Jordanian environmentalists have launched a new campaign against plans to build a military academy at Bergish, in the Ajloun Forest nature reserve in north-western Jordan. The plans will, says campaigners from Halt Ajloun Deforestation, destroy an estimated 2,200 trees – some of them over 500 years old – in a large area of native forest in the Orjan village area.
Amongst the species threatened by the plans are oak, pistachio, hawthorn and strawberry trees, as well as smaller plants including orchids and cyclamen which depend on them. According to the campaigners, Ajloun Forest is “virtually the last area in the country that still has an intact ecosystem with a rich natural diversity of native plant and animal species. Ninety percent of the area is lush with vegetation.” They cite a January 2009 survey of the area for which the barracks are planned which found over 100 plant species, of which 13% were regarded as rare, 4% as threatened and 13% had medicinal value.
The Halt Ajloun Deforestation campaign is trying to raise awareness of the damage which could be wrought by the Jordanian government’s plans for the forest. They claim that the proposed development breaches national forestry regulations and that the announcement, which makes no mention of an environmental impact assessment, also contravenes Jordanian environmental laws. The newly-announced campaign says that it is “hoping for answers from high up… but nothing tangible is happening yet.” They also plan to create an online petition against the building plans.
According to the Jordanian Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, the Ajloun Forest Reserve comprises 13km2 of upland woods. Declared a protected area in 1987, the reserve is home to rare mammal species including stone martens, golden jackals, porcupines and Persian squirrels. The RSCN has also been running a captive breeding programme to re-introduce the locally extinct roe deer to the region.
The Forest is also a significant eco-tourism resource for Jordan, which in recent years has increased efforts to promote this aspect of its tourism offer. The reserve’s facilities include a Forest Lodge, campsite and guided day tours.
As well as the threats posed to local ecosystems and economic activities, the Halt Ajloun Deforestation campaign say that the danger to Ajloun Forest from the new development has wider significance. Jordan as a country already has less than 1% forest cover and suffers extensively from a lack of water. It has a high population density for such an arid country (partly resulting from the large numbers of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees living there), and has been named one of the ten most water-scarce nations on the planet. Trees, the campaigners have pointed out, help to protect water resources, and in the UN’s International Year of Forests they highlight the bitter irony of defying the call to “raise awareness and strengthen the sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests for the benefit of current and future generations.”