The Valley of Dana

Not all that glitters is copper

It seems Jordan wants to enter a new Bronze Age.

The government has instructed the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources to change the borders of Dana’s Natural Biosphere reserve in order to start mining for copper.

Of course the head of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), ex-Minister Khaled Irani jumped to denounce the government’s move:

According the Ministry, Jordan is sitting on around 52.8 million tons1 of copper.

Based on today’s commodity prices2, the estimated value of the total copper reserve is: $9,410 x 52.8 x 10^6 = $495 billion.

This is 10 times Jordan’s GDP.

The question becomes: Why is this issue being brought up today? Why haven’t they mined this copper before?

Thinking Ahead

Copper was known to be found and mined in the Wadi Araba region for thousands of years (from the time of King Solomon3 to the Romans). Yet when it comes to the issue of mining copper today, the country is facing a lot of resistance from mostly environmental groups.

A lot has been said about the environmental impact should the government actually decide to go ahead with the project (endangering wild habitats, fauna and flora and rare bird species). But the government is adamant and insists the project will create 3,500 jobs (when looked at in more details, it’s more like 1,000 direct jobs and 2,500 indirect jobs).

What is not being considered is the water cost.

2 weeks after the project’s announcement, Al Ghad newspaper looked into the water issue of mining copper

Source: AlGhad

So should the government go ahead with the project, the mining facility would need between 11-25 million cubic meters of water for every 50,000 tons of copper extracted. Assuming the project intends to mine 2 million tons per year, this means the project alone would need between 440 and 1000 million cubic meters, doubling or tripling Jordan’s water deficit.

This is funny when the government considers how a village, 4 km away from Dana itself, hasn’t had access to water for quite some time.

Out of Left Field Solution

Edward de Bono, the pioneer inventor of “lateral thinking”, came up with an interesting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: feed them Marmite.4

Using this method, maybe a third solution can be found for the Dana copper debacle.

On one side, jobs need to be created (Mankind first). On the other hand, the birds and the bees need to be protected (Mother Nature first).

A solution would be something similar done to preserve rainforests around the world: through an initiative of crowd funding, the RSCN can raise funds to ensure that Dana is protected. If the government wants to lay its hands on Dana, the RSCN can ask Jordanians and foreigners to “purchase” the plot of land.

Doing quick maths: the government wants 100 km2 of Dana to ensure 3500 jobs are created for an estimated period of 25 years. Assuming an average salary of 200 JODs (not including inflation, taxes or anything else), this means a total income of 3500 x 200 x 25 = 17,500,000 JODs.

This means that the 100 km2 plot can be sold for 0.2 JOD/m2 (100km2=100 million m2).

Both parties are happy: Nature is saved and some people get some income. Let the fund raising begin.

(Side note: I hope this does not become a way for the government to then take hostage other nature reserves and forests in the country to get extra income)

Further reading

The timing of this whole debacle is really strange. And most experts, on both sides of the argument want a detailed feasibility study.

For further reading into this topic, I would suggest

  1. Dr. Jawad Anani’s article in al-Rai where he goes through the various environmental disaster projects in Jordan in the past 50 years such as the Fuheis cement plant and the Zarqa Lead battery plant.

  2. Dr. Yusuf Mansur’s blog looking at the feasibility of the project.