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For a Green Lebanon in the Mediterranean - Text Dr. Mayane Karam (Sponsor BankMed)


Lebanon
stretches along the east side of the Mediterranean Sea, its length almost three times its width, covering an era of 10.452 square kilometers. Like any mountainous country, Lebanon's physical geography is complex; and is classified into five ribbon-like topographical regions running parallel with a north-to-south orientation. The western range, termed Mount Lebanon since the Roman age, is the most rugged and imposing of the whole maritime range of mountains and plateaus rising to alpine heights southeast of Tripoli, where Al Qurnat as Sawda ("the black nook") reaches 3,360 meters. Lebanon’s westerly boundary stretches 210 km long along the sea. The coast is abrupt and rocky, while the shoreline is regular with no deep estuary, gulf, or natural harbor. The extremely narrow coastal strip or maritime plain -the sahil - hemmed in between sea and mountain is especially productive of fruits and vegetables. Of the peaks that rise east of Beirut, Jabal Sannin (2,695 meters) is the highest. The Bekaa Valley forms the central highland between the Lebanon Mountains and the Anti-Lebanon Range. It is the country’s chief agricultural area and forms part of the “fertile crescent”; having served as a granary of the Roman Empire where some of the first domesticated plants, including shrublands and vegetable plants, still grow wildly in Lebanon. The eastern mountain range or Anti-Lebanon is almost equal in length and height to the Lebanon Mountains, but is more arid, especially in its northern parts, and is consequently less productive and more thinly populated. The crests and terraces of Lebanon’s maritime façade are studded with numerous villages that have been developing since antiquity, but the majority of the population is concentrated in the coastal cities: Tripoli, Byblos, Sidon, Tyre and mostly the bustling metropolis of Beirut, the most dynamic city in the Middle-East.

Lebanon has a Mediterranean climate characterized by a long, hot, and dry summer, and cool, rainy winter. Fall is a transitional season with a gradual lowering of temperature and little rain, while spring occurs when the winter rains revive the vegetation. Between 80-90% of the annual rainfall falls between November and March, while less than 5% of the annual rainfall falls between May and September. The mean annual temperature on the coast varies between 19.5 °C and 21.5 °C and decreases approximately 3 °C for each vertical 500 m, reaching 15 °C at 1,000 m and 9 °C at 2,000 m. The geomorphologic regions in Lebanon are characterized by a high degree of variability in soil quality, rainfall, vegetation and temperature; as one move from the coast through the Lebanese mountain. Lebanese ecosystems are small but rich, composed of 9119 species (identified in 1996) of which 4633 are plants, while 4486 belong to the animal kingdom. It is estimated that over 9119 species of plants and animals have been identified -only about 20% of the species present in the different ecosystems - have been identified, while the majority (43500) according to scientists still remains unclassified. It follows then, that further taxonomic research is a necessary and pressing environmental concern.

Ecologically, these regions are classified in to seven zones:

• The littoral Lower Mediterranean zone or Thermomediterranean (0-500 m altitude) is characterized by the presence of endemic trees such as Carobs (ceratonia), Pistacios (pistacia), Conifers of various kinds (pinus) and common Myrtles (myrthus). The scrublands typical to of these altitides are home maily to a variety of shrubs such as Sage plants (salvia) off different varieties and flowering Rock-rose (halimium) plants.

• The higher altitudes of the Euremediterranean zone (500-1000 m altitude), are scattered with leafy, evergreen species such as the Kermes Oak, (quercus coccifera), mixed with deciduous species including the common Palestine Pistachio tree (Pistacia palaestina), ), Judas-tree or European Redbud (cercis siliquastrum) and the Syrian Maple (acer syriacum. Palestinian Oak (caesalpinioideae), Aleppo Pine (pinus halepensis), several Conifer tree varieties (pinus), Cypress tree (cupressus), Syrian Fig Tree (Ficus sycomorus)

• The Supramediterranean zone (1000-1600 m altitude) is the mid-mountain floor. The most prevalent plant species are Black Oak (quercus tinctoria), White Oak (quercus alba), Turkish pine (pinus brutia), Judas-tree (cercis siliquastrum), Hopehornbeam trees (Ostryae), Ash trees (Fraxinus), common broom shrubs of different varieties (Cystisus), ever-green, flowering rockrose (halimium) shrubs and conifers (Pinus) as well as the evergreen Cypress

