By Hana Namrouqa

AMMAN – The Ministry of Environment on Monday requested an environmental impact assessment (EIA) of a project under way in Ajloun Governorate’s Bergesh Forest to establish a military academy.

The ministry’s request for an EIA follows objections by several environmental organisations beginning last week on the construction of the academy in Bergesh Forest, which is home to centennial evergreen oak trees and rare fauna and flora.

“The government will not grant a licence to any facility that does not adhere to environmental laws and regulations and meet required provisions for protecting the environment,” Minister of Environment Nasser Shraideh said yesterday in a statement released by the ministry.

He underscored that the ministry’s approval for establishing a military academy in Bergesh Forest was conditional on carrying out an EIA of the project.

“An environmental impact assessment will be carried out during the near future for the project at the proposed site,” the minister said.

The ministry’s statement did not specify whether construction work at the site will be halted until the EIA is carried out, a demand voiced by the Environmental Work Coordination Commission, an umbrella for the country’s environmental NGOs.

The first phase of the project, to be built on 45 dunums, will result in the removal of 2,200 trees, according to a statement issued by the commission.

“The trees include oak, pistachio, hawthorn and strawberry… Some of the native trees in Bergesh are over 500 years old, and they should not be cut down,” said the statement, which was e-mailed to The Jordan Times.

The commission noted that if the project is allowed to go ahead it would be in clear violation of several laws and regulations, including the agriculture and environment laws.

“… We are not against the creation of the new facility, however, we are asking for a halt to all work at the site until a team of environmental experts and representatives from all stakeholders prepares the necessary environmental impact studies and takes the appropriate decision to prevent environmental damage and be in compliance with the laws,” the environmental NGOs said in the statement.

The NGOs objecting to the construction of the academy at the proposed site are the Royal Botanic Garden, the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, the Jordan Environment Society, Al Shajarah Society, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the Jordan Green Building Council.

The NGOs created a Facebook page titled “Halt Ajloun Deforestation”, with the aim of rallying support against the construction of the project in Bergesh Forest to avoid cutting down trees.

The Facebook page features photos and videos showing the construction site and bulldozers loaded with olive trees.

Royal Botanic Garden Executive Manger Tareq Abu Taleb described the construction of the project at its current site as a “disaster”, highlighting that Jordan lacks green cover with forests covering less than 1 per cent of its total landscape.

“Each tree in Bergesh Forest is a whole ecosystem by itself… we call for halting the project and looking for other alternatives,” he told The Jordan Times yesterday.

Abu Taleb underscored that the military academy can be established in Ajloun Governorate, but not in the “heart of Bergesh Forest,” adding that a meeting will be held today between environmentalists and 50 MPs to call for halting construction of the project at its current site.