On September 27th, Jordan reopened roadways with Syria which had been closed for nearly a month due to coronavirus. The route had initially closed in mid-August once a spike among border officials was identified and linked back to several cases in Syria. To let the route reopen, several new policies were created in the hope of preventing truck drivers from bringing the virus into the country. Among these new policies is a 24-hour curfew in Sweimah, the Balqa Governorate of Al-Rawda, Ghor Al-Safi, and the Karak Governorate in Ghor Al-Mazra’a. Residents have also been instructed to travel by foot rather than by vehicle. Jordan hopes that following these policies will see a decrease in the number of virus cases in the area.
The Nasib-Jaber roadway is one of several reopened roadways connecting Syria to Jordan, transporting a large amount of goods from Europe and Turkey each year. Much of the surrounding area relies on these routes for their livelihoods, including members of the Jordanian Truck Owners’ Association, which represents over 17,000 trucks serving millions of people. Mohammad Al Daoud, the Association president, told Reuters that the closure cost them “millions of dollars in losses.” And it could happen again. The new border policies require drivers entering the country for trade purposes to maintain social distancing to protect Jordanian customs officials. If virus cases among customs officials spike again, another closure is likely to occur. This would be catastrophic.
Closed roadways do not just affect Jordan. While Nasib-Jaber was closed, Syria’s only remaining border crossing was with Lebanon – a state with no other border crossings. This arrangement was especially harmful to Lebanon. Ibrahim Al-Tarshini, head of the Lebanese Farmers’ Association, calls Nasib-Jaber an “economic lifeline” for “all” of Lebanon’s land exports. Besides Syria, the only other state Lebanon shares a border with is Israel. Lebanon has no ties with Israel, and thus, no options for trade. With the border crossing closed, no other viable land borders to trade with, and coronavirus-related travel restrictions elsewhere, Lebanon was left with no other options for exports, meaning that a huge portion of the state’s income was suddenly gone. The country’s markets were already suffering due to the international effects of COVID-19. Nasib-Jaber’s closing was a debilitating blow.
This is not the first time the closed Nasib-Jaber has caused economic difficulty. In April 2015, the Battle of the Nasib Border Crossing resulted in the Free Syrian Army and the Nusra Front capturing the border crossing. At the time, Nasib-Jaber was the only functioning border crossing between Jordan and Syria. The situation’s impact was widespread. Many Syrian, Lebanese, and Jordanian traders and merchants were out of work, and Syria’s government was unable to properly operate trade. The crossing was closed for a little over three years before the Syrian army regained control and reopened it in July 2018. Many are afraid that the coronavirus border closure may create similar economic hardship. Though the border is currently open, a rise in cases has the potential to induce another shutdown.
Coronavirus aside, the August border closure is a grim reminder of how much depends on Nasib-Jaber. So many people in so many different areas rely on this border to ensure that their people and economy can flourish. Each state may maintain its own policies, restrictions, and viewpoints for handling the coronavirus, but the area is interconnected in a way that simply cannot be ignored. Many areas have imposed virus restrictions on relationships between states that are oceans away, but this means that many states must now rely on those around them for necessary goods. In this way, closure of trade routes such as the Nasib-Jaber border crossing restricts countries further in what is already a much smaller trade market.
The coronavirus has had an impossibly long list of effects on countries worldwide, but for Jordan, it has made an already complicated topic more complicated still. So many states, organizations, and people rely on this specific route to receive the goods needed to live their lives, and the coronavirus-fueled closure has raised many questions about how trade will be handled in the midst of a pandemic. Regardless of how similar issues are handled from this point on, it is becoming clearer by the day that countries will need to work with one another to create productive and safe solutions that will benefit all involved.
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