World Bank support for Gateway Project: The beginning of the end for a holy river proposed world heritage site, holy to millions, threatened by industrial development
Washington D.C./Amman, Jordan, February 8, 2001 – Friends of the Earth urged the World Bank not to approve a proposed $15 million loan for the controversial and environmentally destructive Jordan Gateway Project (JGP). This project, which has been condemned by Israeli, Jordanian, and international environmental organizations, seeks to establish an industrial estate bisecting the Jordan River, in both Israel and Jordan. The current site is on the banks of the Jordan River, a proposed UN World Heritage Site.
Charles Lenchner, the US representative of Friends of the Earth Middle East, called the project “A disaster of Biblical proportions, in that the World Bank is assisting private developers to permanently alter the landscape of one of the most revered landscapes in the Biblical holy land.” Critics of the JGP accuse the World Bank of lending their support to a project that will permanently alter the unique character of the site, preventing its planned development for tourism potential.
The developers, a consortium of Israeli and Jordanian businessmen and the Safra banking group FIBI Holdings, have steadfastly refused to reconsider their choice of site. The site was chosen and construction begun prior to environmental assessment and public consultation. Although World Bank guidelines and procedures generally require those steps as part of the planning process, in this case the World Bank decided to use the assessment process to legitimize previous decisions after the fact. Instead of participating in the planning process, World Bank staff have been assisting the private sponsors in fending off environmental critics.
Yoav Sagi, a director of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, said that if the loan is approved, the Jordan River will be added to the list of environmental disasters paid for by the World Bank. He also said, “we have been fighting for preservation of open spaces, smart growth, and the protection of our natural and cultural heritage against local developers. And we have had to fight the World Bank, which claims to be environmentally sensitive.”
The Friends of the Earth US report “Dubious Development: How the World Bank’s Private Arm Is Failing the Poor and the Environment” (September 2000) details examples of Bank lending for environmental and human rights disasters, fueling climate change, supporting welfare for multinational corporations, and lending to known polluters and human rights abusers.
According to Dr. Brent Blackwelder, President of FoE US, “The World Bank’s behavior on the Jordan Gateway Project is just the latest example of how they pretend to follow their own procedures, while making a mockery of the purpose underlying those procedures. In this case the Bank abetted the project sponsors in preventing a discussion of the project’s location. As a result, about a third of the Jordan River in Israel will become industrialized and commercialized. The Bank is helping to vandalize an area revered by millions all over the world.”
“The River Jordan and Its Sources: The River Jordan and its sources represent a self-sufficient ecosystem from its sources in the north at the Dan, Hetzbani and Banias springs until the Dead Sea in the south. In addition to its endemic biosystems it is a source of cultural heritage including sites of traditional human settlement and land uses while associated with events and living traditions of outstanding universal significance.” from a brochure released by the Israeli UNESCO Committee, proposing that the Jordan River be recognized as a World Heritage Site.
Project Description: The Jordan Gateway Project is a proposed free trade zone and industrial estate on both sides of the Jordan River, in the northern third. The private developers from Israel and Jordan claim that their project will benefit the region and provide jobs for 15,000 people. The World Bank’s private lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), will vote on a $10 million loan for the project on February 8.
Impacts on a Holy River: The project site is nine kilometers south of the border crossing at Sheikh Hussein bridge, near the Israeli town of Beit Shean. Like most of the Jordan Valley adjacent to the river, the area is virtually undeveloped, with the exception of some farming activities on both sides of the border. Although the site is ecologically significant because of its flora and fauna, the real importance of the area lies in the past. The Jordan River is a Biblical site featured in stories about Moses and Jesus. Many pilgrims visit the region to be baptized or to simply experience the wonder of being in the Holy Land.
Lack of Env. Planning: The private Israeli and Jordanian developers chose the site and began construction without having first performed an environmental assessment and public consultation. After securing political support from Israel, Jordan, and the United States, the developers sought IFC financing. The project was promoted as a symbol of peace and economic cooperation between Israel and Jordan, of such importance that environmental questions were seen as irrelevant.
Opposition Widespread: Although the Middle East is in turmoil at the moment, Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian environmentalists have come together to oppose this project, and the impending World Bank loan. In addition to Friends of the Earth Middle East, made up of Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians, many other environmental NGO’s in the region have expressed their opposition. This includes the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature in Jordan and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, two of the largest nonprofit organizations anywhere in the region.
Alternatives: Environmentalists have proposed a number of alternatives. First of all, neither the sponsors nor the Bank have explained in economic terms why the project must be alongside the Jordan River. Other joint Israeli Jordanian economic enterprises are expanding in the nearby city of Irbid, and elsewhere in Jordan. The Israeli city of Beit Shean has an entire industrial zone lying empty, just a few miles from the proposed site. However, if a convincing analysis can be shown to support a site along the river, then the best location would be in the vicinity of the border crossing at Sheikh Hussein bridge, since that area is already built up, and will continue to develop as trade and tourism expands.
Charles Lenchner 202-783-7400
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