Lebanon — When a massive forest fire engulfed the outskirts of Baabda, Mount Lebanon on May 5th, it consumed a large forested area and sparked a national forest fire prevention campaign, “My heart is weary of fire … We are all responsible”.
The campaign, launched by the Ministry of Agriculture, aims to educate the public on ways to protect forests from fires and involve municipalities in the effort to curb fire disasters, organise training workshops and employ a weather text messaging service.
“The ministry is in a state of alert to safeguard and expand green [spaces] and forest cover,” Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb told Al-Shorfa.
“To that end, we launched the campaign in collaboration with local ministries and associations and concerned international organisations to [raise awareness about] forest fire prevention and affirm the shared public, private and international responsibility in preserving green [space], expanding forest cover and reviving areas devastated by fire,” he said.
These entities include Lebanon’s environment, defence, interior and municipalities ministries, Baabda-Louaize municipality, the Association for Forests, Development and Conservation (AFDC), the US Agency for International Development and the UN Development Programme.
The ministry, Chehayeb said, intends to hold a conference to develop a viable future plan to fight the phenomenon of forest fires, to be implemented starting this summer.
It also seeks to activate the national fire management strategy in order to reduce fire dangers, increase readiness, provide what is needed for a fire prevention programme and revive wooded areas after fires, he said.
The new campaign is spreading awareness via audio-visuals and a service launched by the ministry’s Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute (LARI) that involves sending short text messages to alert farmers of weather conditions and of any danger that might pose a threat to farms and crops, he said.
As part of the service, the institute sends out 120,000 text messages on weather conditions, temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, and the fire danger index, said LARI president Michel Afram.
“Such messages aim to increase the readiness level of citizens, farmers and civil defence [personnel] to prevent the outbreak of fires,” he told Al-Shorfa.
Afram said these campaigns, particularly those carried out over the past four years, have helped reduce fire breakouts in Lebanon by half.
In mid-summer and early fall, Lebanon is often hit with a rash of fires which scorch tens of hectares of green space due to rises in temperature.
Responsibility to protect green spaces
Climate changes play a significant role in the outbreak of forest fires, especially as Lebanon no longer receives the precipitation it once did, Afram said.
Lebanon’s temperatures now rise sooner and its dry season arrives earlier, he added.
“The temperature recorded on May 1st was 36 degrees Celsius, which made it easy for the Baabda fire to break out,” he said.
According to AFDC general director Sawsan Bou Fakhreddine, the new campaign is directed at all municipalities, since they are responsible for several functions including education, prevention, training, equipping and replanting.
“After the fires scorched hundreds of hectares of green land, we are working through this campaign to implement the Forest Management Law,” she said. “At the same time, the Association and the municipalities have begun training and equipping municipality and police personnel on rapid intervention in fire-fighting.”
Bou Fakhreddine said municipalities are responsible for protecting their green spaces, and must clear weeds and maintain agricultural lands to prevent the breakout of fires caused by high temperatures.
“The campaign aims to educate everyone on the causes of fires and on the importance of reporting any small sign of smoke to the relevant agencies so it can be extinguished,” she added.