however the public was miselad (see above), ironically by the MoEnv. Anyway, till now several 100s of trees have been cut or pulled out and “relocated” within the forest, and the process is still continuing in Dibbeen, the natural ecosystem at the construction site is practically destroyed.

    BAck to the Birgesh problem: According to the laws (including those related to forestry..), the governmental area with the dense oak forest should not even be considered for a project, asking for an EIA means the project is closer than ever to getting approved and started wihtin this site….fact: most EIAs in Jordan just suggest mitigation measures (which are not even implemented) rather than suggesting alternative sites. Sorry, but believing in the credibilty of EIAs in Jordan is something naive as there is an obvious problem in the EIA system. Having a couple of PMs talking loud will also not suffice, I do not think anyone trusts the for-some-funny-reasons-elected PMs. Support campaign to save what is left of nature in Jordan..

  15. I find it horrible that they are cutting down trees, I mean we hardly have any so why cut down more? I’m from Jordan, and this project really pisses me off, and what would get me seriously pissed would be if this ‘Academy’ would be a college or school that only posh people could afford, then if that was the case then they can build it in the middle of the desert for all I care as long as it doesn’t involve cutting the down trees, I mean come on! It’s as if they are oblivious of the fact that we hardly have trees in this country, I mean my memory of Ajloun is vivid but I still remember that there were a lot of trees, however when I saw the video that this website provided me with, I felt my heart break! A vision had appeared, if they continue cutting down the trees, Ajloun, heaven forbid, may end up to be a city filled with buildings and hardly any trees, and soon they will run out of space to put more buildings and that’s when they realise they’re big mistake and it would already be too late.

  16. I am from Ajloun, and my specialty is rural sustainable development, my major work is on Ajloun. Although I am one of those who signed the petition but still I believe the th socioeconomic context needs to be studied more carefully and locals should be participants in shaping the future of their locally; their voices should be heard. Poverty in Ajloun is one of the highest in Jordan and locals are WITH cutting the trees in hope to get a better life for locals through ANY big project in their area as they have NONE. please check what Ajloun people write here: http://www.ajlounnews.net/ It’s very interesting to hear the OTHER voice.

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