Sunday, August 27, 2006

Dangerous Soils

The days of war do not seem to be over for Jordan yet, as remnants of many conflicts are still killing innocent Jordanian civilians. Oula Al Farawati investigates the continuous efforts to rid Jordan of landmines.

Here are some facts: 40,000 square meters in Jordan are still plagued with approximately 200,000 landmines. Over the years, landmines are believed to have killed and injured more than 800 people. 10% Of Jordanian land is still plagued with anti-personal and anti-vehicle landmines. Official numbers say 539 people have had landmines accidents, 113 of whom have died.
The numbers are staggering. They have, however, decreased since Jordan woke up to these sad incidents and decided in 1993 to put an end to landmine deaths and casualties. The Jordanian efforts, heavily supported by royal direct encouragement, have succeeded in bringing the number of square meters planted with landmines from 60,000 to 40,000, and have created legal bodies to accelerate Jordanian efforts to fulfill an international obligation to declare Jordan free of landmines by the year 2009.
"Despite all our efforts, many people are still dying every year because of landmines and unexploded ordinances (UXO)," Mohammad Breikat, national director of the National Committee for De-mining and Rehabilitation told Living Well. "One landmine costs as little as $1 to $5, but to remove it costs around $1,000. De-mining is a long, difficult, and costly process," Breikat added.
According to the Landmines Monitor, the mine and unexploded ordinance problem in Jordan derives from the 1948 partition of Palestine, the 1967–1969 Arab-Israeli conflict, and the confrontation with Syria in 1975. The minefields are limited to three major areas; the Northern Highlands, the Jordan Valley, and Wadi Araba in the south. There is also UXO in a small number of areas centered in the Ajloun and Irbid governorates. According to military estimates, some 305,000 antipersonnel and antivehicle mines were laid on Jordanian territory (73,000 Israeli and 232,000 Jordanian mines).
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) reported that mine contamination blocks access valuable agricultural land, delay irrigation and hydroelectric projects, restrict housing construction, and isolate historic and cultural heritage sites. In August 1998, Jordan signed the Mine Ban Treaty, which was ratified on November 13, 1998, and entered into force on May 1, 1999. The Kingdom's Law of Explosive Materials of 1953 serves as the legal mechanism to enforce the treaty.
Mines in Jordan directly affect over 500,000 people, the majority of whom are said to be women and children. "All landmine fields in Jordan are fenced and guarded. The problem is that some people cut parts of the fence to sell them. Others enter the landmine fields and step on a mine that immediately explodes. Some even enter the fields to herd or to picnic," Breikat lamented.
"We are carrying out several awareness efforts and a big campaign for people living around mine affected areas that is due to start soon."
To accelerate de-mining efforts, Breikat said the committee has signed an agreement with the Norwegian People's Aid where the organization will de-mine the areas between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea (Wadi Araba that were minefields planted by the Israeli army).
Another organization taking care of landmine survivors in Jordan is the Landmine Survivors Network (LSN), Jordan Chapter, whose efforts have reached some 590 landmine survivors since the Jordan office was established in 1999. The office helps those who survived a landmine explosion accept the fact that they have lost an organ in three major fields, health, economic opportunities, and right and social integration.
"When someone loses an organ, he or she immediately think that life has stopped and start thinking of the easiest way to commit suicide," Director of LSN's Jordan Office, Adnan Aboudi said.
"We at LSN try to provide these victims with moral support and consequently monetary support to help them stand on their feet again. We answer hundreds of questions raised by the victims and their families and social circles," said Aboudi, himself a victim of a car accident that made him lose his two legs. He said the LSN does most of its work through peer support, using the help and expertise of LSN's employees who have been victims to accidents that made them lose limbs and other parts of their bodies.
"Once we are told about an accident, we plan, with the victims and their families, a recovery plan from all aspects and we encourage them to regard an injury as a new start and as a shore-up," he said. He pointed out that the office has helped many people and has extended its surfaces to anyone who has lost a body part to include survivors of car accidents, diabetes, cancer, and other diseases.
"Our main concern is that those victims become prone to illness and disability, and that is why our efforts concentrate on moral rehabilitation that can make victims rise up to the challenge and prove to themselves and others that their disability cannot deter them from doing what they need to do in life," he concluded.
This spirit was the motive behind many social and professional successes that mine survivor, Mohammad Bakkar has achieved since his leg was mutilated after a mine explosion when he was only 17. "I was lucky to survive an explosion that killed four of the workers working with me in ploughing a field in Northern Ghor. I was driving a tractor when an anti-vehicle mine exploded and left me half dead with a lost leg and a broken arm," he said. This accident made Bakkar the only person with a disability in his village in Northern Shouna.
"I wanted to become a pilot; my aspirations and plans have changed since the accident. The explosion defeated my dream, but did not defeat my inner self. I insisted on pursuing my higher education," he told Living Well.
Bakkar obtained a high school degree (Tawjihi) after which he got a job in the Ministry of Post and Communications. "Through my work in the ministry, I received a scholarship from the Arab League to study Post Sciences at Damascus University in Syria. I got married and I have nine children, all of whom have university degrees," he said. He added that he also works in the wood business, which has enabled him to buy three houses and 90 dunums of agricultural land.
"I was good at sports and won the Jordanian golden swimming medal and the Pan-Arab silver medal in 2000," he said. "This accident made me realize that life does not stop at losing a limb. It made me stronger and more adamant to realize my dreams," he said. "Had I not lost a limb, maybe I would not have achieved what I have achieved now," he proudly stated.

