Environment Minister Mohammad Rahhal courtesy of Ministry of Environment

Environment Minister Mohammad Rahhal, courtesy of Ministry of Environment

BEIRUT: An agreement to conduct a national study on the environment was signed Monday, nearly a decade after the last such report was produced.

Environment Minister Mohammad Rahhal signed an agreement with the consulting firm ECODIT to produce the report, which he said would provide details about “air and water pollution and environmental damage that affects agricultural crops and green spaces.”

“It’s a very important report, and it should be updated every two or three years,” Rahhal said. “The last such report was produced 10 years ago,” he said, referring to the State of the Environment Report 2001.

In addition to receiving members of ECODIT to ink the agreement, Rahhal hosted a series of meetings at the ministry, where he said he was working to gain approval for seven new nature reserves, with a focus on maritime settings.

Rahhal said the recent endorsement by Parliament of the Shnanir Nature Reserve in Kesrouan and Wadi Hujeir in Marjayoun encouraged him to ensure that other areas receive the designation.

The environment minister said he was working to add another seven reserves to the country’s list of nine officially protected areas, pledging to develop programs over the next four months to focus on marine preservation in five of the seven proposed reserves.

Rahhal said that declaring an area a protected reserve was the “quickest and cheapest way to protect forested areas.”

“If we look at our reserves, in Bentael, Chouf, Tannourine and Ehden, there has been no fire or other problem in them for the last 10 to 15 years,” he said.

After Parliament’s recent endorsement of two new reserves, work was now underway to expand the list to areas in Akkar and Dinnieh.

“We hope to see results by the end of the year,” the minister said.

The ministry’s focus will be on upgrading managerial arrangements and salaries, as well as generating outside funding for the reserves.

The Bentael reserve currently lacks a project manager, while equipment and vehicles that are unofficially designated for nature reserves lack the official paperwork, a problem the ministry is trying to solve by the end of the year.

By law, the Environment Ministry is responsible for the protection of nature reserves, but much of the funding for such areas comes from international donors, and there has been a cut-off of funds from the ministry since 2005.

The committees responsible for the nature reserves are now awaiting the approval of the 2010 budget, which will end the financial drought.

Rahhal noted that only managers, rangers, coordinators and guides are paid from the ministry’s budget, while the committees overseeing the protected areas are made up of volunteers.

Rahhal also hosted a meeting of leading cement firms which focused on the drive to reduce the volume of landfill waste currently being generated by the companies so that they comply with the standards required by an environmental audit.

With approximately 20 percent of GDP now being generated by tourism, Rahhal said that it was essential to improve environmental conditions, since tourists aren’t only interested in nightlife.

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