• At high elevations within the Mediterranean mountain zone (1500-1800 m altitude) multitude of vegetal plants that are also adapted to the extreme weather conditions - freezing in winter and terribly arid in summer- including Cilicia Fir trees (abies clicia), Juniper trees (juniperus), White Oak trees (quercus alba), Hornbeam trees (carpinus), and Pepperidge bushes (berberis) which are the most endemic species to be found. Lebanon’s famous Cedar trees (cedrus libani) the country’s national emblem is also found within this mountain floor. Scientists more or less agree on the existence of 4 cedar tree species: the cedar of Lebanon (present in Lebanon, Syria and Turkey), the cedar of Cyprus (present only in this island), the Atlas cedar (present in Algeria and Morocco) and the cedar of the Himalaya to be found on the Himalayan chain. This mountain zone, unfortunately, has suffered the most from over exploitation and erosion, and sadly the noble Lebanon cedar finds itself in danger of extinction; as the surface area covered by Lebanon’s cedar groves has substantially decreased over time.

Oromediterranean zone (over 2000 m altitude). Junipers (juniperus), flowering, fruit-bearing Buckthorn plants (rhamnus), Pepperidge bushes (berberi), flowering Daphne bushes (thymelaeaceae)that produce poisonous berries along with trees and shrubs including plums, cherries, peaches, apricots and almonds, and varieties of flowering shrubs belonging to the rose family (cotoneaster) which are able to survive the harsh environment.

Pre-steppe Mediterranean zone (900-2400 m altitude) located on the eastern façade of Mount-Lebanon and northern slopes of the Anti-Lebanon. Degraded soils, drought and cold make it hard for phytosociological association to develop easily. The main species to be found are varieties of oak (Quercus) and Junipers (Juniperus).

Rivers, Streams and Lakes

Although Lebanon is well watered and there are many rivers and streams, there are no navigable rivers, nor is any one river the sole source of irrigation water. Drainage patterns are determined by geological features and climate. Although rainfall is seasonal, most streams are perennial – known as oueds in Arabic -. Most rivers in Lebanon (nahrs) have their origins in springs, which are often quite large and from the permeable limestone strata cropping out at the 915- to 1,524-meter level in the Lebanon Mountains. Other springs emerge from alluvial soil and join to form rivers. Whatever their source, the rivers are fast moving, straight, and generally cascade down narrow mountain canyons to the sea. The Bekaa Valley is watered by two rivers that rise in the watershed near Baalbek: the Orontes flowing north (in Arabic it is called Nahr al Asi, "the Rebel River", because this direction is unusual), and the Litani flowing south into the hill region of the southern Bekaa Valley, where it makes an abrupt turn to the west in southern Lebanon and is thereafter called the Al Qasmiyah River. The Orontes continues to flow north into Syria and eventually reaches the Mediterranean in Turkey. Its waters, for much of its course, flow through a channel considerably lower than the surface of the ground. The Nahr Barada, which waters Damascus, has as its source a spring in the Anti-Lebanon Mountains. The only permanent lake is Buhayrat al Qirawn, about ten kilometers east of Jezzine. There is one seasonal lake, fed by springs, on the eastern slopes of the Lebanon Mountains near Yammunah in the north, about forty kilometers southeast of Tripoli.

Nature and People

Lebanon, which is a small country, presents unique challenges and opportunities for the conservation of various flora and fauna. For each geographical region, a group of special plants and animals is present there which reflects the particular ecological conditions of the area. This small 10,452sqkm country possesses over 2,600 vegetal species compared to only 1,600 in Great-Britain which is 30 times more extended and 4,200 in France, a country that is 55 times bigger than Lebanon… And some of these species can only be seen in Lebanon. However, this variability as well as Lebanon’s favorable climatic conditions is direct cause for human overpopulation and the exploitation of the environment - which puts severe destructive pressures on the environment and endangers the biodiversity status in the country. Indeed, Lebanon’s natural resources have been used since ancient times to boost the country’s trade and manufacturing sectors. Examples include the discovery of red-dye in shellfish (Murex) which revolutionized Lebanon’s famed silk industry, concentrated in Kartaba, and the use of Lebanese cedars’ wood to build Phoenician merchant boats, Roman war ships and even to erect the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. The beauty and biodiversity of the Lebanese forest, with its various resources, is both a blessing and a curse as its rich, sought-after resources offer great possibilities or environmental over-exploitation. Rational planning to achieve sustainable, efficient uses of these resources would provide for the revalorization, conservation and protection of these precious ecosystems; while also making it possible to extract the maximum benefit from the country’s vegetation.

