LEBANON: Global Warming Makes Mischief Worse

  • by Mona Alami (beirut)
  • Thursday, July 30, 2009
  • Inter Press Service

Last week, more than 30 fires were started at the same time in the Bekaa valley, pointing to arson. A source working as part of the fire fighting team in Lebanon, who chose to remain anonymous, showed IPS charred Pepsi cans smelling of oil and gas connected to a fuse, indicating that the blazes were purposely set.

'We have noticed in the last few years that forest fires are starting simultaneously, which rarely occurs in nature,' said the official. 'We believe that such fires are intentional and set by feuding political factions in order to make the party heading the civil defence department in a certain area look incompetent.' The official added that although the identity of the criminals in the Bekaa fires has been discovered, they have yet to be arrested because of political interference.

General Darwich Hobeika, director of the Lebanese Civil Defence, says the frequency of fires has increased tremendously over recent years. The civil defence now fights an average of 20,000 fires a year, Hobeika said. This figure was only 7,000 in 1994.

In October 2007, a massive blaze destroyed large areas of forests across Lebanon, injuring dozens of people and leading to the death of one woman. 'More than 3,700 hectares of forest and agricultural land were lost that year, which was one of the worst in the history of Lebanon, especially when compared to the previous year and considering that the annual loss is usually 1,600 hectares,' says Fadi Bou Ali from the Association for Forest Development and Conservation (AFDC).

Lebanon's forests currently cover 136,000 hectares, representing 13 percent of the country's total surface. 'We have noticed that most fires usually occur in certain specific areas that we've identified with our fire risk map. Mount Lebanon is one of the areas that is most prone to forest fires, it is followed by the northern Akkar and southern Jezzine regions, where woods are located,' says Bou Ali.

Bou Ali attributes the rise in wild fires in Lebanon to global warming, which prolongs the dry summer season and currently lasts from June to October. However, he points out that certain human practices often worsen the problem.

'Woods are not maintained and cleaned any more due to the migration of the rural population,' Bou Ali says. 'After the long summer, vegetation dries up in autumn, which is also a season of strong dry winds, making it easier for woods to flare up. In addition, many municipalities contribute to the spread of fires by leaving cleared shrubbery from the roads on the roadside, which constitutes an excellent source of fuel for out of control fires.'

Furthermore, farmers and landowners clear their fields of dry grass by setting it on fire, a situation that can turn into an ecological disaster if the fires go out of control. Bou Ali says many of the fires are caused by such negligence, but that some are purposely set, although not necessarily with political motivations.

'In certain rural areas, properties are delineated by natural obstacles, such as forests, which are often partly burnt down by owners to increase the size of their property,' says Hobeika.

Although Lebanese law prohibits the starting of any fire from June to October unless it is at a distance of 500 metres from woodlands, Bou Ali says the law is rarely enforced.

Bou Ali warns of more fires to come as Lebanon enters its hottest season. Hobeika worries about the ability of the civil defence to put out the massive blazes without proper fire-fighting equipment. 'The civil defence relies on 700 outdated machines, including fire trucks and tractors, while it actually needs triple the amount of modern equipment to be effective,' Hobeika says.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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