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Cleaning up

Jan 22,2014 - Last updated at Jan 22,2014

Cleanliness is close to godliness. Godliness is probably little more than a distant aspiration for most of us. But cleanliness is easy, on a personal level and in our communities.

Keeping our neighbourhoods clean is good for everyone. It is good for our souls because it increases our feeling of dignity. It is good for our bodies because dirt is a threat to our health. And it is good for our pockets because cleaning up rubbish abandoned on the street costs money.

It is also good for the economy because tourists will not have a good impression of a country that doesn’t look after its environment.

If beautiful sites and ruins are littered with plastic bags, tourists might not recommend the place to their friends.

For all these reasons, the recent launch of a project to clean up Amman is welcome.

It is run by a group of Jordanian activists including Mohammad Asfour of the Jordan Green Building Council, Luma Qadoumi of BeAmman.com and others. The initiative runs under the name “Ahel al balad” — People of the country — underlining the essential point that citizens are participants in the well-being of their city and their country.

The campaign involves publicity, posters and other activities highlighting the importance of cleaning up the city.

The big orange posters underline the core message that the city will become clean through the actions of its own people. The city depends on its people as much as the people depend on the city.

The central message is one of individual responsibility. We all have a role in keeping our city, our neighbourhood and our street clean.

Leaving rubbish on vacant plots is unacceptable. So is throwing litter or cigarette butts from the window of a car. Or leaving the remains of a picnic behind in the countryside.

We can make a difference by taking our rubbish home.

Of course, raising awareness of citizens’ roles isn’t enough. Countries and cities need laws, and those laws need to be enforced with sanctions and fines.

Cities also need infrastructure: the bins and the equipment and personnel to empty them on a regular basis.

The British embassy is supporting this initiative with a small amount of money. Some people questioned why the project needs outside support, since this is a Jordanian project, designed and run by Jordanians for Jordanians.

The mayor of Amman, Akel Biltaji, is right behind it and actively promoting it.

There are already a number of private sector donors and hopefully more will contribute when they see the social value of this work.

A campaign like this should not be restricted to the issue of litter in Amman.

If this pilot project works, it should be extended outside the capital so that the governorates can benefit from the initiative.

It should also be extended to wider environmental issues, where citizens can be made more aware of how they benefit from protecting nature, for example promoting clean air and water, planting trees and preventing fires.

These issues are not unique to Jordan. London, too, has a problem with litter.

In Europe, the drive to reduce pollution and protect the environment has spawned civil society and even political parties to advocate change through mobilising public opinion and forcing these issues onto the political agenda.

These issues are now part of the international agenda because the air we breathe and the water we drink crosses borders. What one country does will affect others.

But at the end of the day, change depends on all of us.

If we want to achieve cleanliness — let alone godliness — the onus is on every one of us. Because the cleanliness of your country starts with you.

The writer is British ambassador to Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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