Even if the protesters in Jordan, which rallied against the construction of a military academy in the Bergesh forest (Jordan’s last standing forest, covering just 1% of the country) were inspired by the Arab spring movements, they were also gently dismissed with promises by the Jordanian Armed Forces. The response might have been different if the Kingdom’s authorities and the army were better informed of the role that forests play in maintaining water (and therefore National) security.
Earlier this year, the world watched as a wave of protests destabilised North Africa and the Middle East. Young people played a key role, as they do in the environmental movement. And while Jordan’s case was milder, it was not exempt either.
North Africa and the Middle East’s fragile ecological limits are essential to building peace and democracy in the region. If water scarcity is making the region a ‘ticking time bomb’, one would think it is clearly in the interest of Jordan’s Armed Forces to pioneer ecological protection, rather than threaten to bulldoze 2,200 of the last standing trees in the country.
What can be done?
I just spoke with Mohammad Asfour over Skype who is based in Amman and is the Chair of Jordan’s Green Building Council. He sees this problem as an opportunity for green investment and thinks biodiversity must figure more prominently in the country’s master plans. “Communicating the scientific evidence of the links between forests and water cycles can be decisive in changing perceptions in Jordan and the Middle East” he said.Jordan’s top environmental institutions have been involved in the debate over the Bergesh forest. Among them are the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature and the Arab Group for the Protection of Nature. They now have a unique opportunity to involve the Kingdom’s government and the its Armed Forces in a collaborative effort to advance ecological stewardship as a matter of national security.
This will require taking a fresh look at the scientific research agenda so that it better communicates the role of Jordan’s ecosystems in sustaining the region’s hydrological cycles. It will also mean working with young people who can be leaders of a new movement, and organizing activities that connect the Kingdom’s authorities, the army and environmentalists around a common vision of long-term stability, resilience, and stewardship. The result could be nothing less than a real Arab spring.