Residents in Bani Kinanah Abandon Their Homes Due to Sewage Dumping
Umm Hussam Abandah lived in the village of Samar in Bani Kinanah district, northwest of Irbid for twenty years, but she had to leave her home behind as she could not stand the unpleasant odours, insects and rodents due to the permanent overflow of wastewater dumped illegally in the valley near her house.
Sewage networks are still not available in the area, and its 153,000 residents depend on septic tanks as conduit for their domestic waste water.
In the absence of a sewage system, residents have to pay 55-60 Jordanian Dinars ($78-85) each time to empty their septic tanks. The Tankers later dispose their loads off at Al-Akaider landfill in Ramtha, designated to serve the four northern governorates.
A number of waste disposal tankers do not adhere to the procedures and circumvent the approved electronic system that tracks each tanker in the Kingdom, to dump the wastewater in the valleys instead of making the journey to the landfill site, even though they usually get paid for the service. The result of their action led Umm Hussam to leave her home.
Umm Suhaib from the village of Abu Al-Luqas shares the same problem, since tanker drivers have turned the valley that is around 100-120 metres from her neighbourhood into a wastewater dumping site. Umm Suhaib claims that their action has even polluted the spring water of the area.
Her neighbours she recalls have filed a complaint against the owner of the tanker who has been apprehended, but not deterred it seems, as he continued to empty his truck load in olive trees orchards in the valley.
Ahmad Al-Shraydah, a Geologist and environmental expert explains that dumping wastewater in agricultural lands and valleys kills the soil because of the toxic substances it carries, including minerals and metals. He pointed out that “the infiltration of these elements through the earth’s layers raises the earth’s temperature and the soil’s alkalinity and acidity, thus leading to its desertification.”
Al-Shraydah also warns that this helps spread unpleasant odours, insects, pests, germs, viruses and bacteria.
But why is it that tanker owners resist to offload their trucks at Al-Akaider dumping site? One of them replied, “To be honest, tanker owners resort to sneaking through a load here and there in the valleys as it is cost-efficient for them. I swear fifty Dinars are not sufficient pay for the task!”
The distance from the village of Samar Al-Kfarat to Al-Akaider landfill is 44.7 kilometres, and it is a sixty minutes round trip. The diesel costs about twenty-five Dinars, and there is a monthly twenty-Dinar fee for unloading the waste in the dumping site.
Muntasir Al-Momani, the General Manager of the Yarmouk Water Company, said that a second unloading site exist in the village of North Shouneh as an alternative, and is closer to Bani Kinanah.
Absence of real deterrents encourage abuse
Bani Kinanah district assistant governor Omar Al-Qudah, has received many complaints, and he says that “We followed up on the complaints and referred them to court. We punish the offenders with bails and fines, but they repeat their offenses.” According to Al-Qudah, most of these offending tankers are “unlicensed vehicles and do not have number plates on them.” What complicate matters more is that tankers empty their loads in agricultural or open areas close to residential neighbourhood at night.
In 2017, the Jordanian Ministry of the Environment launched an electronic tracking system to monitor the 700 wastewater, disposed oil and hazardous material transport vehicles to oversee their locations and the dumping sites they visit. Installing this system is a condition to registering the vehicle or renewing its license.
Al-Qudah says that some tanker owners managed to circumvent the system; “they removed the tracking device from their vehicles and installed it in other vehicles, so that the signal shows that they have been parked.” Al-Qudah adds that it is a small group of drivers, but the impact of their action on the environment is immense.
Al-Qudah recalled an incident in last April whereby a clean water network was contaminated with wastewater in Al-Mukhaibah area in Al-Himmah Al-Ordonyah area. Citizens there are still deprived of clean water, and they have been relying on water supplied by tankers until the network undergoes necessary maintenance.
Al-Qudah says that a comprehensive study of all areas of the district has been completed and has recommended that the area needs more than one water purification plant due to the many mountains and valleys there, but the high cost of the project led to its postponement until support from donor countries could be secured.
According to the member of the Irbid Decentralization Council, Eman Al-Zoubi, five German companies were about to fund the construction of an unloading and purification plant in the Bani Kinanah District in 2018, but the Coronavirus pandemic that hit the world at the beginning of 2020 stopped the project short. The amounts allocated to the plant construction were re-directed to the Global Health Project.
Al-Zoubi sees positive signs that the plant project may be revived as Jordan has hosted German donors to discuss ways to support the project.
The Secretary-General of the Ministry of Planning Marwan Al-Rifai says that the government entity that sets priorities in the water and sanitation sector in Jordan is the Ministry of Water and Irrigation based on available funding.
Fawzi Al-Akour is the director of the of Environmental Protection Directorate in the governorate of Irbid, denies that tanker owners have been committing violations recently thanks to the electronic tracking system that ensures that a tanker’s load is dumped at the designated station. He adds, “should we detect a violation, the tanker number and its owner would be reported to the administrative governor who would take legal and administrative action against the offending party.”
Al-Akour admitted later though that “In the evening hours sometimes, tanker owners override regulations and dump the wastewater in the valleys and plains, and we usually report the matter to the Royal Department for the Environment and Tourism Protection asking them to increase their night time monitoring of the most common spots. In turn, this entity reports the violators to the administrative governor.”
In response to accusations that the tracking system has not been taken seriously, Al-Akour insists that it “tracks the movement of licensed tankers routinely and monitor their locations. even without receiving complaints on them by entering the tanker number on the system to see their movements. This has resulted in raising awareness among tanker owners who cooperate with the concerned authorities to rectify the defect in the tracking system if that should happen.”
Citizens don’t complain
The head of the Arab Federation for Sustainable Development and the Environment Yousif Al-Obeidat believes that the citizens of Bani Kinanah “have stopped complaining” because it is pointless, and he adds that successive governments hardly know where Bani Kinanah is located in the first place.
He called on the residents to address the Royal Court to demand a solution, given that no governmental or private entity has shown any genuine interest to resolve this matter.
The head of the governorate council Khaldoun Bani Hani says that so far, the Decentralization Council members have not dealt with Bani Kinanah district issue. The council’s financial allocations amount to 15% of the state budget, and this is not enough to provide a sewage network for one village. Estimates are that the cost of the entire project is no less than 100 million Jordanian Dinars ($141 million).
The violating tanker owners are known to the authorities, and most are based in known districts. Bani Hani says that work is under way to track them down and take legal action against them, highlighting the will of the council to establish a committee to address all problems and develop necessary solutions.
The citizens of Bani Kinanah are waiting as a solution is maybe unlikely in the foreseeable future. Until such time Irbid’s most important agricultural district continue to deteriorate rendering it uninhabitable or suitable for agriculture and even a health hazard.