The cleaner option

By Oula Al Farawati
Egyptian gas started late to flow in pipes stretching from southern to northern Jordan to provide much needed clean gas to power plants in the north, marking a new era during which Jordan will gradually move to the use of natural gas instead of other oil derivatives.

This is the second leg of the Arab Pipeline Project which includes laying pipelines from Al Arish in Egypt to the Turkish borders to supply Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and then Turkey and Iraq with relatively cheap gas from Egypt, which enjoys potential natural gas reserves of 70 trillion cubic feet. This project will make it one of the world's top 10 natural gas exporters in the next two years.

According to Director of the Natural Gas Department at the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources Marwan Al Baka’in, the project will raise the efficiency of the two major power plants in the north Al Rihab and Samra by 50%.

“With the completion of the project inside Jordan, we will start on gradually building the networks which will relay cheaper and environment-friendly natural gas to factories, houses and vehicles,” said Mr. Baka’in.

Egyptian natural gas is already flowing to Jordan through an underwater pipeline to Aqaba. Under the Arab Gas Pipeline Project signed in 2001, Egypt is to supply Jordan, Syria and Lebanon with natural gas for 30 years. The entire pipeline is projected to cost some $1billion.

Mr. Baka’in will not disclose the potential savings of the project on the national economy.

“This information cannot be revealed, but everyone knows for sure that the potential savings are huge and this was the main motive behind the project,” he said.

However, the ministry’s Secretary General Khaldoun Qteishat had told JBM in a recent interview that if a plan to switch most major industries to the use of natural gas succeeds, it could cut the Jordanian oil bill by up to 50%.

The project comes as the government is gradually lifting its long-time subsidies on oil derivatives, pushed by the escalating oil prices and the loss of the Iraqi oil grant due to the war on Iraq.

The first and second stages of the project were carried out on a (build, own, operate and transfer) BOOT basis by the Jordanian Egyptian Fajr for Natural Gas Transmission and Supply, which was established by an Egyptian consortium.

According to the official, the government signed an agreement with the Egyptian side in April 2005, which allocated (1) bcm of gas to be used by industrial customers.

“The pipeline is anticipated to supply gas to most of large industrial customers during the second half of 2006. We have already talked to industries and sent them the draft industrial gas sales agreement for review,” Baka’in said.

He added that the Jordan Cement Factories Company Ltd. Plant in Rashadeyya, the Arab Potash Company, the Jordan Phosphate Mines Company, and some industrial cities have already agreed to convert their machines to operate using natural gas, expecting more private sector companies to follow suit.

“We hope that industries consider the use of natural gas very seriously… The investment that companies will put into converting their operation will be covered in one year because natural gas is much cheaper than fuel oil and gas oil,” Mr. Baka’in told JBM in an interview.

Mr. Baka’in revealed that financial consultant Charles River& Associates International has completed a study on the establishment of a gas pipeline network to be laid in Amman and Zarqa to provide natural gas to households and vehicles and expected the project to start by the end of 2006 and cost more than $200 million.

He also said that a joint venture agreement by Fajr and the Aqaba Development Company has been signed to establish a compressed natural gas station and a workshop for converting cars from the use of gasoline to the use of natural gas.

“It costs something like $1000 to convert one car… the use of natural gas will be more economical for taxi drivers who will be able to cover the cost of the conversion in less than one year,” he said.

Powering Up

To meet demand growth, Jordan will to require 100-150 megawatt annually. But how is Jordan managing it terms of electrification today Oula Al Farawati met with General Manager of the National Electric Power Company (NEPCO) for an overview of the power sector.

Ahmad Hiyasat of NEPCO has many reasons to feel proud. He says the country has reached 100% electricity coverage for populated areas, enjoys the minimum interruption rate and more importantly has managed to keep the prices of electricity stable despite a surge in fuel prices locally and internationally.

Thanks to a policy that depends on using alternative power resources such as natural gas, a system of importing electricity when buying it becomes more feasible and a continuously improving distribution grid, Dr. Hiyasat says Jordanians enjoy what many in industrialized countries don’t.

Dr. Hiyasat says that while fuel prices in Jordan are affected by international oil prices but explains that the effect is not linear. The fact that Jordan has moved from a total dependence on heavy fuel and diesel to generate electricity to using natural gas has helped stabilize the prices and ensure "cleaner" power generation.