In Lebanon, several species of terrestrial flora are at risk: half of the wild species of fodder plants are endangered due to uncontrolled urban development, over-grazing and land reclamation which constitute great threats to their natural habitat. Of the wide variety of vertebrates native to Lebanon, birds are the most abundant and nowadays are at a lower risk of extinction, especially after a decision taken by the Ministries of Agriculture and Environment to re-organize and regulate hunting activities. Some 390 bird species (260 were migratory) have been counted in Lebanon in a study updated in 2008 by Ghassan Jaradi, Ecology and Taxonomy teacher at the Lebanese University. Millions of birds coming from Europe and Asia stop each year in Lebanon, some of them to reproduce. These birds belong to the whole world and their disappearance hence affects the ecosystem. A study done by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon between 2004 and 2007 showed that 18% of hunters could differentiate migratory birds from the resident ones. The majority of them could not distinguish a rare bird. The danger is no less regarding resident birds: over a short period of 5 years, the number of native bird species dropped by 18%!

Generally speaking, the Lebanese forests have been devastated. Whereas almost the whole of Lebanon used to be covered by thick forests of pine, oak, maple and juniper trees, today only 13% of the territory still remains covered, and most of these forests are not natural. For example the great pine tree forest of Bkassine, next to Jezzine in the south of the country, was planted by the Ottomans in the 19th century for the production of pine seeds. The oak trees that originally populated this forest have been reduced to small bushes in the name of a ‘healthy’ forest management. Several initiatives for the safeguard of the cedar of Lebanon have been launched since the 1900’s. In October 1959, with the help of the FAO, the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture launched an important reforestation campaign specifically targeted the Chouf forest, while in Ain Zhalta over 52 hectares of cedars were reforested in 1965. However, recent research has revealed that uncontrolled reforestation can in fact become harmful. Thus, in 1991, a ministerial decree declared the Chouf forest a natural reserve.

Invertebrates, in particular insects, form the most abundant and widespread group of land fauna. A wide variety of large wild animals are part of Lebanon’s natural habitat, although this is unknown to many, as many of these animals have been extinct since the beginning of the 20th century: including the Syrian brown bear, the Asian leopard, the Persian lynx, the deer, the Arabian gazelle and the golden hamster - in addition to the lion which disappeared in the 16th century. Other species which are close to extinction include the wolf, the wild cat, the mongoose and the squirrel, while rare species include three types of shrews, eleven bat species, the weasel and spiny mouse. A variety of species are considered vulnerable including four species of bats, the wild boar, and the common field mouse.

The marine and coastal flora and fauna of Lebanon are considered to be typically Mediterranean with some sub-tropical elements. Phytoplankton which includes all microphytic algae, constitutes the basis of the food chain in the sea, and along with micro and macrophytic benthic algae, are seriously affected by the high degree of coastal pollution. In addition, the highly abundant and various types of macro-zooplanktons - of which, crustaceans and fish species are prevalent, - are being disturbed and endangered by early fishing and unsafe fishing methods. Among the marine fauna species that are highly at risk and on their way to extinction due to heavy solid waste disposal into the sea are the four marine turtle species native to Lebanon. However, the protection of a small coastal zone in the North of Lebanon, the Palm island reserve, has lead to the reappearance of one of the sea turtle species, the green turtle, and has provided opportunities for some endangered birds to show up again.

The biodiversity of fresh water is being impacted particularly by disturbances affecting water sources and rivers which weakens fresh water ecosystems and results in the elimination of weak species especially those sensitive to pollution; thus increasing in the number of taxa with high ecological valence. Drainage, pollution and human interference have drastically changed the fresh water ecosystem and resulted in a high proportion of endangered species.

Environmental aggressions are numerous and differ in scale in terms of surface or quantity. Some are visible, while others appear through analysis such as the pollution of water sources by toxic products upstream. Among these visible and important degradations: the encroachment of constructions of the natural milieu or the banking up roads, sea, etc., the spilling of used water into the sea, the deforestation and the degradation of landscape by human facts (construction sites, concreting, quarries) or by natural facts (forest fires, landslides) are the most poignant. The present situation in Lebanon is unfortunate and alarming. Indeed 80% of the water sheet is polluted, 5% of the national territory is covered by forests instead of the required 20%, and the already important erosion increased with the presence of over 600 stone or sand quarries in addition to many illegal ones.

