One country, many foresters

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Source: USAID

Lebanon’s forests have faced various threats over the past few decades. Urban expansion, quarries, road construction, illegal logging, unorganized grazing inside forests, forest fires and other issues have all contributed to the decline in the country’s forest cover. Reforestation attempts have not been effective due to limited resources allocated for forest management and follow up activities. Drought and other climatic factors have slowed the natural regeneration rate of forests, making reforestation much harder.

Throughout the past 25 years, Lebanon has witnessed several efforts and initiatives for reforestation. In 2001 for example, the Ministry of Environment (MoE) developed a National Reforestation Plan (NRP) aimed at rehabilitating over 500 ha of forests. However, the 2006 war and ensuing political stalemate halted the program. In 2009, the MoE resumed the NRP through UNDP/GEF funding and worked on various sustainable land management programs that included forests. Independently and during the same period, the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) developed a National Action Plan to Combat Desertification which addressed forestry and has also developed its own reforestation programs. In 2010, the USAID launched the Lebanon Reforestation Initiative, a five-year Initiative that aimed to strengthen Lebanon’s forest seedling producing nurseries and carry out large scale reforestation activities throughout the country. This initiative was not implemented in collaboration with any of the governmental ministries. In addition, there have been various initiatives to prepare the concerned authorities for preventing and combating forest fires.

reforestationmap2004

Source: Ministry of Environment

Despite all these initiatives, the success rate of reforestation remains low. Political squabbles and lack of stability has compromised the effectiveness of these programs. Another detriment is the lack of consensus between government bodies over a national reforestation plan. Contributing to this problem is ambiguity over which governmental entity has jurisdiction over forests. Both the MoA and MoE have a mandate over forestry. Traditionally MoA was the designated entity to deal with forests, but that has shifted to the MoE after its establishment, resulting in a rivalry between the two ministries. To exacerbate the situation, donor and government preferences are not always aligned, leading to scattering of scant resources.

On Monday, the MoA revived an ambitious reforestation plan which aims to increase Lebanon’s forest cover to 20% by planting 40 million trees. Not surprisingly, this reforestation plan is not part of the National Reforestation Plan developed by the MoE. This lack of coordination seems counterproductive and reduces each ministry’s effectiveness in achieving sustainable reforestation.

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