By Hana Namrouqa

AMMAN – Environmental NGOs on Monday warned that continuing with plans to establish a military academy in Bergesh forest may harm Jordan’s international reputation and status.

Being a signatory to international agreements for the protection of biological diversity, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, Jordan is legally and ethically obliged to preserve its vital ecosystems, environmental advocacy groups said yesterday.

In a letter sent to all ministries, institutions and decision makers involved in implementing the military academy project in Bergesh Forest, activists said Jordan is required under such conventions to regulate land usage and ensure a sustainable management of its natural resources.

The letter, sent to the Jordan Armed Forces (JAF), the ministries of environment and agriculture as well as Parliament among other agencies, is the latest effort exerted by local environmental NGOs that seeks to halt what they see as “destruction” of Bergesh Forest in Ajloun Governorate.

The heavily wooded Bergesh Forest, located 90 kilometres northwest of the capital, is the selected site for a military academy, whose construction will entail the uprooting of hundreds of centennial trees, according to the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Jordan Times yesterday.

The letter was issued by a committee representing the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, Jordan Environment Society, the Royal Botanic Garden, Al Shajarh Society and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

“We, again, reiterate our stand that we do not oppose the project, but ask for its relocation to a site in Ajloun that does not require cutting down trees,” Omar Shoshan, the committee’s spokesperson and head of the RSCN’s environmental policies section, told The Jordan Times yesterday.

Construction work on the military academy started in early January but was halted after several environmental NGOs and MPs objected to the site.

If the project had gone ahead at the original site, it would have resulted in the uprooting of 2,200 oak, pistachio, hawthorn and strawberry trees, each over a century old, according to environmentalists.

Following deliberations between the JAF and a Lower House committee probing the academy’s construction, the project was relocated to another site where fewer trees would be cut.

Last month, the JAF issued a statement announcing that the blueprints for the academy had been altered to limit the number of uprooted trees to 200 non-centennial trees.

The statement said that for each uprooted tree, 20 saplings will be planted in the area, and that 2 per cent of the 1,200-dunum area slated for use by the academy includes forest trees and will only be used for training purposes.

“The JAF has worked to ensure that the project does not include any industrial elements that could potentially harm the environment and meets green building codes,” added the statement, which was carried by the Jordan News Agency, Petra.

But environmental NGOs, activists, MPs and local residents say they want to avoid cutting down a single tree – pointing to the Kingdom’s rapidly depleting green cover.

Forests constitute less than 1 per cent of the Kingdom’s area, while the green cover in Bergesh stands at 90 per cent, according to the RSCN.

The forest represents an integrated ecosystem that provides habitat for over 100 plant species – 13 per cent listed as rare, 4 per cent as locally or internationally threatened and 13 per cent with medicinal value.