Seiichi Otsuka *
The East Mediterranean, a cradle of the civilizations, is blessed with a diverse and plentiful nature. But this nature is endangered. Nowadays we can observe that the growth range of the Lebanese Cedars has diminished quite drastically. The Lebanese Cedars is historically recorded as a prized timer resource used for wooden ships sustaining the Phoenician seaborne trade. The conservation of the Lebanese Cedars is therefore essential for not only Lebanon but also the world as common heritage.
Conservation of forests and reforestation
I saw the forests of the Lebanese Cedars for the first time when I visited Barouk Natural Reserve of the Chouf Mountains in the summer of 2012. I was guided by Mr. & Mrs Walid Jumblat, who have been long devoted to conserving the natural conditions in the Chouf Mountains. Although we, as Japanese, are familiar with the Himalayan Cedars that grows vertically, the Lebanese Cedars casts its unique silhouette stretching these boughs horizontally. This distinctive tree looks graceful, robust and dignified. Some of them are more than a thousand year old, and maybe witnessed the assault of the Crusaders into the region. It is the responsibility of our generation to keep the Lebanese Cedars in good condition. While I lived in Vancouver of Canada a decade ago, I saw the young plants of the Lebanese Cedars growing vigorously at Queen Elizabeth Park of the City. These trees have been taken good care of by the Lebanese community there. We were moved by their affection.
Of course in Lebanon, I have become to know many associations, volunteer groups, and municipalities which had been taking care of the Lebanese Cedars. After my contacts with forestry experts, I realized the basic matters that require attention for forest preservation. These three points are: prevention of forest fire, improvement of tree seedlings to be more adaptable to the environment, and protection measures against overgrazing of animals. Prevention of mountain fire is the priority objective to take action because it causes enormous loss of natural resources once it happens. Indeed, wildfires can occur by a variety of human-related activities such as unattended campfires, discarded cigarettes and more recently agricultural land clearances. If everybody pays due attentions for such activities, we can prevent the occurrence of wildfires.
With regard to the measures for mountain fires, the Japanese Embassy donated fire engines and extinguisher equipment to the Community of Al Fayhaa, the suburbs of Tripoli, in 2009, and the Association for Forests, Development and Conservation in Chouf in 2010.
The other objectives require mid-longer term strategy.
The Lebanese Government launched the campaign targeted at planting 40 million trees across the country, mobilizing municipalities, NGOs and the private sector. This campaign is more encouraging and effective if this action can be coincided with other subordinate actions for raising success rate of breeding as well as for protection of growth of trees.
The Food and Agricultural Organization of UN (FAO) has just started works on the hybrid breeding of new trees resisting infectious disease, drought and climate change.
Under this initiative, reforestation requires huge investment on irrigation facilities and protection fences for sound growth of trees. Budget impasse of actors remains unless fund is fulfilled. Efforts are being made to reduce the cost of reforestation through enhancing seedling quality to resist adverse conditions on site and testing means to reduce irrigation or even reforest with no irrigation whatsoever.
The world is now endangered by the drastic decrease of natural species. People should urgently tackle relief measures for such endangered species. Unfortunately Lebanon is not exceptional. ‘Animal Encounter Center’, one of the active NGOs specialized in conservation of wildlife, located in Aley, the east suburbs of Beirut, is rendering rescue for these endangered indigenous animals. I visited Dr. Munir Abou Said, the founder of this Center, a veterinarian and an ecologist, and then interviewed him. ‘The Center started in1993 with the educational purposes concerning the wild species and diversities in Lebanon, by being home to mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. We have taken care of injured wild animals and cured, and then released them’, said Dr. Abou Said. His wife Diana always supports the Center’s activities. The schools in Lebanon don’t have a lesson focusing on natural species although Lebanon enjoys abundant diversity of flora and fauna. Visitors to this Center must be surprised a couple of a wild black bears which have been well tamed. Visitors also come to know the fact that black bear used to inhabit the North Lebanon until early 1990s. Also grey hyena used to be common specie inhabited nearby populated areas. Not only grey hyenas but also red foxes, jackals are endangered due to the poor natural conditions.
