Grassroots-led, green investment is the key to saving World Heritage site in Lebanon

Grassroots-led, green investment is the key to saving World Heritage site in Lebanon

The Cedars of God (‎Arz ar-Rabb "Cedars of the Lord") is one of the last vestiges of the extensive forests of the Lebanon Cedar, Cedrus libani, that once thrived across Mount Lebanon. (Paul Saad/Creative Commons 2.0)

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The Cedars of Lebanon, described in Biblical texts as the “glory of Lebanon,” have been scorched to ashes due to anthropogenic climate change and negligence. This is alarming not only because this ancient forest is a World Heritage Convention site, but also because it holds irreplaceable cultural and religious importance for Christian and non-Christian Lebanese, not to mention ecological significance as a carbon sink. This is especially important for the region because of the decrease in Lebanese forests, down to 13% of its landmass from 35% in 1965.

Climate change and lack of resources have fueled the unprecedented forest fires in Lebanon the past two years, which have spread to Israel and Syria this year. (Melissa Wall/Creative Commons 2.0)

In response to the more than 100 fires since Oct. 8, head of operations for the Lebanon’s civil defence, George Abu Masa, said in an interview with Agence France-Presse, “We have mobilized 80% of our personnel and almost all our centers in Lebanon.” The dire situation was echoed by Syrian Agriculture Minister Mohammed Hassan Qatana who reported dozens of fires still burning on Oct. 9, with two provinces along the Lebanese border, Tartus and Latakia. 

This is a pattern that began in October of 2019, due to rising average temperatures and increases in the wind. One factor that continues to plague Lebanon, in particular, is the increase in human pollution in natural spaces without the proper infrastructure and institutions to account for the debris that will fuel future infernos.

There is a growing international movement and recognition of nature-based solutions to economic, ecological, and systemic conundrums. The UNDP Equator Initiative highlights local sustainable development achievements across all seven continents through the collaborative efforts of the United Nations, governments, civil society, business, and grassroots organizations. 

In 2020, a community in the Congo Basin called Vie Sauvage was one of the Equator Prize awardees because of their commitment to the health of various native, endangered species (particularly the bonobo ape) and the accompanying economic development that arose from ecotourism, sustainable management, and community activism. This community proved that placing biological conservation and indigenous values as the main priorities is also the most economically beneficial move for this, and potentially other, isolated indigenous and local groups.

“The just shall flourish like the palm tree, shall grow like a cedar of Lebanon.” (Psalms 92:13)

There is a deep connection between the strength and vitality of the cedar trees and that of the Lebanese culture and identity. Given the obvious linkage between this natural capital and social capital, I believe that there are plenty of opportunities to restore faith in institutions and the role of government through a biological conservation drive. Green Cedar Lebanon is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that leads reforestation drives and social media campaigns to raise awareness on green solutions and galvanize political will for climate action.

While the influence of civil society in Lebanon may not be as great as other nations due to unrest, its existence and collaboration with other groups demonstrate a tepid, yet growing demand for climate action and civic engagement in a nation that has struggled with both since its inception.

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