Lebanon´s well known and unique Cedrus libani forests have been the object of a constant quest to control the access and trade of its valuable timber for millennia. A new national strategy, supported by IUCN-Med was approved on 15 May by the Council of Ministers. This strategy integrates the need for adapting to climate change in order to reduce the risk of harmful fires and build ecological and social resilience to the impacts of global change.
As project leader, this is a significant achievement for IUCN-Med and places it in an excellent position for the implementation phase.
Forests in Lebanon are a unique feature of the arid environment in the Eastern Mediterranean, which have played a critical role in the development of numerous civilizations throughout history. In fact, since ancient times the Lebanese forests have been considered a strategic natural resource, and for this they have been over-exploited for centuries. Currently, the remnant patches of forests, with an extraordinary biodiversity value, are being exposed to degradation as a result of repetitious fires, wars, neglect, improper management, outdated laws, and poor policy enforcement, amongst others. Until June 2006, the Lebanese forests and woodlands covered around 13.5% of the overall area of Lebanon. During recent years, climate change has exacerbated the impacts of the numerous human-induced forest fires which occur every year, with catastrophic effects on the environment, the rural population and the economy of the country. In order to respond to this alarming situation, the Lebanese government has established a national committee to revise and adapt the National Forest Fires Strategy make it effective in the current context of global change.
Since mid 2008, IUCN Med has collaborated with IUCN Regional Office for West Asia (ROWA), providing support in revising the National Forest Fires Strategy in Lebanon. This revision responds to the urgent need to stop and reverse the 2007 trend of catastrophic forest fires in Lebanon. This initiative was launched by the Lebanese Prime Minister and is being coordinated by the Association for Forest Development and Conservation (AFDC) and the Lebanese Ministry of Environment. For this reason, two workshops involving all public administrations concerned with forest fires, as well as national NGOs and international experts, took place during the second half of 2008 to debate the draft content of the new national strategy which was coordinated by AFDC and the Lebanese Ministry of Environment, with the technical support of IUCN.
The National Forest Fire strategy will be officially approved in 2009, and actions will be agreed among all concerned stakeholders for it to be implemented. IUCN- Med is contributing to the implementation of concrete actions which respond to different components of the national strategy, namely: (a) fire risk reduction and prevention actions as part of a landscape initiative for participatory rural planning and identification of resilient land uses to reduce vulnerability against fires; (b) Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR), pre-and post-fire, to build ecological and social resilience against harmful fires.
So as to continue the discussions on the implementation of the strategy, Pedro Regato from IUCN-Med visited Lebanon during the first week of March.IUCN-Med will coordinate actions with IUCN ROWA to support the implementation of field demonstration actions in the El Chouf Region together with the IUCN members Arz El Shouf Society and AFDC, and to build capacity on FLR implementation in order to agree with all concerned actors a common vision on forest restoration in Lebanon with the final aim of increasing ecological and social resilience to harmful fires.
The implementation of the new national strategy on forest fires will help prevent forest fires and reduce the risk of fire in and around key biodiversity areas, like the Arz El Shouf Biosphere Reserve and Jabal Moussa Biosphere Reserve.