BEIRUT: Under the title “Every Tree Has A Story to Tell,” the Association for Forests, Development and Conservation (AFDC) held a closing ceremony to highlight the main accomplishments of the “Restoration and Conservation of Sensitive Forest Areas in South Lebanon” project which it implemented in collaboration with WWF Italy and with the financial support of the ROSS Emergency Program of the Italian Cooperation. The ceremony was held on Friday at Le Meridien Hotel in Hamra.
Sawsan Bou Fakhreddine, the general director of AFDC, opened the ceremony and stressed the importance of the project in providing baseline information that would serve as a reference for the evaluation and monitoring of the general status of Lebanese forests.
“Here, it is quite important to stress that the best way to fight forest fires is through their prevention,” Fakhreddine said, adding that efforts ought to be doubled on all levels, “especially since the forest fire season for this year is around the corner and preparations for firefighting on the national and local level are still under preparation.”
WWF Italy representative Ennio Merlini said the major threats for forest fires are human activities.
“Of course this is the basic finding everywhere in the world and it doesn’t sound strange considering that human communities have always interacted with natural resources for their livelihood,” he said.
“It is worth considering, given this easy conclusion, that human activities and behavior should become the most effective allies for forests and nature conservation,” Merlini added.
Environment Ministry Director General Berje Hadchjian also attended the event.
The results of the project that started in 2007 were shown in a filmed presentation. The nine villages that benefited directly from the project are Aramta, Rihan, Aytouleh, Aishiyeh, Hibarieh, Rashaya al-Fokhar, Kfarshouba, Laouzieh and Fardis, all located in the South.
The presentation included the project’s main achievements, including the restoration of 50 hectares of land bearing olive and pine trees as well as other fruit trees in five villages in the Arqoub and four villages in Jezzine.
Moreover, AFDC held a series of training workshops that included more than 225 participants, including forest-fire guards, Civil Defense personnel and AFDC volunteers. The training workshops focused on forest-fire fighting techniques and management and included practical simulations.
The AFDC also conducted capacity-building workshops on GPS/GIS technologies for early detection and intervention in forest fire fighting.
In parallel to the above actions AFDC purchased equipment for early intervention in forest fire fighting which included two brand-new four-wheel-drive fire trucks fully equipped with the best equipment for fighting forest fires. The trucks will be presented to Rihan and Kfarshouba villages and will serve the entire region.
The equipment also included 60 GPS units and 30 computers that will be used by the forest guards to produce accurate maps of the forests that will be updated periodically and used for early detection and intervention in forest fire fighting.
The AFDC also purchased and allocated 120 fire-fighting uniforms and manual tool kits to the concerned units for intervention on forest fires.
Another important achievement was the signing of a memorandum of agreement with the agriculture and interior ministries to improve coordination and cooperation with Forest Guards and Civil Defense in preventing and fighting forest fires.
Within the framework of the project, the AFDC also developed and published the “State of the Lebanese Forests (2007)” report which was also funded by the Italian Cooperation ROSS program in partnership with WWF Italy, The report was reviewed and sponsored by IUCN, UNDP, and Hanns Seidel Foundation, Grey Worldwide advertising agency and Voyager paper.
The report offers a comprehensive perspective on the local forestry sector, including its environmental, economic, socio-cultural and religious aspects. Volunteer students from several Lebanese universities were involved in collecting substantial relevant data.
The report synthesizes the most current available information and includes an analytical section comprising up-to-date analyses and interpretations of recently acquired data from satellite images. The report comprises the National Fire Risk Map 2007, forest fires of October 2007 map, and burned area mapping 2006-07.
The recommendations of this study focus on inter-governmental coordination to develop a draft mechanism for the immediate establishment of the National Forest Authority that will monitor and maintain forests in Lebanon.
AFDC trusts that readers of various backgrounds will find the report stimulating, informative as well as user friendly, and plans to publish a yearly issue of this publication.
With the goal of supporting the local community while sustaining the environment, AFDC also launched the second phase of the project, entitled the “Management and Sustainable Development of Forest Areas in Andket, Akkar- North of Lebanon” that will be implemented in collaboration with WWF Italy and with the financial support of the Italian Cooperation ROSS II project.
The project includes the establishment of a multi-purpose forest center in Andket to be used for eco-tourism and training. The center consists of several conference rooms, bedrooms for visitors, a kitchen offering Lebanese eco-friendly cuisine, etc. The project also includes training of forest guards, civil defense and AFDC volunteers on forest fire fighting and equipping them with the necessary tools.
An additional vital project component consists of establishing forest-fire breaks, and a fire pond that will also serve for eco-tourism activities