Wednesday, September 22, 2010

BEIRUT: Environmentalists called for saving the Bentael Nature Reserve in Jbeil on Tuesday, saying a project to build a nearby road will harm the reserve.

The head of the Bentael Nature Reserve Organization Raymond Khoury held a news conference dubbed “Save the Bentael Nature Reserve” to urge officials to halt all road works.

Khoury spoke of the initial sacrifices in creating the reserve and warned that it was being threatened by a project to build a road on its south western side.

“We ask President Michel Sleiman to interfere and to instruct whoever is responsible to halt building the road,” he said, adding that the new street would disfigure the area and put it at the risk of fires.

The Bentael Nature Reserve has a clean record when it comes to fires and is currently taking steps to further enhance its fire-fighting performance. It is classified by the forestry department of the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization as having a “high risk for fire,” and has now reached the final stage of implementing its first fire prevention and control program.

The Bentael Nature Reserve Organization sent a complaint letter to Environment Minister Mohammad Rahhal, who has called for road works to be halted and for a study to be launched in order to evaluate the damage.

An alternative solution to the road was presented to Public Transportation Minister Ghazi Aridi. “But work still started on September 14 with a fast pace,” Khoury said. “A state of environmental emergency should be declared to save the reserve and what’s left of it.”

Khoury went on to note many factors threatened the reserve such as hunting, uncontrolled chopping of trees and fires. “However the biggest risk comes from the machines used to build the road … They will cause pollution and destroy the reserve’s biodiversity,” he said. In 2008, the reserve was declared an Important Bird Area.