Flooding, which causes soil erosion, is common and destroys the natural habitat of many wild plants as fertile soils are dragged into the sea. Air pollution, which has a direct effect on global warming, leads to disturbances of whole species and their surroundings. Forest fires are relatively common, but their incidence during the war, and afterwards as a result of human intervention, increases their threat to the environment.

Urbanization is another major threat to biodiversity, as the expansion of cities and suburbs due to the population growth destroys natural coastal habitats, rural areas and forests - particularly along the western slope of Mount Lebanon. Indeed, the Lebanese littoral is now total covered by concrete and banana plantations. Villages are ever expanding to the detriment of olive groves and scrublands. Everywhere the landscape is transformed into cubes of cement and practically all Lebanon’s rivers are polluted. Quarrying and sand removal activities have had a major impact on both the flora and fauna as well as the surrounding landscape for quite some time, however decisions to properly regulate such activities is helping in the conservation of the remaining areas.

The excessive use of pesticides has a contamination effect along the food chain. Atmospheric pollution from industrial emissions along with over-grazing prohibit the generation of natural plant cover and leads to the disappearance of biotypes. Moreover, newly introduced species are invading the natural habitat and threatening the existence of native ones especially among agricultural crops, animals and in the field of ornamentals. All the above mentioned factors, in addition to some unsafe agricultural practices related to intensive production, green-houses, etc. are a real threat to terrestrial flora and fauna and contribute indirectly to increased pressure on marine and fresh water habitats.

The construction of tourist resorts and other such projects has severely impacted Lebanon’s natural habitat leading to the destruction of large, ecologically sensitive zones where biodiversity is strongly endangered. For example: Coastal development through land reclamation has wiped out the coral reef and near shore marine ecosystems. While different sources of pollution have increased the degradation of the remaining marine flora and fauna including solid, industrial and waste water waste disposal in to the sea. Secondly, certain recreational and commercial activities, such as diving and fishing using explosives, are severely destructive to marine ecosystems.

The effect of overgrazing in destroying the natural habitat and land/ water resources of many wild plants and animals is considerable. In addition, soil erosion by wind and water due to poor agricultural practices and sporadic excavations for the production of construction material, along with excessive use of chemical fertilizers further aggravates the situation. However, the effects of overgrazing have been mitigated in the Arz- El-Chouf nature reserve through the provision of reliable sources of drinking water for grazing animals, which has kept commercial herds from entering the reserve and provided the chance to re-establish a balanced ecosystem.

Among the most important factors leading to land degradation is pollution. This includes industrial discharge and uncontrolled dumping of solid and toxic wastes. Garbage collection is done in a systematic and organized way in most regions, but the number of incinerators required to properly dispose of waste is insufficient and this leads to the build-up waste-matter in marine and terrestrial habitats. The level of atmospheric pollution is also alarming and is increasing due to the expanding number of the number of vehicles on the road, power plants, industrial plants, and the use of power generators. These factors together exert a direct effect on the natural habitat - which is becoming poorer with time

The introduction of a variety of non-native crop species or so called “cash crops” - to replace traditional ones that require high production inputs - is exerting considerable pressure on the land and wildlife in the area; as these alien species drain the available water resources necessary for their lifespan. Moreover, over-harvesting of native and foreign species has lead to extreme losses in fauna and flora and poses a threat to the ecosystem as a whole.

Livestock biodiversity includes both wild types and domesticated breeds; both of which are quickly disappearing from rural areas, along with domesticated species, as they are no longer considered economically significant. Wild livestock is further threatened by extinction due to excessive hunting or changes in habitat and local breeds are gradually being replaced as a result of their poor competence. Farmers who still have interest in land races and local breeds are becoming fewer over time.

Climate Change: scarcer water resources

Water in Lebanon has become an issue of towering importance. Since Lebanon’s share of freshwater is very limited and its dry season extends over seven months; lack of water has been a key factor in limiting the country’s development. Similarly, pollution of rivers, sources of water and the sea along with poor irrigation practices threaten the longevity of Lebanon’s natural environment for both human use and the preservation of biodiversity.

The 2.5% annual growth of Lebanon’s 4.8 million populations also suggests that increased demand on Lebanon’s water resources – and exploitation thereof - will place further strain on the limited water supply. This demographic situation in combination with the intensive urbanization accentuates the concentration of population and activities, mainly in the coastal areas. Growing water-stress in these areas poses a threat to flora, fauna and the natural habitat as well as to human development and livelihood, mainly among the poorest and most vulnerable populations living in semi- arid rural areas.

