By Van Meguerditchian

BEIRUT: Caretaker Environment Minister Mohammad Rahhal Wednesday praised ongoing measures taken by the German government to boost Lebanon’s conservation ability and limit the negative impact of environmental hazards on the economy.

An agreement signed between Lebanon’s Cabinet and the German government’s Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) has allocated over 8.5 million euros ($11.4 million) in funds for local environmental initiatives between 2007 and 2012. The money is being gathered in the Environmental Fund for Lebanon (EFL), which is being managed by the ministry, the GIZ and Lebanon’s Council for Development and Reconstruction.

The second funding phase of the project, launched in 2010, includes 3 million euros ($4 million) for environmental measures to battle the impact of climate change in Lebanon.

This phase covers measures such as improving forest conservation, controlling industrial wastewater, altering agricultural production methods and protecting economic sectors on the coastal stretch of the country.

Rahhal said these objectives were in line with the ministry’s major priority, which is to confront the ongoing effects of climate change in the region and prepare institutions, both public and private, in order to reduce the impact of nature on Lebanon’s resources and economy.

“The Environment Ministry has carried out an assessment of climate change and the weaknesses of several Lebanese sectors prone to this shift in order to set up adaptation measures within every sector to limit the consequences of climate change,” he said.

The current phase of the fund’s activities will also concentrate on the abatement of industrial wastewater pollution by ensuring private establishments in Kesrouan and the Litani River basin adopt cleaner production measures.

Industries that produce food products, textiles, chemicals and metal products will now be urged to alter their methods through cooperation with the ministry and the GIZ.

“With the EFL we are getting closer to curbing industrial pollution and adopting cleaner productive measures in small, medium, and large-scale enterprises,” said Rahhal. “We have also set down compulsory implementation decrees on polluting production sectors, such as the country’s industrial and energy sectors.”

All new projects will be subject to thorough reviews on their environmental impact before any transfer of funds that have been appropriated by GIZ The GIZ program is assisted by the German government via the German Society for Technical Cooperation.

“The GIZ will continue its efforts in helping Lebanon to implement its projects in technical training, water management and curbing deforestation throughout the country,” said Majdi al-Menshawy, Syria and Lebanon GIZ projects director.

The first phase of the cooperation agreement provided some 3 million euros worth of funding to 17 local initiatives by municipalities and associations aimed at reducing environmental risks, directly or indirectly, caused by the July 2006 Lebanon-Israel war, which resulted in the mass destruction of infrastructure in southern Lebanon and created a large-scale oil spill along Lebanon’s coast.

An additional 2.4 million euros was allocated to training experts.

Experts and activists say the impact of climate change has become noticeable in the last few years and according to Environment Ministry figures, Lebanon’s green area has shrunk to as little as 12 percent due to severe fires that have ravaged the country.