"Now, only 20% of our power generators use heavy fuel or diesel. The other generators in Aqaba Thermal Power station (which generates 40% of Jordan's needs) plus Rihab and Samra plants use Egyptian natural gas. So together they make some 75% of our needs. The good news is that the increase in fuel prices will slightly affect electricity generation," Dr. Hiyasat told Jordan Business..

"We buy 7-10% from Syria and Egypt and the price of electricity in this case is calculated according to international oil price, but also not in a linear way and that is what is helping us keep the prices at reasonable rates," he notes.

The electricity sector in Jordan ranks first in primary energy consumption. Its consumption share stood at 34.1% of the total energy consumption in 2005.
The story of power generation in Jordan dates back to 1938, when a group of entrepreneurs established a small company to provide electrical energy to Amman. This company was converted in 1947 into a shareholding company called the Jordan power electricity company (JEPCO) and was granted a concession to generate and distribute electrical energy in Amman and its suburbs. JEPCO's concession was renewed in 1962 for fifty years and was extended to cover four governorates in the central part of Jordan including Amman. JEPCO is a private share-holding company with 57% of the shares held by private individuals. It supplies electricity to about 64% of the total electricity consumers. It buys all its bulk power from NEPCO (former JEA). In 1961, another privately owned electrical power company called Irbid District Electricity Company (IDECO) was established to generate and distribute electrical energy in the northern part of the country. IDECO is a share-holding company with 85% of the shares held by NEPCO and some municipalities. It supplies electricity to about 23% of consumers. In the southern part of the country, electrical energy was provided by several municipalities through small unreliable diesel engines.
In 1967, the government established the Jordan Electricity Authority to be responsible for electricity generation and distribution in areas not covered by the private distribution companies. In September 1996, JEA was converted to a public shareholding company wholly owned by the government called NEPCO.

Natural gas
With the completion of phase two of the pan-Arab Gas Pipeline Project, CEJCO decided to switch to natural gas instead of heavy fuel to fire its power generators. The use of natural gas, according to officials, has raised the efficiency of the two major power plants in the north Rihab and Samra by 50%. The Aqaba Thermal Power Station started operating using natural gas two years ago, when the first phase of the project was completed. According to the project conditions, Egypt will supply Jordan with natural gas at preferential prices for 15 years. (The price does not go above a ceiling no matter how much the price of natural gas rises internationally).

NEPCO also recently renewed a power purchasing agreement with Egypt that gave the company price cuts and an obligation to supply the Kingdom with electricity whenever needed. According to Dr. Hiyasat, the cost of importing power from Egypt can sometimes be cheaper than firing some of the turbines on diesel oil.

Dr. Hiyasat said the Egyptians have lowered their margin from 5% last year to 3% this year while another margin on the price of electricity during the morning and night tariff has also been cut.

Private sector power
Dr. Hiyasat said the year 2007 will witness Jordan's first privately owned power generating plant: "The policy of the government is that any new [power] generation should be carried out by private investment […] the electricity Regulatory Commission is considering the offers to choose the first independent power producer (IPP) to be operational by the year 2007," he said.

Industry sources said the government last month started negotiating with front-runner Mitsui AES, a Japanese American group, to build the country’s first power plant.

Dow-Jones Wire quoted a Mitsui spokesman as saying that the power plant will cost $280 million. He said that the 400,000-kilowatt power plant, to be constructed near Amman, will run on natural gas supplied via the Pan-Arab Gas Pipeline.

The two companies expect the power plant to start operation in June 2008 and supply electricity to Jordan state-run NEPCO for 25 years, he added.

AES will have a 60% stake in the project, with Mitsui holding the remaining 40% stake. Loans from the U.S. and Japanese state-backed financial institutions, as well as Japan's Sumitomo Mitsui Banking, will finance 75% of the project, the spokesman said. The World Bank will back Sumitomo Mitsui's loan.

"The need for private sector investment in this sector is a result of the increased need for electricity for domestic and industrial use... Our need for electricity grows by 100-150 megawatts every year. Also, recently the increase in our need for electricity has grown from 7% annually to 10%," he added.

He attributes the increase in consumption to economic growth and therise in standards of living.

"We have more and more factories and more tourism... Add to that that many people have increased their electrification... people are buying more and more electrical appliances. In order to meet this increase we have to plan more power generation [...] and networks in order to guarantee the quality of services," he said.

The demand for electricity has continued to rise. In 2005 the total peak load was 1751 megawatts compared 1555 megawatts in 2004, an average increase of 12.6%.

Dr. Hiyasat explained that Jordan has a unified power system meaning that any new company will not supply power to people directly but rather contribute to this system.

"According to the electricity law, NEPCO is the single buyer... NEPCO is the only party authorized to buy electricity from all available sources and sell it to large consumers who are the three distribution companies plus big industries including the cement, potash, and phosphate factories," he said.

The prices from the IPP should be reasonable and compatible with what is available here. This will be our first experience… We will see how things go."

As for how the future looks like for the power sector, demand will continue to rise, according to Hiyasat. The sector has not been able to export outside Jordan.