Water policies have been dominated for many years by a supply-oriented approach. Nowadays, such a policy orientation is unable to confront the growth in demand, the competition for water resources by the various economic sectors and the rising serious environmental problems. Globally, agriculture uses as much as 70% of all renewable water resources that are diverted for human use. Although drinking water is the first priority in Lebanon and agriculture is the second one in water allocation policies, the “environmental demand” is virtually absent.

Some forecasts suggest that by 2020 the Lebanese population will face problems due to water scarcity. This is not only due to a lack of water resources that are unevenly distributed but, more importantly, due to their undervaluation and mismanagement. Add to this the problem of equitable sharing of the Trans-boundary course in Lebanon (Orontus, Naher El kebir, Hasbani Wazzani); where conflicts of interests in the region, between upstream and downstream areas, urban vs. rural priorities, and between the short and long term priorities will get worse, especially if current mismanagement practices continue. The compartmentalized water management approach, the lack of coordination and cooperation between different institutions dealing with water management at local, national and even at regional international levels, contribute to the impending water crisis in the country.

According to The League of Independent Activists (IndyACT) climate change in the Middle East will affect Lebanon first and the country faces great climatic challenges if average temperatures rise 3-5 degrees Celsius over the next 100 years or so; as predicted by a climate change model developed as part of a study on climatologic forecasting in Lebanon, completed in 1999, by eighteen experts with the help of the United Nations Program for Development (UNDP). The results of the study were presented with the national reports of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Climate Change, part of the United Nations Draft Convention on Climate Change.

The above-mentioned study shows that temperatures in Lebanon could rise from 3 to 5 degrees before 2080. Every degree thus calculated is equivalent to 300m of altitude. In other words, with an increase of one degree a locality situated at 300m altitude will have the same climate as one situated along the coast. Already the distribution of rain has changed, the snow density is decreasing and forest fires are spreading: which could spell disaster to country’s natural forests and water resources.

Lebanon’s average annual rainfall exceeds 800 million cubic meters (mcm), helping to sustain more than 2,000 springs during the seven-month dry season, the envy of more arid regional countries such as Iraq and Jordan. But this is changing. Twenty years ago we used to count on 80-90 rainy days a year in Lebanon. According to the Implementation of Technical Tools for Water Management (MOTGE) at the Lebanese Ministry of Energy and Water; today we forecast 70 rainy days.

It is not the amount of rain that is changing, but the period in which it falls. With the same amount of rain, but in a shorter period of time, it cannot seep into the soil. Instead it runs along the ground and washes into the ocean where it is lost. On its way it causes soil erosion, landslides and flash floods. This eventually leads to desertification. This change in Lebanon’s weather could, according to IndyACT, spell disaster for the country: Lebanon’s only natural resources are its fair weather, forests and water. The country’s economy is based on tourism, which depends on these resources. If they go, so will Lebanon’s economy.

Snowfall is also predicted to decrease with climate change. Lebanon receives 65% of its water from rainfall and 35% from snow. Winter rainfall is supplemented by water from melting snow from April to July; ensuring rivers keep flowing throughout summer. Surveys by the Regional Water and Environment (ESIB) in Lebanon, predict that water from snow will decrease from 1,200 mcm under current conditions to 700 mcm with a two degree rise in temperature, and reduce further to 350 mcm with a rise of four degrees.

The ESIB predicts that the snowline which is at 1500m today will creep up to 1,700m with a two degree increase in temperatures, and 1,900m with a four degree increase, reducing the country’s lucrative ski season from three months to just one week by the end of the century. Snow is also vital to the survival of Lebanon’s ancient cedar trees, the national symbol, which are now listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's “Red List” as a “heavily threatened” species.

With less melt water from snow, the dry season is set to begin a month earlier. While disrupting some farming, particularly in the south and east where agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, environmentalists warn it will be urban areas which face the most serious water shortages over the next five years. It is not the agricultural areas that will feel the greatest impact - they’ll start their growing season earlier - but the urban centers that constitute a greater worry, as they will run out of fresh water before the dry season is over. Of Lebanon’s roughly four million people, including around 400,000 Palestinian refugees, over 80 percent live in urban areas, with 1.5 million living in the capital, Beirut.

