November 12, 2017

Questions on funding haunt Jordan’s ‘smart’ city plans

Congested city. A view of downtown Amman. (Reuters)

London - Jordan plans to build a city east of Amman to ease pop­ulation density and traffic congestion but some Jordani­ans are asking how the cash-strapped country would fund the project.

The plan to build the city 30km from Amman is part of a drive to stimulate the Jordanian economy and attract long-term investment, the government said.

Touted as “environmentally friendly, sustainable and smart,” the new city would be built on a major highway that links Jordan to Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The cost of the project has not been announced.

The project was aimed at finding “drastic solutions to rising popula­tion density and traffic congestion” in Amman and the north-eastern city of Zarqa, said the statement carried by the official Petra news agency.

Amman is home to 4 million peo­ple and 1.3 million live in Zarqa. The statement said their combined populations are predicted to reach 10 million by 2050.

The project would “invest in clean and renewable sources of en­ergy and water treatment” as well as provide affordable housing, the statement said. It would be built in five phases with the first completed by 2030 and the last in 2050 when the city is expected to cover 390 sq.km.

“State institutions and minis­tries will be moved to the new city throughout the project’s various stages,” it added.

“Part of the housing lands will be granted to cooperative societies of public employees, professional associations and military retirees’ corporation to help support middle-class citizens and their capability to own houses,” the Jordan Times re­ported.

Jordanian officials said they hoped the project would attract pri­vate and foreign investors.

“The venture will be fully fi­nanced and implemented in co­operation between the public and private sectors. Developers from the private sector will rehabilitate the location and lay infrastructures under a build-operate-transfer for­mula with financing secured from local, regional and international fi­nancial companies and banks,” the Jordan Times said.

Jordan is devoid of natural re­sources and has been severely af­fected by wars in its neighbours Syria and Iraq with refugees from both countries seeking haven in Jor­dan.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said Jordan hosts more than 650,000 refugees from Syria; the kingdom puts the number of Syrian refugees at 1.4 million. UNHCR said more than 80% of those refugees live below the poverty line.

Poverty, however, is not exclusive to refugees in the country and some Jordanians said they are worried that funds going to the new city pro­ject might be redirected from more urgent needs for the poor.

“A controversy has hit the Jorda­nian streets [on whether the new city is going to be the new capital] in the past two days, especially amid questions on the sources that will fund a project like this and its impact on the state’s treasury,” re­ported Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.

It has become clear that Amman will remain the capital but concerns over funding remain, especially considering that the government is looking to cut bread subsidies to satisfy conditions of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“This government decision could ignite popular protests and a revo­lution of the hungry,” trade union activist Mohammed al-Snaid told the website Al-Monitor.

“The citizens’ economic and liv­ing conditions are going from bad to worse because of economically fruitless government policies that increase the burdens on the broad­est and poorest class. The govern­ment ought to address the causes of indebtedness and not hold the soci­ety liable for its debts,” he added.

18