BEIRUT, July 20 (Xinhua) -- Lebanese officials have urged the general public to proactively reduce forest fire risk, as temperatures surged to 40 degrees Celsius while public emergency services are cash-strapped due to the unprecedented financial crisis.
The Lebanese Environment Ministry warned that firefighting teams in 24 to 30 districts were short of necessary equipment, and it needs to invest 5 million U.S. dollars to prepare them with essential fire response capacities.
In addition, these services faced funding shortages in administrative operation, training and paying wages due to the country's dire financial situation, said its minister Nasser Yassin.
Lebanon would not be able to receive a World Bank-offered Global Environment Facility fund until the summer of 2024, which could be used in forest fire prevention, he said, meaning the government was in urgent need of short-term funds.
Yassin said he has been trying to raise funds with local authorities to cover the running cost of first responder teams.
Over the past few days, Lebanon has been affected by a hot and dry air mass from the Arabian Peninsula, which was reflected in a noticeable rise in temperatures.
Last week, the heat wave in Lebanon led to the breakout of fires in several regions, the biggest of which was in Wadi Jahannam in the northern district of Akkar, with civil defense teams and the Lebanese army extinguishing the fire for two consecutive days.
Meanwhile, the fire in Akkar caused the erosion of large quantities of cedar trees and turned large parts of the Qila forest, the largest cedar and fir forest in the district, into ashes, destroying more than 15 hectares of green spaces.
Yassin said that so far the wildfires have largely been under control.
Hot weather combined with dried-out vegetation serves as a major risk factor for the wild blazes, said Michel Ifram, director general of the Agricultural Scientific Research Institute at the Ministry of Agriculture.
The official said the ongoing heat wave was expected to linger until the end of July, and wild grasses have reached a height of more than two meters.
Ifram urged authorities to declare a state of emergency in Lebanon while calling on security forces, civil defense, municipalities, forest guards, and citizens to take precautions against severe heat and wildfires.
In May 2023, Lebanon's Environment Ministry launched a national strategy to reduce the risk of recurrent forest fires with an emphasis on raising awareness of in-time removal of dried grass and yard debris, creating countrywide fire risk mapping services, and training first response volunteers.
The Lebanese government also has a partnership with Cyprus for their support in case of significant fire breakouts, Yassin told Xinhua.
In 2019, Cyprus and Greece sent jets to assist Lebanon in putting out massive fires that swept many Lebanese villages.
According to Global Forest Watch, an online platform monitoring global forest coverage, wildfires were responsible for 28 percent of foliage loss in Lebanon between 2001 and 2022.
During the period, Akkar suffered from the highest rate of fire-incurred tree cover loss in Lebanon, with an average of 39 hectares lost in a year, followed by Mount Lebanon, 24 hectares, and North, 7 hectares, showed Global Forest Watch's report. ■