Two man-made factors add to Lebanon’s water shortage problems. Half of rainfall is currently lost through run-off, evaporation or ground seepage every year, while much of the plumbing and irrigation systems are still in disarray from the civil war and the 2006 July war. Currently, low water pressure in the late summer and autumn forces the government to ration supplies, leaving nearly half of households in some regions below the sufficiency threshold. The average household receives less than 50 liters per day - 20 liters less than sufficiency as defined by the World Health Organization. This gap is set to widen with an earlier and longer dry season – as predicated by climate change in Lebanon.

Increase of diseases

The decrease in water resources will be the most significant environmental challenge, whether in Lebanon or elsewhere in the region. On one hand the increase of the sea level (due to the Antarctic and Greenland glaciers melting and the dilatation of oceans due to the heat) could affect the coast water sources, by provoking a saline intrusion (increase of salinity of drinkable water). On the other hand, the decrease of precipitation level will result in longer and tougher periods of dryness.

The worst consequence would be the lack of drinkable water for human consumption. Daily need for drinking water will increase from 215 litres per day to 260 litres (due to demographic increase), whereas the quantity of water available is only of 100 to 150 litres per day.

It is imperative to stop the contamination of superficial and ground water, to undertake the decontamination of drinkable water using filters, and to heighten public awareness of rational uses of water. In other words, every one of us must learn how to use less water, while the state must undertake thorough measures to prevent pollution of existing water sources and to retain precipitation - most of which is currently being lost as soil erosion into the sea.

Indeed the biggest part of Lebanon’s water resources are subterranean sources (ground water), supplied when snow melts. Less snow means poorer water sources and less available resources. This stands in contrast to rain water which falls increasingly on constructed areas, that are mostly waterproof, and thus makes its way into the sea.

Deterioration of public health is also another probable consequence. Experts, who examined the social and economic consequences of global warming on Lebanon, talk about several types of diseases that will appear or worsen because of the deterioration of water resources due to climate change. Firstly, diseases that are transmitted by water will multiply in tandem with the decrease of hygienic water resources and thus the increased risk of bacteriological contamination. Insect-transmitted diseases will also increase, malaria being the most dangerous as its area of contamination will expand (i.e. paludism cases appeared in Lebanon, though the victims had never travelled). Animal-transmitted diseases will also increase and the consumption of raw meat - a local delicacy - will become quite hazardous. Furthermore, respiratory diseases and conditions will be more severe as pollution increases.

Global Warming: A natural phenomenon exacerbated by human activities

Most of us hear the phrase “global warming” quite often in conversation; in the media and even in social networking forums on the internet…but where does the global warming phenomenon come from? Indeed, greenhouse gases, mainly carbonic gas (CO2), ozone (O3) and methane (CH4), exist in the atmosphere at over fifteen kilometres above the earth surface, and provide the planet with its temperate climate. But their quantity has increased exponentially since the industrial era (1800’s) with the use of fossil fuels - mostly coal and later oil. In Lebanon, the transportation and energy sectors, mainly via power stations, cause air pollution which contributes to the increase in such greenhouse gases. Global warming is in fact a natural phenomenon exacerbated by human activities! In developed or rapidly developing countries industry is a major source of air pollution. China and India are right behind the USA on the list of the most greenhouse gas polluting countries. The thickening of this gaseous layer in the atmosphere has the effect of trapping sun beams in the earth’s atmosphere, as opposed to their being released in to space, hence the overall temperature rises or the earth warms. The consequences of this phenomenon known as global warming are multiple and may be described as an increase in extreme or severe weather patterns and events such as: more common inundations or flooding, abnormally long draughts, increased incidence of typhoons/hurricanes etc, melting of glaciers and of course an increase in the sea level – to name a few.

While experts agree that it is difficult to predict the exact timing of these climatic changes…one thing is for sure: not taking any measure against global warming will cost us dearly.

What actions are being taken in Lebanon?

Protected Areas

Despite the fact that the formal awareness about environmental management and conservation existed long ago; the implementation of conservation initiatives is still a fairly new venture for Lebanese public institutions. The Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Environment actively encourage the legislature to take decisions for the benefit of biodiversity conservation and environmental protection in Lebanon. Legislative and implementation steps have been taken including the project on protected areas, under the auspices of the Ministry of Environment, which assists in management of the reserves of Palm Island, Horsh Ehden and Arz-El-Chouf. The Protected Areas system for in-situ conservation of biodiversity is becoming more extensive and the value of biodiversity – for both human development and environmental conservation – has gained importance of the social agenda, as efforts towards the declaration and protection of natural reserves gains momentum.

