Hariri presides over emergency meeting to discuss management of similar crises

BEIRUT: Showers that poured heavily Monday morning after a month of drought helped contain fires that raged across Lebanon over the weekend.

Rains put out a major fire in the Jbeil town of Fitri, which came over swathes of woodland and threatened residences. The Lebanese government sought the help of Turkey and Jordan to extinguish the 120 fires that broke out over the weekend.

But after Monday morning’s showers, the country’s helicopters did not fly to Lebanon, according to a security source.

The much-awaited rains flooded streets and caused heavy congestion. Meteorological reports Monday, however, said showers would not resume over the course of the week.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Saad Hariri headed a meeting at the Grand Serail to discuss the management of forest fires.

The meeting was by Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud, Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Environment Mohammad Rahhal, the Secretary General of the Higher Council of Defense Major General Adnan Merheb, the Director General of Civil Defense General Darwish Hobeika, head of Beirut Fire Brigade general Mounir Mkhalalati, the prime minister’s adviser for developmental affairs Fadi Fawwaz, and Head of the disaster risk reduction Unit at the Presidency of the Council of Ministers Nathalie Zaarour.

According to a statement by Hariri’s press office, discussions tackled weekend fires, and a national strategy approved by Cabinet in May 2009 to fight fires. The meeting discussed implementation mechanisms. Hariri reminded attendees of his decision issued to establish a national committee that includes all concerned administrations, tasked to prepare a comprehensive national plan for disaster management.

Hariri also stressed the need to detail sub-plans for each type of disaster as well as plans for individual governorates.

Another meeting headed by Merheb is expected to take place Thursday to discuss an integrated plan for the management of forest fires fighting and to discuss the needs of the relevant bodies including the army, the civil defense, the internal security forces and Beirut fire brigade, said the statement by Hariri’s office.

“We stressed during the meeting the need to recruit more members for civil defense and update the equipment,” Hajj Hassan told reporters.

“There are elements included in the 2010 budget, such as the recruitment of new members for the civil defense, but in the end we must secure the necessary funding for these issues,” the agriculture minister added.

The eastern-Mediterranean region has witnessed unseasonably high temperatures over the past two months, threatening crops and heralding serious water shortages. Thermometers scored a high of 28 degrees Celsius in Lebanon over the weekend, a temperature rarely if ever witnessed in the country during the month of December.

Lebanon’s southern neighbor Israel succeeded Sunday in containing fires that erupted in the Carmel hills above the Mediterranean port of Haifa. Aircraft were brought in from several countries, including Greece, Britain, Cyprus, Turkey, Russia and France to help contain the deadly blazes which claimed the lives of at least 42 people.