These wild animals are protected and sustained by very limited number of people with volunteer spirit. These activities are far from a satisfactory level. I wonder if it can be supported by the public funds and institutions. When I was working as a diplomat in Saudi Arabia, I was so impressed with passion and persistency on protection of wildlife the Saudi Government poured. Leopard is designated as a rare animal which should be well protected because it is about to be annihilated due to illegal hunting. King Ibn Saud, the Founder of the Kingdom was called ‘the leopard of dessert’.
At the outset, all we should protect wildlife is through control of illegal hunting. It goes without saying that excessive development and enlargement of urbanization pose a threat to the survival of wildlife. However more directly if hunters kill rabbits, birds, other small animals beyond a certain level, these acts never fails to endanger other middle and large animals which prey on them. On the contrary, in Japan the excessive protection for the wild animal caused the wild boar and deer populations to explode, and as a result, the chances that these animals attack and damage human beings and domestic animals increased. In other words, we have to know how much population of each species are the most appropriate for eco-systemic maintenance.
Nevertheless I believe that hunters should be subjected to hunting regulations. Mr. Mohammad Mashnouk, Minister of Environment mentioned that the number of illegal hunting has decreased, on the occasion of the press interviews on the review of environmental administration in 2014. I have the booklet for hunters’ guide issued by the Ministry of Environment. This guidebook is very articulate and illustrative. Such steady efforts should be appreciated.
Hima as concept for Ecological conservation
Hunting for fun is not convincing under the conditions that many natural species are endangered. I wonder why I think so because I might be a descendant of agricultural people. The Ministry of Environment identifies four sectors of threat affecting the migratory birds across Lebanon, namely, hunting, the electrical high voltage power lines, pesticide used in farms, and neglected waste. Many different migratory birds including rare species are flying over Lebanon, which is therefore called ‘treasure house of wild birds’.
Recently I had a chance to work with the Society for Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL) to carry out the project for protecting a natural spring in Kfar Zabad in the Central Bekaa Valley. This area is famous for many natural springs constituting the source of Litani River and attracting migratory birds.
I visited the site of the project in Kifar Zabad guided by Mr. Ramzy Saidi, Ms. Dalia Jawhary from SPNL in the mid December, 2014. The untouched bush area has been well trimmed and the spring emerged out. The scene deserves to see. Some soring birds and waterfowls gathered there though it was at noon and cloudy.
I saw some kites circling in the sky and swiftly descending, and some waterfowls cruising in a column.
The scene on the combination of the pond and the humble forest and Mount Lebanon as the background was associated with the Garden of Eden in Old Testament.
According to Mr. Ramzy, this wetland area is a paradise of Syrian Serin, an endangered bird species. He pointed out that as long as we can secure clean water there, we could save the Syrian Serin. Not only birds but also people are able to benefit from this clean potable water. Our project made it possible to supply water to any visitors by tapping facilities.
Mr. Ramzy carried on saying that if natural conservation is sought, we need to keep balanced ecological systems. For this reason, SPNL brought community based approach for the conservation of sites, species, habitats and people to achieve sustainable use of natural resources. This idea is called HIMA, the traditional approach prevailed over the Arabian Peninsula. We have a similar concept of ecological system in Japan. We don’t think that nature confronts people, but that nature and people can coexist. If a community establishes a system of sustainable management of nature, we can optimize benefits from nature. Such system is no doubt well organized, regulated, and maintained by people.
SPNL revived this concept and applied it to the designated areas under the name of HIMA in cooperation with the indigenous municipalities and community people. Mr. Ramzy explained that HIMA Ebel Saqi, HIMA Kfar Zabad, HIMA Anjar, and Marine HIMA of Qoleleh/ Mansouuri were designated as special environmental conservation areas, and SPNL is doing works to deepen understanding of this thought.
Bekaa Valley is now inflicted with contamination of water and soil. Litani River is screaming from drainage of factories, inflow of sewage, discharge of contaminated water from farms. The project we have engaged is only a dot within the Bekaa, but we should enlarge such a small dot up to the whole area. I wish we could take over the wisdom of our ancestors like HIMA and make it into implementation.
* The Japanese Ambassador to Lebanon