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Economic growth and the environment: Need to raise public awareness

The link between business and environment is almost intrinsic. However, the issue is more than just setting up environment-friendly industries, it's an affair between man and nature.

The link between business and environment is almost intrinsic. However, the issue is more than just setting up environment-friendly industries, it's an affair between man and nature. Jordan's drive for economic growth has made environmentalists weary about the implications of such a hard-nosed approach for the Kingdom's eco-system. They warn Jordan's economic prospects can't be realized if the issue of nature is not protected. "The efforts to retain a sustainable environmental development process in Jordan is still immature," states a recent report by the Al Urdun Al Jadid Research Center (UJRC). "Although Jordan has made important steps in developing the quality of its environment over the past 10 years, these attempts have not been effective because of the lack of political will," it states.
In its recent report "The Status of the Environment in Jordan 2000-2001", sponsored by the German Heinrich Bšll Foundation, the importance of a healthy environment for man and economy is emphasized.

The focus of the report is the relationship between economy and environment considered from three angles: alliance between the environment and man, potential resources for sustainable development, and the future of the environment in Jordan.

Hence the report stresses the principle of promoting environment-related issues in the economic decision-making process.

"Most of the current laws and legislation are old and inactive," the report stressed. It noted these laws are no longer in line with international conventions on the environment. The government is awaiting the ratification of a new environmental law and the establishment of a newly revitalized Ministry of Environment.

"Having a new Ministry of Environment is only the beginning; what we need is to make environment protection laws more effective and institutional." And these must be enhanced through national policies and programs which will require funding from the state budget. The report shows how industry and trade affect the environment in Jordan. "Rapid industrial development is causing environmental dysfunction for the Kingdom's eco-system," it explained. Such imbalances became visible with the gradual exhaustion of natural resources highlighted by the dumping of industrial waste in different parts of the Kingdom.

But certain strides are being made. The Environmental Impact Assessment is a good example of a current study looking at the impact of economic development on the environment.

The energy sector in Jordan is a large industry. Jordan's constant consumption of energy resources over the years has negatively affected the Kingdom's environment. Furthermore, the government's need to excavate, including shale oil and natural gas, will adversely influence the development of our eco-system.

"Public awareness about the issue of the environment in Jordan remains unclear and questionable," the report said. Indeed, many Jordanians ignore the importance of the eco-system although this can easily be promoted through tourism.

Although eco-tourism in Jordan is gradually developing, the UJRC reports most tourists coming to Jordan don't have the chance to visit natural sites in the Kingdom. Domestic eco-tourism, on the other hand, can play a key-role in developing environmental awareness among Jordanians. This can be achieved through promotion by concerned parties such as the Ministry of Tourism and environmental societies.

Amal Dababneh of the Jordanian Environmental Watch Program said Jordan has many potential eco-tourism projects that can benefit the economy while promoting a healthy environment.

Take the Dana nature reserve. "The reserve acts as a clear sample of successful eco-tourism in Jordan," Dababneh told The Star. The 308,000-kilometer reserve is considered one of the most vital eco-tourism projects in the world. It makes more than JD 1 million every year.

She noted tourists find the Dana reserve an excellent example of the need to protect Jordan's natural environment. "You can enjoy clear weather and clean air throughout the four seasons in the same place, something unique to this part of the world," Dababneh said. The same can be said about experiencing the beauty of the coral reefs in Aqaba.

Her words should encourage the private and public sectors to concentrate more on developing environmentally sound economic activities.

The UJRC report indicated the government, together with local NGOs, prepared an agenda of 21 action plans to revitalize the use of renewable energy resources in the future, including solar and wind energy.

It suggests four points to make these plans effective: enhancing scientific and technical competence in using renewable resources, launching a national program to use these resources in local industry, building a national database and developing a network of well-trained Jordanians to work in renewable resource production.

Jordan possesses potential investments in energy production. These can be realized by taking advantage of abundant renewable resources in the Kingdom. The government is presently working on a $500 million solar power generation station which is expected to produce 450 megawatts a day. This environmentally-friendly solution will help meet mounting needs for energy. In addition mining industries in Jordan are among the sectors consuming large amounts of resources which severely affects the environment. The report predicts phosphate factories in the Kingdom are expected to consume more than 224 mcm by 2006. While these industries are currently a gold mine for Jordan, their expansion will increase the depletion of precious underground water by 10 times over the coming five years.

The report is tangible proof that decision-makers must consider better policies and programs towards a sustainable natural environment.

Ghassan Joha
The Star

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