BAABDA, Lebanon: “Green forests are a red line,” Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb announced Tuesday at the launch of an initiative to tackle forest fires.
The project was prompted by a devastating blaze last month that reduced the Baabda forest area into little more than scorched earth.
The initiative, with the tagline “We are all responsible,” has seen billboards pop up across the country, as the Agriculture Ministry, the Baabda Municipality, USAID, and the Lebanon Reforestation Initiative fight to raise awareness of the damage that forest fires can do.
“What happened, happened,” Baabda’s Mayor Henri Carmello Helou told the crowd gathered at the launch, after describing the way a fast-spreading fire ravaged the Baabda Forest on May 5.
The initiative aims to reforest the area, train the appropriate authorities and raise awareness as to how each individual can aid the prevention of forest fires.
“The Smokey the Bear campaign was launched in 1944 [in the U.S.] and is credited with preventing ... forest fires,” said Richard Paton, project director of the Lebanon Reforestation Initiative.
Paton said he hoped this campaign’s motto, similar to Smokey’s “Only YOU can prevent forest fires,” would resonate with the Lebanese.
“Fighting fires is not an easy task,” said David Schroder, director of Economic Growth, Water, and Environment at USAID-Lebanon. “Prevention is important.”
Schroder added that the municipality and other authorities had to be prepared and well-trained, something he hoped USAID’s funding of the Lebanon Reforestation Initiative would help.
Baabda’s Municipality and the Civil Defense Forces came under heavy pressure from residents following their handling of May 5’s Forest fire. On the day of the incident, one resident told The Daily Star that the municipality had told him the fire was not their responsibility.
“These words are not right,” Helou told The Daily Star, responding to accusations that his municipality had neglected their duties.
“The Civil Defense, the Army, and I were all there,” he shouted. “There were lies against all of us.”
“It is he who has to protect his own forest and he didn’t do that so he placed the responsibility on others.”