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Jordan: Social Media Combats Deforestation Project

This post is part of our special coverage Forest Focus: Amazon and Global Development 2011.

The Jordanian government scheduled the building of a new military academy within the Ajloun forest, one of Jordan's few remaining forested areas. This project requires 2200 trees to be cut down, including some from endangered species and trees estimated to be 500 years old. Immediately, several pre-existing and ad hoc coalitions sprung to halt the project. The Halt Ajloun Deforestation Campaign launched an online petition, presented to the Health & Environment committee of the Lower House of the Jordanian Parliament on January 18th, 2011.

According to the campaign's Twitter account, the outcome was support from the Ministry of the Environment to halt to the project until an environmental impact assessment can be taken, an affirmation of the location within the Ajloun region but to a location with fewer trees to be removed, and a request for publication of further information. At the meeting, the coalition presented the results of an online petition with 452 signatures. The group is still aiming to collect more for further meetings.

The coalition, though, based its entire campaign on blogs, facebook, and Twitter. The coalition used social forum 7iber.com to educate the population of how the project was in violation of Jordanian law:

In particular, Article 28 of the Jordanian agricultural law which relates to forestry land and mentions that it is not permissible to delegate, allocate, sell or trade forest land to any person or entity, for any reason…The project would also be in violation of Article 35 of the same law, which mentions that it is prohibited to cut down, destroy or in any way, shape or form harm any forest trees, perennials, or rare and endangered wild plants.

Furthermore, the project is not in compliance with the Jordan Environmental Act No. 25 for the year 2006, Section 13, which states that all organizations, companies, firms or any other entity whose activities may adversely affect the environment in any way, shape or form must prepare an environmental impact assessment study for their project and submit it to the Ministry of Environment to take an appropriate decision thereon.

Naseem Tarawnah chalked up the episode to cultural apathy and governmental mismanagement:

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….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…

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.

There is perhaps nothing sound about any of this. If no EIA [Environmental Impact Assessment] 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.

Mahmoud Lattouf also directed his concern to the government, directly asking Prime Minister Rifai:

YE @SamirAlRifai, can we have an explanation regarding the ongoing deforestation in #Ajloun? CC: @PrimeMinistry @SaveAjlounTrees #Jo #Jordan

Hussein Rugibani joked:

Dear Sandhurst, 2200 trees are being cut down to build your academy. Sincerely, #JORDAN #AJLOUN #ENVIORNMENT http://bit.ly/hV7HwZ

Many, such as Bashar Alaeddin, were outraged that an alternative location had not been selected:

i dnt get it, i dnt frickin get it!!! out of ALL the area's in #jo to build an academy.. why, for $**@!'s sake did they choose #Ajloun ?!?!?

Hamzeh Nassif agreed:

Who's the genius behind idea of cutting down 2000 forest trees to build … an academy? Why not build next to the forest? #Jo #Ajloun

While Mohammed Mahasneh urged:

Forests account for only 1% of jordan's land mass. Let's protect them #Ajloun #JO

Further developments, and the ultimate fate of the military academy and 2200 trees, will be posted on twitter at #ajloun or #saveajlountrees, as well as on Facebook.

This post is part of our special coverage Forest Focus: Amazon and Global Development 2011.

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