By Dureid Mahasneh

I never thought that I would write one day an article defending the trees of Ajloun, as I always thought that trees are sacred to Jordanians. We celebrate yearly, on January 16, Arbor Day by planting trees across the country, and pray for rain to keep us and our forests alive.

We have gone even further, introducing in our laws and by-laws stipulations that prevent cutting trees down, and created a Ministry of Environment to see to it that our environment and trees are not harmed.

Jordan also joined the UN and different international organisations in their fight against desertification, receiving support from international donors to protect nature. To make up for the urban expansion and development and the decreasing amounts of rainfall or drought, we have made planting trees a ritual.

Even the rise in oil prices over the last three years, which usually drives more people to cut trees to warm their houses did not do much damage, and Jordanians never looked at their forests as an alternative solution to fight cold weather.

In view of the above, it was surprising to hear that the government was giving approval for the destruction of large parts of the Ajloun forest in Bergesh, near the village of Arjan, to build a military academy. The buildings and facilities in phase 1 of the project would cover an estimated 45 dunums of prime forestland and require the removal of 2,200 trees, mostly oak, pistachio and hawthorn.

Some of these trees are over 500 years old and provide support for smaller plants such as cyclamen and terrestrial orchids.

This area of the Ajloun forest is home to many indigenous animals and birds, including migratory birds, whose presence is essential to maintaining a balanced biodiversity. Some plants and animals found there are threatened at national and/or global levels, and are thus in need of protection.

This is an area of the country that still has an intact ecosystem and a rich natural diversity of native plant and animal species.

What added to my surprise is the fact that we are ignoring the fact that trees are the best means to conserve and keep water in the soil, as they decrease evaporation.

For a country like Jordan, considered one of the poorest in the world in water resources and water allocated for drinking purposes, it is not only strange to do so but also very harmful.

Having said the above, I find it odd that planners for the construction project have not even thought of the facts mentioned above. They didn’t even think of an environmental assessment study for the area and the project before deciding on the project.

The decision violates many laws, in particular articles 28 and 35 of the law of agriculture which prohibit such acts against forests.

It is thus very annoying to know that such plans and acts are the product of qualified engineers and that the decision is taken by governmental agencies whose duty is to apply and respects the laws. There sure must be other sites where no trees need to be cut down to make place for construction.

I have full confidence that those honourable people in our Armed Forces will listen to the nation’s call to protect the trees and take the necessary decision to move the project to another site.

We need to protect our nature, from trees in the north to coral reefs in the south, which are part of our heritage and nature.

The writer is a Jordanian environmentalist. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.