National forest agency key in handling fire risk

National forestagency key in handling fire risk 

30 October 2007

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Beirut, Lebanon — Thecreation of a national agency to improve forest management is vital for betterhandling of the devastating wildfires that regularly strike Lebanon, the head ofthe Association for Forest Development and Conservation said Monday. In aninterview with The DailyStar, Mounir Bou Ghanem said awareness, prevention andintervention have to be top priorities in order to safeguard the forests thatremain.

Forest Fires 2 and 23 October 2007.

“Reforesting is not a priority,” he said, arguing that if the necessary forest management procedures are not taken, reforestation would be a waste of time. “Don’t get me wrong” he said. “I like planting trees. But in October we lost five times the number of trees we replanted over the last 17 years since the end of the Civil War.”

A plan to control the impact of forest fires is being drawn up by a committee made up of representatives from the Environment, Agriculture, Interior and Defense ministries as well as a number of civil society organs, including Bou Ghanem’s association. Offers of technical assistance have been received by the government from France and Greece. The committee last Friday launched an awareness campaign to educate the public on the dangers from wild fires.

“Our focus will be on prevention, intervention and restoration,” Bou Ghanem said, pointing to three key parameters in proper forest management. “We need better preparedness, starting with awareness, the provision of equipment, training and capacity building as well as better communication.”

Bou Ghanem said any village with forestry resources needs to be prepared as any one of them can face the same environmental catastrophe as Deir al-Qamar, a village in the Chouf where wild fires in the first week of October destroyed cars and damaged several homes.

“The causes of fires are still there.While the cause is not criminal, it is illegal and stems from human negligenceadded to which [is] the accumulation of bio-mass on the land,” Bou Ghanemsaid. He explained that most fires start as a result of people trying to toclear land, adding that he doubted any of the recent fires were deliberately setfor political effect.

Bou Ghanem said a map of the countryprepared by his association three years ago shows the areas of the country atrisk from fires. “The areas where the fires broke out in the last monthmatch exactly with the areas marked as being at risk of fire on this map,”he added, pointing to tangible evidence that the fires were neither haphazardnor deliberate, but followed a predictable pattern and could have been mitigated.

He said that on the national level theministries concerned could take individual steps to help improve fire management,including increasing the number of forest rangers and supplying them with smallfire trucks.

“The CivilDefense should change the specifications for their fire trucks, get smaller,more nimble vehicles to negotiate narrow roads. We need a mechanism to deliverfinancial and moral incentives so fire fighters and volunteers do their jobs ina better way and increase their numbers,” he added.

Bou Ghanem said aircraft speciallydesigned to combat forest fires, while useful, require training to operate them,and stressed the need for better funding. He added that firefightingprofessionals across ministries and agencies concerned, from forest rangers toCivil Defense personnel, need to be grouped under one umbrella group.

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