Lebanon’s Environment Ministry is seeking to reduce the risk of recurrent forest fires and their severity through an updated national strategy, which was launched on Wednesday.

Nasser Yassin, caretaker minister of environment, said that work was being carried out “under financially, administratively, and politically unfavorable conditions” to reduce the risk of forests and woodlands catching on fire.

Yassin pointed out that the success of the strategy, however, is based on the cooperation of “local people who are proud of their areas, environment, and the health of their sons and daughters.”

The awareness-raising work, he said, has brought “people closer to their environment.”

He referred to “the launch of an emergency fund to support firefighting efforts,” and said: “We are working on developing its law and management methods with the World Bank.”

Yassin added: “There is also a project worth $4.5 million, a gift from the Global Environment Facility, to support the efforts of local communities and regional groups to enhance their readiness and preparedness to reduce the risks of fires and extinguish them.”

Melanie Hauenstein, resident representative of the UN Development Program in Lebanon, said: “Forest fires are not only an environmental concern, but their impact is also noticeable in many other sectors.”

Hauenstein added: “The UN program has equipped dedicated operations rooms in the Lebanese provinces with the necessary tools and supplies to ensure their proper functioning in the event of forest fires and other crises. We have supported the establishment of specially trained first responder teams to deal with forest fires and equipped them with the necessary tools and equipment.”

She said that she, in cooperation with the UK ambassador, the social affairs minister, and the director-general of civil defense, opened a civil defense facility in Jezzine two days ago. This facility, she added, “aims to protect the beautiful pine forests in Jezzine and is the largest of its kind in the Middle East.”

She stressed that protection of the forests “directly benefits 300 Lebanese families who own pine trees, 40 farmers and their families who invest in collecting and processing pine, 120 workers in the pine industry, and 65 civil defense and volunteer personnel.”

Forest fires have not spared any Lebanese region from damage to pine and fruit trees, including the regions of North Lebanon, Mount Lebanon, and South Lebanon.

The environment ministry proposed to the previous parliament the establishment of a strategy to manage the resources resulting from the quarry and crusher sector and a new legislative framework for it, but it was never implemented.

According to the National Council for Scientific Research in Lebanon, approximately 14,460 forest fires have been recorded in the past five years, resulting in the loss of thousands of hectares of forest cover in Lebanon.

Brig. Gen. Raymond Khattar, director-general of the Lebanese Civil Defense, said: “Rapidly changing weather patterns may make conditions favorable for forest and vegetation fires. However, this does not rule out the possibility of further intentional arson, which has been indicated by repeated signs of deliberate ignition, or what has become known as purposeful fires.”

The impact of climate change is not the only thing that has marred Lebanon’s natural beauty.

The directorate of geographical affairs in the army conducted a survey two years ago, covering over 80 percent of quarry and crusher sites operating without permits or with permits obtained through the intervention of powerful forces in Lebanon or as a result of collusion in facilitating and organizing violations.

The survey revealed “huge excesses in terms of depth,” with some excavations reaching a depth of 70 meters, as well as distortions and mountain cutting amounting to hundreds of meters in height.

The affected areas across all Lebanese lands reached approximately 65 million square meters, distributed among 1,356 quarries, crushers, and excavators.

The governorate of Mount Lebanon ranked first in terms of the area and number of quarries and crushers, especially in the districts of Aley, Metn, Jbeil, and Kesrouan, where the affected areas exceeded 15 million square meters. (Arab News)