Monday, August 13, 2007

Environmentalist calls for unity after cedar-reserve fires

Environmentalist calls for unity after cedar-reserve fires
By Hesham Shawish
Special to The Daily Star

BEIRUT: A leading environmentalist urged Lebanese to unite to combat major challenges threatening their environment and their health, in a conference on Saturday. The head of the Association for Forests, Development and Conservation (AFDC), Mounir Bou Ghanem, was speaking during a news conference days after forest fires wiped out at least 1,200 hectares of Chouf cedar reserves on the Bekaa side of the mountains. The conference discussed ways to work with the government and other foundations and ministries to provide fire engines at various points around reserves and forests, so the engines would be able to mobilize quickly during future forest fires. The conference also comes at a time when Lebanon's coastline has yet to recover from its worst environmental crisis, the oil spill caused by an Israeli air raid on the Jiyyeh power plant during last summer's war. The bombing of the Jiyyeh power plant dumped some 15,000 tons of oil into the sea, fouling about 120 kilometers of Lebanon's coast. "The environment is something that binds everyone together, whatever their political affiliations. It is imperative that we unite to combat the most crucial concerns threatening our environment," Bou Ghanem said. "Our main aim in this talk is to foster youth participation with regard to environmental issues and provide awareness and communication on the environment," said environmentalist Nabil Hassan.

The talk discussed air pollution, water and sewage, land administration and waste disposal and sought comprehensive and environmentally friendly solutions on the disposal of waste, from household to building to medical waste. Past suggestions to use incinerators to dispose of household waste have met with opposition by the government because of the high cost. The issue of recycling was also frequently raised at Saturday's conference. "We have to get away from this culture of throwing everything away," said Dumian al-Khoury, a student, adding: "Lebanon is a small country, and using dumps to dispose of our rubbish is simply not sustainable in the longer term. We need more recycling bins in more visible spots, to encourage a culture of recycling." The current location of some recycling bins in large supermarkets such as Spinney's and Monoprix has attracted many people to bring their rubbish with them as they come to do their shopping. However, some people expressed past disillusionment with recycling schemes, accusing Sukleen preferring to recycle only glass and aluminum because these materials brought greater financial reward than paper, for example.

Another suggestion floated at the conference was to have larger supermarkets encourage customers to bring their own reusable bags for every shopping trip by knocking off LL1,000-2,000 off their tabs. Proponents of the idea said it would cost the stores very little and make a significant impact on the environment. The conference, which was held at the Lebanese Order of Engineers, was sponsored by the Lebanese Development Marketplace, the United Nations Development Program, UNICEF, the World Bank, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Lebanese Transparency Association

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