By Hana Namrouqa

AMMAN – Newly appointed Environment Minister Taher Shakhshir on Monday outlined the ministry’s priorities for 2011, highlighting initiatives ranging from combating Jordan Valley flies to cleaning up the Zarqa River.

During a meeting with the press yesterday, Shakhshir said the ministry will focus on four tracks this year: Zarqa Governorate’s environmental hotspots, random land usage, rehabilitating the badia and curbing the rise in domestic flies in the Jordan Valley.

Shakhshir highlighted that the rehabilitation of the “phosphate hills” and the Zarqa River are two “new, old topics” which will receive a renewed focus.

The phosphate hills comprise around four thousand dunums of land in Ruseifa in Zarqa Governorate piled with six decades worth of waste left behind by Jordan Phosphate Mines Company operations in the area.

He indicated that the ministry will also zero in on the Zarqa River, which emits foul odours during summer and attracts insects and rodents due to sewage and dumped waste.

Another priority for the ministry this year will be putting an end to the spread of domestic flies in the Jordan Valley, which have posed a growing nuisance to area residents and tourists alike.

“Combating the spread of flies in the Jordan Valley is important for tourism and the environment. A meeting of a ministerial committee formed to tackle the issue will be held on Wednesday at the Royal Court to review our plans,” Shakhshir noted.

Regarding land usage, Shakhshir highlighted that lands used for scrapped vehicles are forming environmental hotspots and will be removed to locations far from residential areas.

In addition to priority areas, Shakhshir said the ministry will implement several development ventures to revive the badia using the compensation extended to Jordan to offset the environmental impact of the 1991 Gulf War.

The terrestrial ecosystems of the Jordanian badia were severely damaged following the 1991 Gulf War, when masses of refugees and their livestock, estimated at 1.8 million sheep, goats and camels, crossed the border and stayed in the country for several months.

In 2005, the United Nation Compensation Committee granted Jordan $160.5 million in compensation for damage incurred by the Kingdom’s water, environment, wildlife, marine life and agriculture in the aftermath of the first Gulf War, in addition to $1.4 million to tackle the salinity of the country’s underground water basins.

Shakhshir said he expected the ministry to achieve 80 per cent of its work plans within the next three months.