AMMAN: Jordanian government officials have been embroiled in a debate regarding the decision to mine for copper in parts of the Dana Natural Reserve, one of the sites being considered by UNESCO as part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.
Former Environment Minister Yaseen Khayyat argued that any change in the area of the reserve would cause a reevaluation of the Jordanian application to UNESCO and could lead to a refusal by the world body.
Khayyat said the mining plans could affect the environmental equilibrium in this rich environmental reserve.
The International Council for Monuments and Sites in Jordan, headed by former UNESCO goodwill ambassador Princess Dana Firas, issued an international call for protection of the reserve and called on the government to immediately reverse its decision.
The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature said it opposed any redrawing of the boundaries and that it would take “all legal and escalatory measures under Jordanian law” to protect the country’s nature reserves.
Khalid Al-Irani is president of the RSCN, which is responsible for the site, and he described the announcement as a “black day” for Jordan.
Dana is Jordan’s largest natural reserve, covering some 320 sq km of mountains and wadis along the Great Rift Valley.
It is home to a wide variety of plant and animal species, many of which are rare and endangered.
Environmentalists argue the decision is short-sighted, while the government insists it is necessary and will not have any lasting negative environmental effects.
Speaking at an event for World Humanitarian Day, organized by the JONAF coalition of Jordanian development agencies, former minister Yusuf Mansur called the decision “short-sighted”
The Dana Reserve was no longer emphasized as a center for tourist attractions in Jordan, said Mansur.
“We must not replace largely natural profit with little profit.”
The government said that, since 2016, there had been an agreement with an international contracting company to look into the possibility of mining but that the RSCN had blocked its efforts to access the intended sites.
The government said it was well aware of the environmental importance of the nature reserve and that the mining decision would not affect it.
The government has even suggested making a piece of land available that will be equal to the one that will be cut from the reserve for copper mining.
The cash-strapped government has said that copper mining could bring in badly needed revenues to the country and will employ thousands of Jordanians.
Environmentalists and economists have questioned those claims, saying the gains would be relatively small.
Maher Hijazin, former director of the Natural Resources Authority, said that copper mining could bring in as much as JOD3 billion ($4.23 billion) to JOD4 billion in the coming 20 years and that it would employ 1,000 Jordanians.
But the size of the revenue was questioned by Mansur.
“In 20 years, the annual revenue will be about JOD30 million,” he tweeted. “Therefore, there is no reason to be greedy.”