The Lebanese government has placed several forests into reserves. Under the present forest law, certain forms of exploitation of the existing forest resources (fauna, flora and the milieu) have been banned including pasturage, quarrying hunting, fishing, plant gathering and the extraction of other materials, unaccompanied visits and deforestation. Engaging in the abovementioned dangerous or harmful activities is punishable by fines and/or penalties reaching up to 3-year jail term. Protection areas are also to be created around these reserves. Penalties are quite severe, and were these laws to be thoroughly enforced; they would have a strong dissuasive effect on any offender. The Ministry of Environment can also decide to institute natural reserves upon its own initiative or at the request environmental NGOs. Natural reserves may include national or municipal public properties, public maritime properties but not private properties. Natural reserves are managed by a 7 to 12 member committee named by the Ministry of Environment, along with representatives from relevant municipalities and ecologists.

There are three types of protected reserves in Lebanon:

• The reserves under the custody of the Ministry of Environment, like the Ehden Forest, the Chouf reserve, the Palm Island, the Tannourine Forest, the Aamiq swamps… (Some of these sites are managed in partnership with local NGOs).

• The reserves under the custody of the Ministry of Agriculture: several forest sites covering an important part of the Lebanese territory are protected by ministerial decree. Law n558 of July 24, 1996, puts into reserve all the cedar, fir, juniper, cypress other coniferous tree forests.

• The reserves benefiting from private initiatives like the Bentael and the Baabda forests.

Conservation in situ

The diversity of ecosystems in Lebanon and their vulnerability to constant pressures call for urgent and comprehensive action. To this effect, it is necessary to start by making an inventory of vulnerable ecosystems that are in danger or present a particular interest, and to identify the causes and factors threatening their existence. The next step would be legislation relative to the protection of specimens, varieties and ecosystems.

In situ reserves in Lebanon are classified as natural parks depending on their degree of vulnerability, their ecological importance and scientific and educational interests.

In October 1959, with the help of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Ministry of Agriculture launched an important reforestation campaign in the Lebanese mountains; specifically targeting the Chouf forest. In Ain Zhalta over 52 ha were reforested in 1965. In 1991, a ministerial decree declared the Chouf forest a natural reserve. Similarly, several associations for the safeguard of the Cedar of Lebanon have been created to undertake in-situ conservation of Lebanon’s national emblem through reforestation campaigns.

Conservation ex situ

This refers to the conservation of species or varieties outside their natural habitat. Animals, especially those in danger of disappearing, will be preserved in zoological parks, while plant species will be conserved in botanical gardens. Grains and reproductive material could be conserved in laboratories.

The present efforts of the Ministries of Environment and Agriculture to put several sites into reserve and private initiatives to protect certain sites are to be encouraged. All Lebanese ecosystems are being subject to numerous aggressions, and should all be the subject of conservation plans…showing indifference could prove fatal.

Bilateral and international support directly related to environmental issues are temporarily managed and operated via international resources [such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF), United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)]. All other protected areas decreed by law and statutory orders receive formal support in administrative, legal or financial forms from the Lebanese government.

The open economic and political systems in Lebanon allow for multi-organizational regimes to exist in terms of higher education, agricultural research, environmental science and related training. Biodiversity education and the professionalization of the field of conservation are still in their infancy, although environmental awareness is expanding at a rapid rate. Non- governmental organizations are expanding in size, number, and efficiency in raising environmental issues in the mass media resulting, increasing the involvement of the public in contribution more to decision-making and implementation. A sizeable number of NGO’s focus on conservation of the environment and Lebanon’s biodiversity; with a particular interest in the conservation of trees.

Despite the gloomy outlook for the environment presented by global warming/climate change, and other natural/man-made aggressions; few efforts have been made in Lebanon to protect water resources, decrease the use of and dependence on fossil fuels or to initiate necessary changes to contain the consequences of global warming, notably at the levels of agriculture and the supply of drinkable water. Furthermore, the Lebanese citizenry remains relatively unconcerned about the environmental challenges facing their country. A study conducted by Indy Act showed that less than 5% of the Lebanese population is aware of the reality and the consequences of climate change, and would consequently be ready to take measures to reduce the use of oil in favour of alternative energies. Switching to the form of so-called “clean” energy - solar power - has been the subject of several initiatives led by civil society associations. In early 2000 a joint UNDP and Ministry of Energy media campaign was conducted to encourage solar energy uses as a viable and necessary means to fight global warming. Indeed, their efforts seem to be paying off as Lebanon has seen an increase in number of households using solar water heater systems in recent years.

