BWAREJ, Lebanon: At face value, the plot of land off a highway leading down to the Bekaa Valley looks like nothing more than a barren patch of dry dirt.
It certainly doesn’t look like the carbon recycler – able to offset over 25 tons of carbon per year – that it should eventually become.Around 550 barely noticeable tree saplings fill the plot where a mixed bag of volunteers – Lebanese families, teens, foreign expatriates and a group of physically disabled participants – spent Sunday morning planting junipers, cedars and abies. SEPT, an NGO whose name stands for Save Energy Plant Trees, is one of a handful of national organizations pushing reforestation as a way to offset the damaging effects of carbon emissions.
This week’s group outing was one of many that SEPT organizes each year mixing ecotourism with environmental awareness.
“Our motto is preserving nature and promoting social values through environmental activities,” said Pierre Haddad, president and co-founder of SEPT.
“What’s specific in our project is that we have large and diverse groups with people from all regions in Lebanon and from different parts of society.”
The Bwarej reforestation project is funded by annual Al-Bustan Festival, which brings a month of musical performances to the Hotel Al Bustan in Beit Mery. This year the festival brought in 500 performers from abroad, from Russian ballerinas to Italian opera singers, and attracted 4,500 spectators. Their total transportation created an estimated 25 tons of carbon emissions, which the trees will replace yearly once they have grown into adulthood, Haddad said.
Planting tree saplings is a testy endeavor, however. Most conifers should be planted during the wet season between October and February, when natural conditions are more supportive of the fragile trees, Haddad said.
Holding up tiny cedars, staff explained the many ways improper planting can lead to the plants’ death. Covered in dirt and with scratched-up hands, participants toiled to break up the dehydrated earth and keep large stones from creating air pockets next to the tree roots.
The flimsiest sapling, which volunteers struggled to straighten and earth, will grow to become one of the strongest come adulthood. Some experts believe the juniper, a native conifer to Lebanon, can offset as much as 50 tons of carbon dioxide per year, per tree – though Haddad put the figure at a more modest 5 tons per year. They can also grow in adverse conditions, at an altitude of 1,800 meters and on the drier, eastern side of Mount Lebanon, making them an optimal tree for reforestation projects.
Sunday’s effort was unusual because the trees will begin to grow during the driest months of the Lebanese summer. What made the project possible, Haddad explained, was the village’s steady water source, which he took volunteers to explore.
Along the mountain slope, a natural spring gurgled through a series of aqueducts that bring the cold water down to the town of Bwarej and through its neighboring farmlands. SEPT and a team of locals will water and care for the saplings and, after a year, Haddad will return with volunteers to replace the trees that died in their first 12 months.
Throughout each year, SEPT organizes hikes to raise awareness about protecting biodiversity and outings at the beach to teach participants about marine conservation. This month, STEP has a party planned to raise money for more reforestation come fall, as well as a big tree planting event at Notre-Dame University, with the patronage of the British Embassy.
These projects by SEPT are part of a growing grassroots activism targeting carbon emissions in the country.
“The word ‘sept’ in English means ‘is a part of a family,’ just as we consider ourselves as part of a global family of activists,” Haddad said.