by Hana Namrouqa | Jun 05,2012 | 23:10

AMMAN — Poorly designed policies and a lack of master planning are contributing to environmental pollution and waste of natural resources, incurring costs to the economy as well, an environment expert said on Tuesday.

Speaking at the 6th Jordanian Environment Conference, Bahjat Odwan, president of the Jordanian Geologists Association, found fault with the “random” selection of industrial sites and poor urban planning, which they said was contaminating Jordan’s dwindling aquifers.

The conference opened on Tuesday to discuss some of Jordan’s “hot” environmental issues, such as nuclear energy, the impact of climate change, water security and mega-projects, the green economy, and the conflict between natural resource exploitation and the protection of ecosystems.

The geologist said that more environmentally conscious policies could boost the national economy, reduce the energy bill and prevent pollution at the same time.

“Several industries are facing protests from nearby residents, which is causing them losses, such as the cement factory in Fuheis. To avoid similar cases, the government must allow construction of plants only in locations distant from residential areas,” Odwan said.

Ministry of Environment Secretary General Ahmad Qatarneh pointed out in addition that factories must abide by environmental laws and regulations regardless of where they are located.

The Jordan Lafarge Cement Company’s plant in Fuheis, 10 kilometres west of Amman, has been facing protests from residents and environmentalists who refuse to allow the plant to use coal instead of fuel oil in order to cut costs.

Odwan also criticised the government for imposing a special tax on hybrid cars in March 2010, which he said had brought sales of green vehicles to a standstill.

“The transportation sector is a major source of air pollution. As Jordan imports its energy and suffers from a rising energy bill, authorities should have given people incentives to buy hybrids instead of taxing them further,” he highlighted.

“Up to 41 per cent of the energy bill goes to gasoline purchases. The government must reconsider its decision to impose taxes on hybrid cars for two reasons: to protect the environment and boost the economy.”

Since the decision to impose taxes on green vehicles was enforced, no hybrids have been cleared from the free zone into the local market because of low demand, according to officials.

Jordan imports 98 per cent of its energy needs at a cost of 25 per cent of its gross domestic product annually, according to officials, who said that the national energy bill is expected to reach a record high of over JD4 billion this year.

Odwan also called for better urban planning, noting that “cities are being built over aquifers due to poor planning”.

“Many aquifers and springs are not utilised because they are contaminated due to leakage of sewage, while weak enforcement of laws is allowing people to over pump from wells,” the geologist said.

Meanwhile, Qatarneh said that the ministry alone could not protect the environment from pollution and violations, and that individuals and other institutions must take responsibility as well.

Participants at the conference, which concludes today, are reviewing major projects to generate water, food and energy in Jordan and their positive and negative impacts on the environment and the national economy.—environmentalists