Fire rips through Lebanon’s remaining forests amid governmental inaction  

We’ve all heard the environmental concerns related to the deforestation of the Adonis valley. We’ve heard the outcries of politicians and non-politicians alike regarding the building of the controversial Jannah dam. But as fires continue to rip through thousands of the country’s remaining trees, we see or hear of no national strategy to combat these environmental atrocities, at least not at the level of efficient implementation.

Sunday saw one of the year’s largest fires to tear through swathes of trees in the woodlands of Mount Lebanon’s Jietta -and the season has only just begun. Civil Defense trucks, military choppers, and security forces struggled to put out the blaze amid much difficulty. By night time it was reported that the fire was seemingly under control.  But today with the rise in temperatures, the fire re-erupted, threatening to finish off tens of thousands of square meters of one of Lebanon’s most unique ecosystems.

Fire re-erupts in Jietta, Mount Lebanon | Source: LBCI
Fire re-erupts in Jietta, Mount Lebanon | Source: LBCI

High speed winds are helping the fire spread in all directions, which complicates efforts to extinguish the blaze. Lebanon’s firefighting units are ill equipped and have yet to implement efficient strategies and techniques to better tackle such threats.

Jietta is only one of the many effected areas. In the past few days Akkar’s Mash’ha, south Lebanon’s Wazzani, the Bekaa’s Qab Elias, and Kesserwan’s Tabarja were also at the receiving end of the Lebanese government’s lack of sufficient policies when it comes to tackling forest fires.

Source: TheDailyStar/HassanShaaban
Source: TheDailyStar/HassanShaaban

Weather forecasts for the coming days and weeks predict a drastic rise in temperatures. This will bring warm winds that will worsen the situation if fires continue to erupt haphazardly. By mid century, temperatures in the Middle East will climb high enough to render the region uninhabitable, a recent study published by the Institute for Chemistry and the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia found. Our only hope lies in preserving what little remains of our forests, and therein lies the tragedy.

Lebanon’s green spaces have decreased dramatically in the past decades. In 1965, 35% of Lebanon was covered by forests; this number has dropped to 13% today, mostly due to forest fires and frenetic building. In April, Lebanon signed the climate change agreement in New York with a promise to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% conditional to the provisions of international support and by as much as 15% unconditionally, both by 2030. This promise is already on the path to being broken, much like its predecessors that include the National Strategy for Forest Fire Management.

Source: TheDailyStar/HassanShaaban
Source: TheDailyStar/HassanShaaban

In 2007 the country witnessed one of the fiercest forest fires, which wiped out approximately 4000 hectares of forest. Since then the government superficially endorsed a National Strategy composed of five main key points to reduce fires: research, prevention, readiness, response and recovery. No part of the plan has been implemented yet, which leaves little hope amid the continuing deadlock and mounting environmental problems, that include but are not limited to the garbage crisis, deforestation, and water mismanagement.

Lebanon without its forests will surely turn into a desert and today’s policy makers will go down in history for lacking vision, strategy and the will to do anything about it. In the meantime all readers are encouraged to do their part in preventing the spread of fires.

Here’s what you can do:

-Campers and picnic lovers must put out all camp fires or barbecues prior to leaving any outdoor location. All trash, especially glass bottles, must be removed as well.

-If you see a small fire starting at the edge of a road, stop and dump sand or soil on the flames. This will deprive the fire from oxygen and give you time to alert civil defense units. Car mats, green branches, and extinguishers (if available) are also good options for motorists who happen to catch a small fire as it starts.

-Citizens are encouraged not to use fireworks or any other flammable substances during the warm seasons. If your home happens to be within a relative distance from any woodlands, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is safe to use such material.

-Landowners and farmers are also encouraged to clear their lands of dry wood and shrubbery within a 500 meters radius. This will help limit the spread of fires in the case that they happen.

-Lebanese law forbids the burning of shrubs, grass, straw and other plants between July 1 to Oct. 13 except with a permit from the Forestry Department. If you see anything suspicious, call and report.

-Remember, putting out a fire within the first 20 minutes greatly decreases its chances of reigniting and spreading.

Useful numbers:

Civil Defense: 125

Fire Department: 175

Ministry of Environment: 01/976555

Association for Forests, Development & Conservation [AFDC]: 03/ 84 84 12

About 
Nadine Mazloum is an Australian born, Beirut bred multimedia journalist, editor, and blogger. She most recently worked as StepFeed's Senior Editor. Before that, she was the news editor and resident blogger for the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International [LBCI] and has held several positions with well-known media outlets both locally and internationally. Her work appears online both on LBCI and on her personal blog, NewsroomNomad©.

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