By Marie Dhumières
Monday, February 21, 2011

Students help plant trees despite bad weather

MAAD, Jbeil: Students from several universities braved the bad weather Sunday to participate in a reforestation event in Maad, Jbeil, where they learned about reforestation techniques and planted trees in the pouring rain.

“We came today, we planted some trees, and then they will grow bigger and the view will be nicer, we will breath more oxygen … Just a simple change would be great,” said Sirine Komati, a 21-year-old student from the Lebanese American University.

Forty students took part in the project, organized by the Association for Forests, Development and Conservation (AFDC) and sponsored by Starbucks coffee company. The event is happening for the third year in a row.

“The great thing is that in spite of the rain, the volunteers insisted on coming,” said 24-year-old Imad Shmaitili, who came with 10 other students from the Hariri Canadian University. “It was exciting, it was the first time we did actual tree planting.”

Through reforestation events and awareness campaigns, AFDC aims to “increase the green cover of Lebanon and conserve what remains of it,” explained Karine Zoghby, organization program coordinator.

Forests made up around 35 percent of the Lebanese territory in 1964 but this fell to 20 percent during the 1980s and today the “green cover” constitutes no more than 13 percent of the country.

The main causes of deforestation in Lebanon are urbanization and forest fires, which constitute a strong threat, as “in several weeks, hundreds of hectares can burn,” Zoghby said.

In 2007, AFDC started a national campaign to protect the country’s green cover and increase it to 20 percent, the average green cover in the Mediterranean area.

But Zoghby is aware the goal will be difficult to achieve.

“Increasing to 20 percent will take minimum 20 years and will cost a minimum $26 million annually,” she said, noting the Environment Ministry has the smallest budget of all the ministries.

Factoring in the $5,000 cost of reforesting a hectare of land – equivalent to planting some 500 trees – one can easily picture the challenge faced by environmental organizations.

“Our objective is to reforest 1,000 hectares per year, but for now we are reforesting less than 100 hectares per year,” said Zoghby, adding that the environment was not a priority for the government as a whole.

Mazen Masri, the 22-year-old president of the Environment Protection Club of Beirut Arab University, believes “the Arab world doesn’t have this idea of protecting our environment.”

Another student, Sarila Bassil, 23, agrees. “A big part of the Lebanese people don’t [realize] the importance of the environment.”

“There is a lack of environmental policies [in Lebanon], which need to be updated,” added Bassil, who is enrolled at the Faculty of Agriculture at the Lebanese University.

As the bus headed back to Beirut, Zoghby drew attention to another consequence of the decreasing green cover. “Look,” she said pointing at the raging sea, “it’s black, because of the soil coming from the mountains.” According to Zoghby, 15 million tons of soil falls down the sea every year. “It’s the [tree] roots that hold the soil together.”

Two additional reforestation events, both open to the public, are scheduled for next week in Radhaya al-Fukhar in south Lebanon and Bireh in the Chouf.