By Odeh Al Jayyousi

The collective effort to conserve our forests, manifested in the campaign to protect Bergesh Forest in northern Jordan, is a positive sign of vitality of the green movement.

Sustaining the momentum of the green movement in Jordan and listening to its demands would be an indicator of good governance that can ensure human livelihood, well-being and prosperity.

The campaign, led by civil society and local communities, to challenge a proposed development in Bergesh Forest in the Ajloun area, sheds some light on the key role of the environmental movement in Jordan. This campaign aims to enforce the rule of law and bring a new discourse on sustainability in a green economy challenged by climate change risks and poverty.

The current development model, which is based on the GDP, does not tell the “ecological truth” about the value of our natural capital and the multiple ecosystem services like the provision of freshwater, air, food, energy, medicinal plants, ecotourism and carbon sinks. None of these ecosystem services is captured by the considerations given to the GDP and that is why our economic model suffers from blind spots that underestimate the value of forests and other ecosystems. Globally, the estimated value of these ecosystem services was estimated recently at $4 trillion per year.

The protest against the proposed development in Ajloun comes during this year’s UN International Year of Forests, which is intended to celebrate people’s action towards sustainable forest management under the theme “Forests for people”. Success stories and best practices exist in natural resource management and Jordan’s experience is evident in the award-winning work by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) in Dana reserve and other sites.

The International Year of Forests provides a means to show good governance in action and to bring voices together to build momentum towards even greater public participation in sustainable forest management. It is an opportunity to develop people-centred development models that benefit both people and nature.

The Ajloun area can and should be one of these models, to be shared with the world. The master plan for Ajloun, which cost JD3.5 million, needs to be the framework for ensuring sustainable development for a green Jordan, to preserve its tiny remaining forest areas that cover less than 1 per cent of the country. Paradoxically, the proposed military academy in Bergesh is likely to induce a spillover effect and externalities that will undermine the vision to develop Ajloun as a special zone that would provide local development, and green jobs, and benefits for the entire Ajloun area.

Ajloun’s Bergesh Forest is virtually the last area in Jordan that still has an intact ecosystem with a rich natural diversity of native plant and animal species. Ninety per cent of the area is lush with vegetation. A January 2009 ecological survey in a small part of the forest recorded over 100 plant species, of which 13 per cent are rare, 4 per cent are threatened and 13 per cent have medicinal value. Without an extensive survey, there is no telling how many more important species are also present.

The Bergesh 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 level and are thus in need of permanent protection.

I am pleased to see a high level of responsibility and awareness among all environmental groups in Jordan. It is clear for them that there should be no conflict between economic development and protecting forests and natural resources, since human and environmental security are interconnected and we cannot invest on a dead planet. The campaign to protect Bergesh forest is not an anti-development movement. On the contrary, the opponents are looking for genuine win-win solutions that benefit both people and nature.

The key message is that all the relevant laws, which clearly state, define and clarify the mandate to protect natural resources, need to be respected.

Article 28 of the agriculture law specifically prohibits selling or allocating forestland to any person or entity, for any reason. Article 35 of the law states that it is prohibited to cut down/destroy/harm any forest trees, perennials or rare and endangered wild plants.

Due process and public hearings need to be institutionalised. And the environmental conventions ratified by Jordan need to be honoured.

In sum, policy makers, the youth, the public and the private sector need to understand the value of forests. It is said that “we will conserve only what we love, and we will love only what we understand”.

We need to understand that a forest is much more than just trees. A forest is a medical centre, a playground, a power station, a tourist attraction, a stress reducer and a classroom. We are responsible for, and entrusted with, keeping this infrastructure for our grandchildren.

The writer,, is International Union for Conservation of Nature West Asia regional director. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.