Undertaking individual, daily gestures to counter the effects of global warming can make a great difference. Fighting against global warming is not only the mission of governments and international organizations; it is the responsibility of everyone one of us.

Here are some suggestions to adopt in order to reduce use of energy and resources:

- Turn off lights when they are no longer necessary or in use;
- Unplug household electrical appliances when not used;
- Do not leave TV sets or computers on standby mode, instead turn them off completely;
- Do not leave the fridge door open too long;
- Use energy-saving light bulbs; they are more expensive but last ten times longer!;
- Choose energy-saving household electrical appliances;
- Avoid using all electrical, household appliances at the same time;
- Turn down or turn off air-conditioners (or similar heating / cooling devices) and geysers when absent. Water heating alone can represent 40% of a household’s energy bill.
- Unplug mobile phone charger/s if not in use;
- Use drinkable water sparingly;
- Repair water taps and flushes to avoid leakage;
- Install solar water heaters. Besides its original cost, you will pay much less in electricity and oil later;
- Keep air conditioning units at a certain / set temperature.
- The list is still long… These simple gestures are easy to implement; you just need be conscious of them.

BankMed SAL Environmental Program

BankMed, as a within the Lebanese community, is fully conscious of its numerous responsibilities towards, notably, a greener Lebanon. BankMed chairman and general manager Mohammed Hariri thus decided to create and launch a pioneer environmental program for 2009-2010. This program includes site surveys and concrete green action plans: cleaning and rehabilitation of numerous sites, areas and regions all over Lebanon.

In collaboration with concerned ministries and civil society and social institutions, the first phase of this program was launched early 2009 in a vast media campaign to create public awareness among the Lebanese community and to initiate proper ecological gestures in every one of us.
BankMed has already launched the second phase of its plan by adopting several projects aiming at improving the environment. The third phase is about to be initiated along with a multitude of ecological projects such as:

- The launching of special financial programs, in line with the Central Bank governor's decision, to promote new green projects such as ecological architecture (adopting ecological construction methods and tools i.e. renewable energy, recycling…) by granting payment facilities, low rate loans and commissions less than 2% of financing cost, with attractive reimbursement conditions.
- The direct support and protection of natural reserves all over Lebanon, starting with the Chouf reserve that constitute 5% of the green Lebanese territory (over 50 ha). This reserve includes 3 main forests and 4 'sub-forests'. BankMed, using a vast communication campaign to protect and preserve this site, will also plant over one thousand cedar trees in order to enrich this sublime natural heritage.
- The launching of projects for a cleaner and purer air in Lebanon.
- In collaboration with the American University of Beirut (AUB), BankMed will support and fund farmers in planting, distributing and promoting their products in every Lebanese region.
- The rehabilitation of public parks.
- The launching of public beach cleaning campaigns in collaboration with the bank's employees.
- The preparation and launching of a public awareness campaign targeting university students.
- The organization of school contests dedicated to sustainable development.
- The creation of an ecological awareness site with blogs and forums, in order to exchange and award best green ideas.
- The funding of projects aiming at reducing energy over consumption.
- The creation and support of young children charity organizations in order to promote environmental protection and preservation.

Based on the principle of good citizenship, Mohammed Hariri called on all Lebanese institutions and companies to, hand in hand, participate and contribute to the efforts towards a sustainable development and the protection and preservation of our natural national heritage for a green Lebanon in the Mediterranean.

Dr. Mayane Karam (Provided by BankMed)

Decree N. 2385 of 17/1/1924 as amended by law N. 76 of 3/4/1999 ( articles 2, 5, 15, 49 and 85 ) lays down as follows: The author of a literary or artistic work, by the very fact of authorship, has absolute right of ownership over the work, without obligation of recourse to formal procedures . The author will himself enjoy the benefit of exploitation of his work, and he possesses exclusive rights of publication and of the reproduction under any form whatsoever. Whether the work in question comes under the public domain or not those persons will be liable to imprisonment for a period of one to three years and to fine of between five and fifty million Lebanese pounds, or to either one of these penalties, who 1-will have appended or caused to be appended a usurped name on a literary or artistic work; 2-will have fraudulently imitated the signature or trademark adopted by an author, with a view to deceiving the buyer; 3-will have counterfeited a literary or artistic work; 4-or will have knowingly sold, received, or put on sale or into circulation a work which is counterfeit or signed with a forged signature. The punishment will be increased in the event of repetition.

 

 


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