BEIRUT: Prime Minister Fouad Siniora inaugurated on Tuesday a new national strategy to manage forest fires, saying the plan will become the official tool used by the government in all future fire-fighting efforts. "Desertification" of Lebanon was a grim reality but it was "neither acceptable nor logical" to allow the phenomenon to destroy Lebanon's coveted forests, Siniora said as he introduced the "National Strategy for Managing Forest Fires: Building Partnerships" at the Grand Serail.
The strategy, funded by the European Union in conjunction with the Environment Ministry and non-governmental Association for Forests, Development and Reconstruction (AFDC), will be submitted to Cabinet "very soon" for approval, said Siniora, hoping its would be adopted.
Forest fires in 2007, which were the worst in Lebanon's recent history, caused around $9 million of damage, the National News Agency qouted Environment Minister Tony Karam as saying at the event. Following the fires, when 4,000 hectares of forest were burned, the Lebanese government formed the National Committee to Combat Forest Fires and Restoration of Lands.
Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Elias Skaff spoke of the need for active law enforcement by the Lebanese authorities to prevent fires, saying coordination between the civil defense and police was needed in that regard.
AFDC General Director Sawsan Bou Fakhreddine, for his part, welcomed the initiative, saying a national strategy would help control the damage inflicted by forest fires. Environmental activists have long urged the Lebanese government to adopt a centralized, national fire-fighting strategy. Forest fires are a regular feature during Lebanon's dry summer months. 1,200 hectares are typically destroyed annually.
According to the AFDC, Lebanon's forest cover, which stood at 35 percent in 1965, is now less than 13 percent.
Fakhreddine has repeatedly said that if forest fires, deforestation and illegal logging continue at the present rates, Lebanon will completely lose its forest cover within the next two decades.
The government still does not have adequate fire-fighting resources, and often has to borrow helicopters from neighboring countries when tackling blazes. Civil defense employees say their work is regularly complicated by inadequate roads, water resources, and land mines left over from Lebanon's 1975-1990 Civil War.