BEIRUT: The Italian Foreign Ministry's director general for development cooperation, Elisabetta Belloni, made a one-day visit to Lebanon on Friday to attend the launch of an environmental project at the Chouf Cedar Reserve. Belloni joined MP and Chouf Cedar Society president Walid Jumblatt, Environment Ministry Director General Berj Hatjian, Italian Ambassador Gabriele Checchia, and other dignitaries in launching the two-year project.
Financed by the Italian Foreign Ministry, the plan will strengthen conservation and firefighting capabilities, develop eco-tourism, promote environmental awareness and provide management support to the Cedar Reserve.
"The project will develop a forest firefighting strategy and establish new ad hoc infrastructure, providing the necessary equipment and materials," an Italian Embassy press release said. The project also intended to promote the Chouf Reserve on the national and regional levels and create pilot funds to "encourage eco-sustainable micro-entrepreneurship in the villages surrounding the Reserve in order to increase the community's and local institutions' participation in forest conservation," the press release added.
The initiative would draw on the experience of the Italian Department of Civil Protection (DPC), which will provide technical support in fire prevention policies. "DPC experts in firefighting strategies are currently carrying out a preliminary field study of the reserve," said the press release.
According to Checchia, the project was part of "joint Italian-Lebanese efforts to safeguard Lebanon's environmental resources and heritage with particular attention to the Cedar [tree], the historical and cultural symbol of Lebanon."
Italian and Lebanese institutions had "joined hands to strengthen Lebanon's capacity for sustainable management of its natural resources," the ambassador added.
"Italy continues to promote and finance projects and activities in favor of the environment in Lebanon," said Belloni. Projects in the environmental sector totaled "over 10 million euros [about $13.36 million] out of a total aid package approaching 250 million euros," she said, "making Lebanon one of the Italy's top strategic priorities and main recipient of Italy's development aid."
Earlier in the day, Belloni visited the Social Affairs Ministry, where she met Minister Mario Aoun and Finance Minister Mohammad Shatah, who along with the Italian Embassy, World Bank and Canadian Embassy in Lebanon, launched a pilot project on poverty in Lebanon.
As part of the scheme, questionnaires will be distributed to residents of Shiyyah, Ain al-Rummaneh and Tariq al-Jdide, an Italian Embassy official told The Daily Star. The questionnaires should "define the level of poverty within the family nucleus," said the official.
"Once a clear mapping of the level of poverty is made, it will be up to the Lebanese authorities to determine the next step. If they need help, we are ready to help." - Additional reporting by Maher Zeineddine