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As threat to Dibbeen recedes Irani commends environmentalists.

By Mike Derderian Star Staff Writer Sitting in front of a green poster that reads: Towards sustainable developmentC*Towards green investment, Minister of Environment Khaled Al-Irani spoke to members of the press and environmentalists at a meeting held on Wednesday in the Jordan Environment Society (JES).The purpose of the meeting was to allow journalists and environmentalists to ask the minister questions related to the government's stance towards unleaded fuel's additive, Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE), and the Dibbeen Tourism Project. "Our meeting today comes within a framework that we hope will promote more cooperation between the government, which is represented by Ministry of Environment (MoEnv), and the community. We, as NGO, side and even compete with each other when it comes to working for the interest of our country," Dr Muhammad Masalhah, the director of JES, said at the start of the meeting, "the environmental law stipulates cooperation between governmental and private institutions. "JES and other NGOs in the past few weeks have worked vigorously on a number of cases. However, what we are trying to do today is create a bridge between the government, the NGOs and the investment companies that are interested in investing in the Kingdom," Masalhah said, and added, "this leaves the parliament and the media to act as watchers and commentators of what happens and to decide what is right or wrong." A few weeks ago environmentalists objected to the JD70 million Dibbeen Tourism Project that was going to be constructed in the middle of Dibbeen Forest, which is regarded as the last natural green haven in Jordan. Jordan Dubai Capital (JDC), the company responsible for the project decided to replace the location in dispute with another not so close as to affect the forest. "JDC is planning on constructing a 50-room hotel instead of the 200-room resort that they had in mind previously. This is a step in the right direction," Irani commented on JDC's change of plans. Irani acknowledged that he is proud to have started out himself in an NGO. "My current work at the Ministry is to strengthen the role of NGOs, for I still believe in what they do and hope to have more competition and interaction between us and them," added Irani, whose initial concern at office was to re-establish and solidify the Ministry's infrastructure, "our next step will be focusing on the Ministry's policies and its cooperation with other sectors." Whether JDC's move was instigated by pressure from MoEnv or the environmental NGOs or both, JDC is now planning on conducting an environmental impact assessment study (EIAS) for the second location. According to Razan Zuayter, chairperson of Arab Group for Protection of Nature (APN), the project is still close to Dibbeen's main forest. During the meeting, Zuayter referred to the move as replacing a bucket of poison by a teaspoon of poison. "We are against having a project inside the forest, and not against having a project. I am now trying to help them find other options. A committee, consisting of the inhabitants of Dibbeen who are opposed to the project, has been formed. With their help we have come up with a list of alternative locations. We also suggested to the minister that we should meet with JDC and offer them what we have," Zuayter told The Star, "we do not want to create a polarization; if JDC happens to approve of our list everyone will be happy."Reacting to Zuayter's comments about finding a better location for JDC project, Irani gave a nod of approval. "Meeting JDC and telling them about your suggestions instead of bickering through media and newspapers is a step in the right direction," Irani suggested. The current Dibbeen Resort was also mentioned during the meeting, as a replacement to the company's second location. "We believe that updating the current resort, presently a health hazard, is what should be done! It is already causing harm to Dibbeen's environment and it would be better if its infrastructure were renewed by JDC," one of the attendees suggested. Zuayter, however, is against turning the attention of JDC to the Dibbeen Resort location because she believes that turning it into a 5-star hotel is not a solution. "Everyone in Jordan has a right to the resort. Renovate itC*that's fine by me, but turn it into something else I am totally against it," she added. The questions asked by Ahmad Al-Kofahi, the executive director of JES, revolved around MTBE, which he believes is as toxic as lead. Kofahi told The Star at an earlier occasion that MTBE is a chemical compound which is added to fuel at a ratio of 7-12 percent to improve fuel combustion and to reduce car emissions that contain lead, a very harmful substance to human health.The usage of MTBE in fuel comes as part of the Ministry's plan to turn Jordan into a lead-free country in 2008, according to Irani. "Many of Jordan's gas stations are quite old and probably have defunct fuel storage tanks that cannot hold MTBE. How will the Ministry deal with these stations especially that refitting them with new storage tanks involves a lot of money?" Kofahi's queried."The same way MTBE is hard to store so is fuel. We now have a law that specifies all "new" gas station should have double-walled storage tanks; as, for the old stations we have formed a committee in cooperation with Ministry of Energy that will deal with them in accordance with conditions set for storing MTBE, just like any type of fuel, whether it was leaded or unleaded," Irani responded, "we also asked the Water Authority to help us locate the position of water lines and deep water reservoirs and their proximity to gas stations. So our core issue regarding the storage of MTBE is that no leakage is to be allowed under any circumstancesC*period."Irani pointed out that the Ministry is not promoting the usage of MTBE as a best solution but because it is at the moment the best substitute to lead until another less harmful substitute is found."MTBE is not chocolate, friends. MTBE is less harmful than lead, which is poisonous, carcinogenic and slows brain growth for children," Irani explained before talking about a recent trip to the US, when Minister of Energy, Dr Khaled Najeeb, and himself accompanied HRH Prince Hamzah Bin Al-Hussein, to research a potential substitute to MTBE. The main priority of the Ministry is to switch from leaded to unleaded fuel. Many countries in Europe and the rest of the world have substituted led with MTBE, Irani said. "There are countries that use Ethanol, which is less harmful than MTBE," Irani continued. Anyone who isn't familiar with Ethanol should know that it is produced by fermenting and distilling starch and sugar crops like maize, sorghum, potatoes, wheat, sugarcane, cornstalks, fruit and vegetable waste. It is used in the manufacturing of spirits and is "a high-performance motor fuel that cuts poisonous exhaust emissions and is better for the environment."Saqr Salam, one of Jordan's renowned environmental enthusiasts, told the meeting that in order to protect the environment lead must be removed from fuel. "We are with the removal of lead from fuel. This step, according to the Environmental Protection Association, will result in raising the health bar of the community," Salam stressed. "My trip with Prince Hamzah to America was not just to research Ethanol but to research energy harvesting that might result in economic and water-related benefits to the Kingdom. We now believe that preserving environmental elements from pollution can also initiate great benefit to the country's economy," Irani concluded. nAs threat to Dibbeen recedes Irani commends environmentalists

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Publication:The Star (Amman, Jordan)
Date:Mar 19, 2007
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